The Purpose of Baptism

There are many opinions about baptism in the 21st century religious world. Most recognize that baptism is important but disagree on its place in God’s plan for saving man. Since it is an important topic, we would be wise to seek the counsel of God on baptism.

“For the remission of sins”

Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

According to this passage, Peter says that baptism is “for the remission of sins.” What does that phrase mean? In English, we recognize that “for” can have a few different meanings. It could mean that baptism is done with a view toward, or in order to accomplish the remission of sins. Another way to understand it is that baptism is done because of the remission of sins, or because remissions of sins was already accomplished. So which is it?

This is not the only passage in the Bible that uses the phrase, “for the remission of sins.” I am a firm believer in the idea that the Bible is its own best commentary, so let’s look at the other passage in which the phrase “for the remission of sins” is found.

While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said about the cup, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Now, apply the above meanings to this passage. Was Jesus’ blood shed with a view toward, or in order to accomplish the remission of sins? Or was His blood shed because the remission of sins was already accomplished?

Obviously, the first view is correct. If remission of sins was accomplished before His blood was shed, then why was His blood shed? Just as Jesus’ blood was shed in order to accomplish the remission of sins, likewise we are baptized in order to accomplish the remission of sins.

Not baptism alone!

Let us pause for just a moment to clarify that the Bible does not teach salvation by baptism alone. The Scriptures are clear that one must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe (John 3:16), repent (Acts 2:38; 3:17), and confess his belief in Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37). All of these things work together with baptism to bring about God’s grace in a person’s life. It is neither faith alone (James 2:24) nor baptism alone (Mark 16:16) that saves, but an obedient, active faith.

“Wash away your sins”

When Jesus appeared before Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, the Lord told him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). For three days Saul fasted and prayed (Acts 9:9,11) until Ananias came and said, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

So follow the events: Saul believed, then started fasting and praying, and then Ananias said stop praying, be baptized, and wash away your sins. That’s a lot different than what many say today! Many teach that when you believe and say a prayer, you’re saved at that point, and then later you can be baptized if you want. But Ananias placed baptism before the washing away of sins!

Necessary or not?

The North American Mission Board, an organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “While baptism is important, it is not necessary for salvation.” They argue against the clear statement of Mark 16:16, in which Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” NAMB argues, “Mark 16:16 is silent concerning whether the person who believes but is not baptized is saved or lost.”

Jesus is clear in His command. Why must man take His plain statement and twist it and make excuses and try to find loopholes? Jesus said believe, be baptized, be saved. Nothing is said about belief without baptism because there is no such thing; if one truly believes and understands, he will simply obey what Christ commands without looking for a way out.

Where do you stand?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died so that your sins could be forgiven? Have you had your sins washed away by the saving blood of Christ? Have you been baptized for the remission of sins?

If you need assistance in obeying this simple command of the Lord, the only One who can save you from your sins, please contact your local church of Christ today.

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