Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Does Baptism Wash Away Our Sins?

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.

Hello M-----,

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,


Margie said...

Hi Eli: Thank you, for your thorough explanation on water baptism. That question I had asked was sent to me by someone who is a minister who believes and teaches the Oneness doctrine.
I agree with you 100%. The Oneness requires baptism in order to be saved and the baptism has to be done according to a certain FORMULA or you are not saved at all. This is not what the Word of God teaches. They do not recognize Matthew 28:19 and what Jesus commanded us to do.
I praise God for you Eli. Love in Jesus, Margie

Anonymous said...

Hallo. I completely agree that salvation is by the blood of Jesus. But what do you say to the opinion that it is by baptism that we get into contact with that Holy Blood?
'Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 When we were baptized into his death, we were placed into the tomb with him. As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life. 5 If we've become united with him in a death like his, certainly we will also be united with him when we come back to life as he did. 6 We know that the person we used to be was crucified with him to put an end to sin in our bodies. Because of this we are no longer slaves to sin. 7 The person who has died has been freed from sin.'
Romans 6:3-7
Paul's account of his own conversion 'what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized, washing your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord' (Acts 22:16)also indicates that baptism is the way of receiving forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.
I'd like to know what your thoughts are on that.

Eli said...

Hi Anonymous,

I completely object to the idea that we get into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ through baptism. That is a magical rather than a moral view of salvation. We are talking about forgiveness. God is forgiving toward sinners, and they are reconciled to Him the moment they put their trust in His grace revealed in the cross of Christ. They realize they are in need of reconciliation, and find all the reconciliation they need at the cross and there alone. God does not require water to forgive. He forgives those who hope in His mercy.

It is evident that baptism does not connect us with forgiveness because Abraham was not baptized, nor any of the forgiven saints of the Old Testament, nor the thief on the cross, nor the paralytic on the mat who was lowered through the roof, nor Zaccheus, nor the woman caught in adultery... Cornelius' household was reconciled to God before they were baptized, and the Philippian jailer was told that in order to be saved he needed to believe. Baptism was practiced and baptism is important, but it is not what connects us with the blood of Christ and the forgiving heart of God; if we think so, we are missing the point and are making Christianity into an unreal, impersonal and magical religion.

I do not believe Romans 6:3-5 is talking about water baptism. In the discussion of justification throughout chapters 1-5, Paul never once mentions water baptism but faith in Christ, and these verses in 6:3-5 are summarizing what He has been saying. The baptism he is referring to is our spiritual union with Christ (see verse 6ff: "crucified with Christ", "dead with Christ; obviously referring to our spiritual union with Him). That baptism can be taken in a non-literal way is understood by scholars.

If baptism were essential, then Paul would never have said: "For Christ sent me not to baptize"(1 Cor. 1:17). Paul understood that it was all about God's heart for mankind revealed in the death of Christ for our sins, and for men to put their hope and trust in that. No one who believes will ever be turned away by God because they were not water baptized.

Anonymous said...

Mormons do not believe in what you suggest that baptism washes away sins. Baptism instead is a covenant ordinance that connects the person to God on His terms. The cleansing comes in the second baptism, which is the fire baptism of the Holy Ghost, and that is when the remission of sins occurs.

Mormons also believe differently than you on repentance. All of us sin, no matter how connected we are to God. Even after baptism we sin on a daily basis. That's why getting the gift of the Holy Ghost is key to become clean again each day.

Most people don't understand the difference between justification and sanctification. The first is a pardon of sin; the other is the cleansing of sin. The pardon of sins happens after getting the two baptisms and after each time we sincerely repent. The latter happens over time when we lose the desire to commit the sin.

It is true that the blood of Christ is what remits our sins since he paid the price for our sins in the garden. His dying on the cross made resurrection possible and the reality of us to stand before God to be judge of our works.

Gary said...

Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct...there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.

One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible...neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ's day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.

So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.

And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works.

Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God's literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font...they are saved by the power of God's Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!

There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Gary said...

Something for Baptists and evangelicals to think about:

The Baptist doctrine of the "Age of Accountability" is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.

Isn't it strange that God provided a means for the babies and toddlers of his chosen people in the Old Testament to be part of his Covenant promises but is completely silent about the issue in the New Testament?

Jesus seemed to really love the little children... but he never mentions even once, if the Baptist/evangelical view of salvation is correct, how a Christian parent can be assured that if something dreadful happens to their baby or toddler, that they will see that child again in heaven.

In the Baptist/evangelical doctrine of adult-only salvation, God leaves our babies and toddlers in spiritual limbo! A Christian parent must pray to God and beg him that little Johnnie "accepts Christ" the very minute he reaches the Age of Accountability, because if something terrible were to happen to him, he would be lost and doomed to eternal hellfire.

Do you really believe that our loving Lord and Savior would do that to Christian parents??

Dear Christian parents: bring your little children to Jesus! He wants to save them just as much as he wants to save adults! Bring your babies and toddlers to the waters of Holy Baptism and let Jesus SAVE them!

The unscriptural "Age of Accountability" is the desperate attempt to plug the "big hole" in the Baptist doctrine of adult-only Salvation/Justification:

How does Jesus save our babies and toddlers?

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Manik Ghoshal said...

Hi Everyone,
I am sure everyone is simply missing the point. The dip in a holy river to be purified, wash away sins, to turn into a new leaf, get a second opportunity to mend our ways, has been an ancient ritual. From where you guys may ask?

well when Ashoka was the Emperor of the whole Indian subcontinent, from the border of Persia to Burma, around 250 BC, he sent Greek speaking emissaries to Egypt, Macedonia and Syria (Israel). The preached ancient Indian religion called Dhamma (The path to Rightiousness). Buddhism is a new name.

A dip in the Holy River Ganges to wash away sins, was an ancient Indian ritual which the ancient followers of Buddha also followed. The religion of Love, Peace, Non-violence, Renunciation, Celibacy to achieve salvation (Moksha/ Kingdom of God, Realm of God) was thus exported to Israel among the Jews. I personally believe the Essenes were the earliest converts from around 200 BC. I also believe Jesus and John belonged to this community of celibate monks, who preached all over Israel. It was indeed an alien religion they were preaching, which went against the tenets of Judaism which does not agree with celibacy, renunciation, just for exampe. So they were accused of being heretics and put to death for converting Jews in large numbers.
I have hundreds of similarities between Christianity and ancient Buddhism (Buddha was a teacher around 500 BC). Shall write a book one day.

Manik Ghoshal said...

I just wanted to add that millions take a dip in the Holy river Ganges every year, especially on auspicious days, with the belief that their sins will be either washed away or reduced by the act. Its also an act of repentance in a way. They take a dip in the river 3 times, and especially at some Holy city river banks. Its not called Baptism but the purpose was the same. After your sins are symbolically washed away you are expected to mend your ways and be a better human being.

Unknown said...

If we believe our sins are forgiven, remitted, washed away at a particular point of time, we should be able to go to the Holy scriptures and identify exactly when our sins were washed away. To just say our sins were washed away at the cross, or to say our sins were washed away when we believed, or to say our sins were washed away through obeying the Word, but have no scripture to substantiate this fact. This could be extremely confusing. We should absolutely be able to give a scripture answer (book, chapter, and verse) for when our sins were washed away. The bible clearly explains exactly when our sins are remitted/washed away, but many refuse to accept the Word of God because it goes against their church traditions or doctrine. These three scriptures absolutely prove and validate when our sins are initially remitted/washed away. Note (Acts 2:38), also (Acts 22:16). Now if you read Revelation (1:5) it correlates exactly with (Acts 22:16).

Unknown said...

Hello Eli, thank you so much for clearly explaining the remission of sins through and only by the death of Christ Jesus.

I am completing my morning Bible study and have questioned several statements made by the author regarding water baptism. This statement, "For truly, baptism will not save those who choose to continue to harbor hatefulness and pride in their hearts, refusing to repent of their sins, ") implies that baptism saves. Another statement I found is, " While water baptism into Jesus Christ effectively removes sins and responds to a person faith, it also parallels the Spirit immersion which totally consumes the believer's life." I don't want to discredit what the author stated, but this statement to be in error. Am I misunderstanding what is being said? I am teachable. Thank you.