Bible Question:

You have said that baptism was commanded by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me keep my commandments. ” You are right that baptism is symbolic of a death. All through Acts, people were being baptized. The eunuch is one of many examples of baptisms after hearing the gospel and believing. (Acts 8:35-38). I believe we should follow the examples we read about in the Bible. The New Testament is filled with examples using the word baptize. Obey the word and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Even Jesus Himself was baptized as our example. I am afraid to over look this important step. Obeying is better than sacrifice. Your interpretation of the scriptures on baptism is confusing.

Bible Answer:

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it becomes obvious in the New Testament that water baptism is commanded of anyone who becomes a Christian. There is great confusion today about the meaning and importance of water baptism. Some claim that water baptism is essential to be saved while others say that baptism is a means of grace or a sacrament. The Bible explains the meaning and importance of water baptism for every Christian.

Water Baptism Symbolic

Meaning of Water Baptism — Symbol of New Life

The baptisms John the Baptist did were symbolic of repentance from sin and a turning to God. That is, the repentant person turned from sin toward God. Biblical repentance is a turning away from sin to follow our holy God (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:4; Acts 19:4-5).

. . . and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. Matthew 3:6

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:4 (NASB)

Some have misunderstood this verse and consequently falsely claim that water baptism saves a person resulting in the forgiveness of sins. But such a claim reveals that they misunderstand baptism. For example, they quote the following verse and claim the verse teaches that baptism actually forgives sins.

“‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” Acts 22:16 (NASB)

But they lack sufficient knowledge of the Greek text to reach the correct conclusion and falsely teach the passage. John MacArthur explains that this verse does not teach that baptism saves us, but that the apostle Paul was saved by faith in Christ.[1] The false teachers miss the message of the following four passages that clearly state forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus and not through baptism. Baptism is never a condition for forgiveness.

. . . and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46-47 (NASB)

When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:18 (NASB)

Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things . . . Acts 13:38-39 (NASB)

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14 (NASB)

1 Peter 3:21 clearly makes the point that baptism does not save us. Notice the apostle Peter refers to baptism and then says, “not the removal of dirt from the flesh.” He is not referring to water baptism. Baptism has a symbolic meaning of repentance—”good conscience.”

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . 1 Peter 3:21 (NASB)

The message of the verse is that forgiveness of sins is through Jesus Christ and not water baptism—”not the removal of dirt from the flesh.”

Act of Water Baptism

In summary, the act of immersing someone into water does not forgive sins. Romans 6:4-7 gives us the symbolic meaning of baptism.

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:4-7 (NASB)

Baptism symbolizes our death and burial with Christ and then being resurrected to new life in Christ. Baptism symbolizes a person dying to sin and living unto righteousness (Romans 6:7, 18).

As a person is immersed into the water, it symbolizes their dying to self. Then as the person is raised out of the water, it symbolizes rising to new life in Christ. Baptism is a symbolic act that says, “I turn away from my sins. I die to myself and to my sins and turn to Jesus. I am a new person in Christ.” Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward change that has already occurred – salvation at the point of one’s belief in and acceptance of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

Importance of Water Baptism

Baptism is important since the Holy Spirit commands Christians to be baptized as a symbolic act of new spiritual life in Christ.

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2:38 (NASB)

. . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Colossians 2:12 (NASB)

In 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 Paul helps us understand that every Christian was baptized after believing in Christ. It is the first act of obedience to Christ and a declaration to others that he or she is a follower of Christ. That is the meaning of the word Christian.

Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . . (NASB) 1 Corinthians 1:13-17

Why was Paul glad that he did not baptize any others? The answer is that there were divisions among the Corinthians as to who was baptized by whom. Paul rejoices that he did not baptize many. He also adds that he came to preach the gospel. Now if baptism was essential for salvation, why was Paul glad he had only baptized a few people? The answer is that baptism was only a symbol. Yet, every Christian was commanded to be baptized as a public testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ. It symbolized new life in Christ and becoming a follower of Jesus.

Conclusion:

Baptism is a symbol of being a follower of Jesus. Baptism is not required for salvation! It is commanded by our Lord and our first act of obedience as Christians should be to follow Him in being baptized. The thief on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus is an example of one who never had the opportunity to be baptized. Yet Jesus assured him that he would be with Jesus in heaven. Baptism is not essential for salvation.

 

References:

1. Footnote in John MacArthur’s Biblical Doctrine. Crossway. 2017 on p 785. states, “Another popular proof text for baptismal regeneration is Acts 22:16. However, such an interpretation contradicts Paul’s clear teaching regarding the gospel of grace through faith throughout his epistles (cf. Rom. 3:22, 24-26, 28, 30; 4:5; 10:9-1 0; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Titus 3:4-7), while also ignoring the grammar of the verse: “The phrase ‘wash away your sins’ must be connected with ‘calling on His name,’ since connecting it with ‘be baptized’ leaves the participle epikalesamenos (‘calling’) without an antecedent. Paul’s sins were washed away not by baptism but by calling on the name of the Lord (cf. Rom. 10:13). A literal translation of the verse says, ‘Arise, get yourself baptized and your sins washed away, having called on His name.’ Both imperatives reflect the reality that Paul had already called on the Lord’s name, which is the act that saves. Baptism and the washing away of sins follow.” John MacArthur, Acts 13-28, MNTC (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996) , 269. Biblical quotations set in bold in the original are set within quotation marks in this quote.”

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