The following letter was written to a sister in Christ who asked me a question concerning a teaching she had heard: that baptism washes away sins.
No, I strongly disagree with that statement. God has forgiven us of our sins, and yet we still need to bury them? By baptism? That's absurd. If what he says is true, that we, as Christians, carry sins around like garbage and need to put them in the garbage can by baptism, does that mean you need to be baptized again and again every time you sin? The Mormon's Sunday sacrament would suggest this. Mormons essentially renew their baptism every week and believe that they are washing away their sins by doing so. This is folly, and ignorant of God’s salvation.
No matter how you slice it, there is only one way that sins are forgiven: that is through the death of Jesus Christ. Water does not remit sin, blood does. And not any blood, but only the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Our sins are not forgiven only to continue to defile us. Our sins are "removed as far as the east is from the west" through the blood of Jesus. (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." (Rev. 1:5) "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26:28) It is unnecessary to go through the whole Bible to prove this point; there is no question that remission of sins comes to us solely through the death of Christ - by the blood of the new covenant.
Therefore, we must recognize that wherever the remission of sins is mentioned in Scripture it is directly connected to the death of Christ the Lamb of God, though there be no actual mention of His death in the text itself. For example, when we read in the Old Testament, "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah." (Psalm 85:2), we see that no mention of Jesus is made, but we know without a doubt that Jesus is in direct view. How are their sins forgiven? How will God cover their sins? By the Messianic sacrifice. It need not be mentioned for us to understand. Another example, "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." (Acts 13:38) We know that, though the death of Christ is not mentioned in this text, it is unmistakably connected. The forgiveness of sins comes to us "through this man" because of his atoning death on the cross. It need not be mentioned for us to understand. Wherever the remission of sins is spoken of, there we must also read between the lines the unspoken basis for that remission: the death of Christ (not create some new and unheard of basis of which the Scriptures know nothing about).
Water does not remit sins. We are not washed from our inward corruptions by external purifications! Shall we attempt to go back under the law of rituals and purifyings which could do nothing to cleanse a guilty conscience? Do we honestly think that a poor stricken conscience that is burdened by the guilt of sin will be satisfied to hear that a water baptism has purified it before God? No! There's no sound basis for relieving the conscience in that. Such external rituals cannot bring peace to a guilt-ridden soul. "Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:9-14) Only the death of Christ, satisfying the just demands of the law on our behalf, declaring and upholding the righteousness of God, can bring peace. By this only can a man rest assured that the forgiveness of sins is offered to him lawfully and without presumption.
The misunderstanding is cleared up when we realize that water baptism, though nothing in and of itself, is the believers’ act of public identification with the one who died for their sins. Baptism was practiced before New Testament times - it was practiced when a Gentile would convert to Judaism. It was a means of identifying himself with the people of Israel and doing away with his old heathenish identity. The former life had passed away; dead and buried. This was the imagery of baptism. True New Testament baptism conveys a much deeper spiritual meaning. A person is spiritually born again and created anew in Christ. The old Adamic identity is crucified with Christ; dead and buried. The believer is quickened together with Christ to new identity in Him. All this is demonstrated by water baptism, a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of a believer with Christ.
In Acts 2:38, Peter's message to the international group of Jews who had gathered to witness the holy commotion which had occurred during Pentecost, was for them to believe that Jesus is the Messiah whose death and resurrection was the fulfillment of prophecy... prophecy that foretold of the suffering servant who would be put to death for the justification of sinners (Isaiah 53). This message was central to all the early Christian preaching: "But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." (Acts 3:18-19) Peter's message, and ours today, are the same: repent and be converted (turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and put your faith and trust in Him) and your sins will be forgiven through His atoning blood. Baptism, like the Gentile's baptism, is an act of conversion, though it in and of itself is nothing but an image or act which correlates to a true inward reality. The remission of sins does not come from the water of baptism, but by faith in the vicarious death of the suffering servant. Where remission is, there always is the death of Jesus Christ. Though the picture and imagery of baptism is used in Scripture as a means for explanation of the spiritual death and quickening of the individual in Christ, and baptism itself as a convenient reference point for conversion, it is always and only the blood of Jesus, applied by faith alone, that is the sole basis for the forgiveness of sins.
Because the basis of forgiveness is the blood of eternal covenant, the death of the Lamb of God has a once-and-for-all effect that is permanent and unchangeable. "For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14) No repetition, no renewal. "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 8:12) Now that's an unshakable promise!
I hope this is helpful for you, M-----. May the Lord bless you,