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The Purposes Of Baptism

The Purposes Of Baptism

by Anthony Brockett

Originally published in
The Christian Informer
August, 1998

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Forgiving One

by Randall M.

Last updated:
July 28, 1998.

Since baptism is taught time and again in the Scriptures, what then is its purpose?  Why must we be baptized?  Fortunately, the Bible gives us answers to our questions.  The Scriptures gives us insight into the purpose of baptism, which is part of one receiving salvation.  Some of the Scriptures which we have examined above (in the preceding article), will give us insight also into the meaning and purpose of baptism.  The purpose of baptism involves--


According to Acts 2:38, Peter told the believers that the purpose of baptism was to remit, or remove their sins. This is actually contrary to what some religious bodies teach and practice today!  Many teach that one is saved by belief only, and that they can be and are saved without baptism.  If they are baptized, they teach, it comes after they have already been saved.  But this is not what Peter seems to be saying in Acts 2:38.  He taught that baptism was carried out for the remission of, or for the purpose of removing, sins.  He is essentially saying that a person can no more be saved, or have their sins remitted without baptism than he can have his sins remitted without belief or repentance.


As Paul spoke in Acts 22:16, baptism is directly tied in to the "washing away" or the "carrying away"  of sins.  Some argue "How can someone literally 'wash' their sins away?"  "How does dipping or immersing someone in water do anything for sins?"  While it is not in our ability to understand everything the Lord has commanded and why it is commanded, few can deny that baptism is a critical part of obtaining salvation.  It is not a scientific event.  The "washing" is not literal, in the physical sense, but rather, spiritual.  With further study, the spiritual significance of baptism can be seen.  In the physical or scientific realm, baptism seems silly or irrelevant, and totally unnecessary.  But faith does not exist because of scientific thought.  Baptism is not about an observable phenomenon, aside from someone getting wet.  The most important event takes place in what the Lord promises to do when one obeys this command, as Paul says, their sins are "washed away".


In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter seems to answer some of the above arguments when he writes: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  As he says here, baptism is not about washing off the body of its odors and dirt, as one would to in taking a bath or shower, but rather, it is about showing God our personal faith in his will and promises.  Some have argued that this is the sole purpose of baptism, that is, the answer of a good conscience.  Various denominations teach that one is saved simply by believing, and then one can be baptized at a later time to show good faith as a sort of symbolic gesture of obedience to the Lord.  While certainly baptism is a part of "the answer of a good conscience toward God", there is more than a symbolic gesture or an afterthought to salvation.  As the Scriptures above have stated, there is literal spiritual meaning to the act of being baptized.  As the beginning of the passage above states, "the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us."


According to the Scriptures, baptism has always been an important and vital step in one being recognized as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  It has been and is still the "ultimate" step in affiliating one's self as a follower of Jesus.  On the day of Pentecost, the very day the church was born, Peter and the apostles taught baptism.  No doubt they taught the fact that baptism was a vital part of being identified as a Christian.  Look at the language used in Acts 2:41: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."  What an event this must have been to those witnessing the things happening that day! Three thousand baptized! But look at the way it is told.  Three thousand were added unto them.  Added to what?  Added to the number of the disciples. Added to the church that Jesus Christ said he would build.  These were the first converts.  They affiliated themselves with the crucified Savior by being baptized.


Look again at Acts 2:41 from above.  Then look at Acts 2:47.  There the Bible says, speaking of these newly baptized converts: "Praising God, and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."  Now look at the language of this verse.  These newly baptized converts to Christ were added by the Lord to a group, or a body of people.  By baptism, these individuals had obeyed the final step in becoming a Christian.  Now they were added to a special organization -- the church.  Who was added to the church? The saved.  Who are the saved?  Those who believed in Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, confessed Christ's name, and were baptized. Furthermore, think about Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."  The apostle speaks of the church members as members of a body spiritual -- the body of Christ. Who are the members of the church?  They are all who have been baptized into that one body.  The Scriptures teach that those who are baptized for the remission of sins are added to the body -- the church.  There is no command or example found in the Bible where anyone ever became a member of the Lord's church without first submitting to the command to be baptized.


Besides the command that one be baptized to have sins removed or forgiven, the Bible also teaches that baptism has great symbolic nature in the sight of God. Turn to the words of Paul in Romans six.  Let's read there beginning at verse three, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."  Baptism is a likeness, or pattern, of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is the way, or manner, in which the death of Christ touches us personally.  Jesus Christ died upon Calvary's cross. He then was buried.  On the third day, he rose again; he was resurrected. Baptism is the way in which every human being comes in contact with the death of Christ.  We then must decide to change our lives, and the person of sin that we once were must be done away with; it must die to sin, spiritually speaking. We then are buried in baptism, to "wash away" those sins, and then, as we emerge from the water, we, in a spiritual sense, are "resurrected" into a new life, a Christian.  Thus, through baptism, we come in personal contact with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Savior.  In Colossians 2:12 we also find, "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead." In this also the symbolism of the "burial"  must not be overlooked.  In burial, of course, one is completely covered, or "immersed" into the ground. Baptism, as these last two Scriptures have pointed out, is also a burial, or an immersion, into water.  There are many today who do not teach and practice this.  Many denominations have what they call baptisms, whether it be sprinkling water, pouring water, or of some other means of administering it. But can sprinkling or pouring of water be considered true Bible baptism?  It would seem that those methods could be no more considered Bible baptism than sprinkling or pouring a pitcher full of dirt on a casket can be considered a true burial.  If baptism is to truly symbolize a burial, then, as a matter of consistency, it must be done by immersion, or by completely dipping a person into water.  Some have tried to argue that the only reason Philip immersed the eunuch in Acts 8 was because be didn't have a pitcher or a water container with him to sprinkle or pour water on his head.  But think of the setting. They were both traveling, most likely in a desert area, as is much of the Middle East and North Africa.  Why would they not have some sort of canteen or water container? The fact of it is, Philip immersed the eunuch because that is what Jesus taught. To do otherwise would not have reflected the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus which baptism is meant to reflect. Galatians 3:26-27 points out again how we come in contact with the salvation that is in Christ.  It says: "For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."  We put on Christ by faith and by way of baptism.  We must first be baptized into Christ in order to put on Christ.


Below is a brief rundown of the differences between the modern practices of many denominations and the baptism that we read about in the New Testament.
Sometimes go to the water. Always go to the water.
(Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:5, Acts 8:36).
Some immerse, some sprinkle. Always immersion.
(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12).
Many baptisms. One baptism.
(Ephesians 4:1-5; Mark 16:16).
Form or act of baptism matters little. Must be correct -- SCRIPTURAL
(Acts 19:1-7; Acts 2:38).
Right element must be used -- WATER
(I Peter 3:21).
Right persons -- NOT INFANTS or those NOT ACCOUNTABLE
(Acts 8:12; Acts 18:8).
Right act -- BURIAL
(Colossians 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4).
Right purpose -- REMISSION OF SINS
(Acts 2:38).


Very clearly, and at the very least, the Scriptures teach that baptism is an important part of being a child of God, and being pleasing in his sight. Every time baptism is mentioned in the Bible, it is always linked with one being saved, and a part of showing an affiliation with Jesus Christ. When one is baptized, they come in contact with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and " put on" Christ, all of which are essential to one being saved, and recognized as a child of God. What do the Scriptures teach is a legitimate, righteous baptism? First, one must believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, believe in his doctrine, and in his word (Mark 16:16). One must repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), One must confess their belief in Jesus as the Son of God (Rom. 10:10; Matt. 10:32-33). Upon doing these things, one becomes a fit candidate for baptism. For a scriptural baptism, one must then be immersed for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19), for the purpose of being added to the church which is found in the New Testament (Acts 2:47).

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