The Washing Away of Our Sins
We have learned that the word "baptize" means to wash, to cleanse, to purify. It is entirely synonymous with many Biblical statements that associate washing or cleansing with the washing away of our sins when we become saved. Ezekiel 36:25 says it so well:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
We have also learned that ordinarily when we see the word "baptize" in the Bible, it is pointing to the washing away of our sins. It is normally not speaking of water baptism. Only if the context clearly points to water baptism are we to understand that the shadow which is water baptism is in view.
Only if the context clearly points to water baptism are we to understand that the shadow which is water baptism is in view.
There are other questions that we must face. What about water baptism? What does the Bible have to say about water baptism? Who should be baptized? Is baptism a condition for salvation? Does water baptism initiate or guarantee salvation?
Is Water Baptism a Requirement for Salvation?
The first question we should address is: Is water baptism in any way a condition for salvation? This question is very valid because Mark 16:16 teaches:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned..
And in Acts 2:38, God declares:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We read in John 3:5:
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
There appears to be plenty of evidence that water baptism must be experienced as part of the salvation process.
But water baptism is a work that we do. And the Bible warns that salvation is solely the work of God. Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
There is One Baptism
The solution to the question comes when we go back to first principles. The Bible insists that there is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). How are we to understand this?
We can understand this when we realize that there can be something that is substantive and actual, but it also may cast a shadow. Earlier we used the analogy of a tree. A tree is substantive and actual. A tree may cast a shadow that is altogether identified with the tree but has no substance at all in itself. So, too, the baptism (washing away of sins) performed by God is substantive and
actual. But water baptism is only a shadow of the action performed by God. Water baptism is identified with baptism (washing) with the Spirit so that there is one baptism. Water baptism is the shadow so it has no substance in itself.
Earlier in our study, we learned that the ceremonial washings of the Old Testament were shadows of the washing away of sins that would be accomplished by the coming Messiah. So, too, the baptism with water is a shadow of the washing away of our sins which is accomplished by Christ's payment for our sins. The shadow, water baptism, is, therefore, a sign that points to the washing away of the sins of the one who became saved; or it points to the hope that some time in the future the individual baptized may become saved. There is no substance in the act of water baptism. Water baptism is a ceremonial command of the New Testament church age.
But water baptism is the shadow so it has no substance in itself.
Therefore, when the New Testament uses the word "baptism" it ordinarily must be understood to mean the act of God washing away our sins. Thus, Mark 16:16 is declaring that there are two conditions which give evidence of salvation: God has given us a faith whereby we have come to trust God as our Lord and Savior; and our sins have been washed away; that is, we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
An interesting usage of the word "baptism" is found in I Peter 3:21, where the Bible records:
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.
Actually, the baptism that is in view must be spiritual baptism because we know that water baptism can never save. This verse is explaining that spiritual baptism does not put away the filth of the
flesh, as the shadow water baptism does. Rather, it gives us the answer of a good conscience toward God; that is, our conscience can no longer accuse us of being under the wrath of God because our sins have been washed away. The proof of this washing away of our sins is that Christ was resurrected which in turn proves that He had fully paid for the sins of those whose sins were washed away.
Likewise, Acts 2:38 indicates that we are to repent and be baptized. Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 5:31, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins"). Baptism for the remission of our sins is God's act as He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit; that is, He cleanses us of our sins.
In John 3, Jesus declares that we are to be born again (the better translation is "born from above"). He states that we are to be born of water and the Spirit. The water cannot be a reference to the physical water of baptism since there is no salvation substance in that act. The Bible shows us that it is the water of the Gospel. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:14:
But whosoever drinketh the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
And in John 7:37-38:
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
That water of which we are to drink and which flows from the believer is the Gospel as it is applied by the Holy Spirit to the life of the individual He is saving. Remember that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The Word of God is the Gospel which we must hear as a prerequisite for salvation.
In other words, God is declaring in John 3:5 that we will become saved when we have heard the Gospel and it is applied to our hearts by the action of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, under no circumstances are we to countenance the idea that water baptism is in any way a condition for salvation. In Acts 10 we read of the conversion of Cornelius. After he had been converted, he was baptized in water.
That water of which we are to drink and which flows from the believer is the Gospel as it is applied by the Holy Spirit to the life of the individual He is saving.
Saul of Tarsus is Baptized
Earlier in our study, reference was made to the salvation of Saul of Tarsus who became Paul. After he had been arrested by God, as he journeyed to Damascus, he was without sight for three days during which time he was praying. A devout believer named Ananias was sent to him and declared in Acts 9:16-18:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith and arose, and was baptized.
Do these verses insist that we are to be baptized to wash away our sins? Indeed, they do, but water baptism cannot wash away sins. Only baptism in the Holy Spirit, the spiritual washing performed by God, can wash away sins. Saul, therefore, is being told that he must be baptized by the Holy Spirit so that his sins might be washed away. In Titus 3:5, we read:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
In Ephesians 5:26-27, God declares:
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself as a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Only God can wash away sins, and He does so as He applies the water of the Word to our lives.
This emphasizes the principle that when we read the word "baptize" in the Bible, we ordinarily must first think of it as a word that identifies with the action of God in washing away our sins.
This emphasizes the principle that when we read the word "baptize" in the Bible, we ordinarily must first think of it as a word that identifies with the action of God in washing away our sins. This principle is quite contrary to what we commonly think. Usually, when we see the word "baptize" in the Bible, we think of water baptism.
Indeed, there are many references to physical water baptism. We read of John the Baptist and the disciples baptizing, of the Ethiopian eunuch being baptized by Philip, the family of Cornelius by Peter, the Samaritans of Acts 8 by Philip, the jailer of Philippi and all his by Paul, Lydia and her household by Paul, the twelve Ephesians of Acts 19 by Paul, Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanus by Paul.
However, when God commands the unbeliever to be baptized, as He does in Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, the command becomes
synonymous with the command to become saved, and only God can save. Only He can wash away our sins. The command to be baptized in the Spirit is an action which only God can do.
Likewise, we can understand I Corinthians 12:13:
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.
We are baptized, that is, washed of our sins when we become saved. The cleansing of our sins places us into the body of believers which God also speaks of as the body of Christ.
Baptized into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
The command of Matthew 28:19 is especially interesting because in it God commands all believers to teach and to baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The verse declares:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in ["into" is the correct translation] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Is water baptism in view or baptism in the Spirit? The parallel passage of Mark 16:15-16 helps us to know:
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
The teaching and the preaching are to take place worldwide so that as many as possible will hear the Gospel. Of those who heard, there will be some who will believe and be baptized. The fact that they have believed and the fact that they are baptized (their sins were washed away), are the result of the action of God working in
their lives. Therefore, the command of Mathew 28:19 effectively declares that we are to teach the Word of God so that through the Word there will be those who will be baptized (that is, their sins will be washed away).
Additionally, this very significant verse teaches that those who become saved are washed (baptized) into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is teaching that salvation brings us into a most intimate union with God in every aspect of His being. Only when we get to heaven will we understand the full glorious meaning of this verse.
Therefore, we must understand that water baptism is not in view except as a shadow of the action that God has performed or hopefully will perform. It should be easy to understand that no physical act such as water baptism can ever bring anyone into an intimate union with our triune God.
It should be easy to understand that no physical act such as water baptism can ever bring anyone into an intimate union with our triune God.
How Are We to Apply Water Baptism?
The next question we should face is in regards to the mode of baptism. Should baptism be by sprinkling, by immersion, or by water being poured on?
One would think, given the popular practice of immersion which is utilized by so many churches, that the Bible must clearly teach that immersion is the Biblical mode. But when we search the Bible carefully, we find nothing that speaks of immersion. Nor do we find any examples of believers being immersed. Nor do we find the idea of immersion associated with salvation and the washing away of sins.
What then in the Bible is so suggestive of immersion that many believe the Bible is teaching immersion? You may remember that in Chapter 1, we showed that the Greek word bapto in no way teaches that baptism means immersion. Two citations are especially used to teach immersion. The first is concerned with the baptism of Jesus. Was He immersed in the Jordan River? Did not
Nor do we find the idea of immersion associated with salvation and the washing away of sins.
John the Baptist baptize in the Jordon River because there was much water there? The Bible speaks of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16:
And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.
Does this verse teach without question that Jesus went up out of the water, and, therefore, He must have been immersed?
This verse does not speak of immersion. This verse says He went up out of the water. How must we understand this phrase? The Biblical rule is that we are to seek help from the Bible. Doing so, we come to Acts 8:38-39, where the Bible describes the water baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. We read there:
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized them. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Notice that verse 39 speaks of coming up out of the water which is the very same phrase that describes Jesus going up out of the
water. What does verse 38 say? It says, "they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch." Whatever action the eunuch took was an exact duplicate to that which Philip took. They both went down into the water. To make sure that we have not misunderstood, the emphasis is added, both Philip and the eunuch. Therefore, if going down into the water implies immersion, then we must conclude that Philip immersed himself at the same time he immersed the eunuch. Such a conclusion, of course, makes no sense. God is simply teaching that there was a body of water, and that Philip and the eunuch both went down to the bank into the water. There they stood ankle deep or knee deep (how deep is altogether unimportant), and Philip baptized the eunuch. Later in our study, we will see that the Bible suggests the mode of baptism, and it will not be immersion.
Therefore, if going down into the water implies immersion, then we must conclude that Philip immersed himself at the same time he immersed the eunuch.
To further reinforce the teaching that going down into the water does not imply immersion, the next phrase of Acts 8:39 declares, "And when they were come up out of the water." God frequently uses the number three to symbolically emphasize God's purpose. The threefold emphasis, both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and they were coming up out of the water, underscores that it is God's purpose that we are not to understand that immersion was the mode of baptism in this historical event. Clearly the language coming up out of the water cannot imply baptism by immersion. Since Jesus also came up out of the water after He was baptized, we must not see an implication of immersion in His baptism.
You may remember that earlier in our study we learned that Jesus had to be ceremonially washed before He could do the work of the High Priest. He was not only the Lamb that was offered, but
He was also the High Priest. Do you recall that the priests were ceremonially washed before they ministered at the altar? Exodus 30:18-21
Thou shalt also make a lavar of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD: So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
The priests' hand and feet were washed. That was the washing Jesus had to experience before ministering at the altar of sacrifice. Thus, we would not in any way expect that Jesus was immersed when He was baptized.
Does Romans 6 Teach Immersion?
Another Bible verse that appears to imply immersion is Romans 6:3-4:
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.
Many preachers emphasize that when someone is immersed into the water, he is immersed with all his sins. Then, when his is brought out of the water, his sins are left behind, and he is now free from his sins. This verse is frequently used to support such a teaching.
But, as we learned earlier in this study, these verses are not speaking of water baptism. They are speaking of the washing away
of our sins that occurs when we become saved. Burial does not identify with immersion. Burial identifies with death. It is the evidence that death has occurred. We were washed of our sins because Christ in His death took our sins upon Himself. To free Himself from these sins, He had to pay the penalty demanded by the law for the sins. That penalty was not immersion. It was the second death, eternal damnation. The penalty had to be the equivalent of or equal to the punishment for all the sins of everyone for whom He came as Savior. Therefore, it was as if those of us whom He came to save were actually experiencing the second death. We were washed of our sins because we, in principle (Christ was our substitute, our stand-in), experienced the death that Christ endured. Thus, the phrase, "buried with him by baptism into death," teaches that we are washed of our sins because we were completely and perfectly identified with Jesus as He suffered the second death, eternal damnation, on our behalf. The idea of going down into the water with our sins and coming up out of the water without our sins is foreign to the Bible. When God uses the word baptism to signify cleansing from our sins, it is always expressing the idea of washing.
The penalty had to be the equivalent of or equal to the punishment for all the sins of everyone for whom He came as Savior.
Thus, Romans 6:3-4 is not teaching immersion in any sense. In fact, immersion is never used in the Bible as a synonym for salvation. On the other hand, the word baptism, which means washing, has many symptoms in the Bible which describe salvation. Cleansing, purifying, purging, and washing are some of the synonyms that frequently are used to describe salvation.
What is the Biblical Method of Water Baptism?
If immersion is not taught as a Biblical method of baptism, what else does the Bible offer concerning the Biblical method of
baptism? Is it true, as we saw earlier, that the Old Testament ceremonial washings included the washing of hands and feet, the washing of clothes, the bathing of the body, and the sprinkling with water. All of these were Old Testament ceremonies that pointed to the washing away of our sins by the shed blood of the coming Messiah. Is there anything in the Bible that points specifically to New Testament baptism? We have already learned that the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch give us no clues concerning the mode of baptism.
But the baptism of the eunuch does give a clue. It is not found in the language describing his physical baptism, but rather, it is found in the verses in the Bible that he was reading. Acts 8:32-33 clearly show that he was reading Isaiah 53, which describes the Messiah who was to come. Philip was brought to explain this passage to the eunuch.
The introduction to Isaiah 53 is in Isaiah 52, particularly beginning with verse 7 and continuing with the language of verses 13-15, which are an integral part of the description of the Messiah who was to come. Note the language of Isaiah 52:13-15:
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
These verses give the clue as to why the eunuch desired to be baptized and the method by which he was baptized. Verse 15 declares, "So shall he sprinkle many nations…" We can imagine the eunuch's questions concerning this phrase. We can also imagine how Philip answered him using the Scriptures. He would surely have used the same Scriptures that we use as we compare Scripture with Scripture. Ezekiel 36:24-27 promises:
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then
will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Notice God's usage of the word "sprinkle." "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you." The clean water is the Gospel that He applies to our lives when our sins are washed away. When our sins are washed away, God gives us a new spirit. This agrees with Jesus' statement, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). When we become saved, our sins are washed away, and we are given a brand new resurrected soul or spirit. Additionally, Ezekiel 36, verse 27, teaches that God's Spirit indwells us, "I will put my spirit within you."
Therefore, the salvation plan which was to involve all the nations of the world is spoken of in Isaiah 52:15 as sprinkling many nations because it means that people from many nations may have sprinkled with the Gospel so that they would be washed clean of their sins.
Therefore, the salvation plan which was to involve all the nations of the world is spoken of in Isaiah 52:15 as sprinkling many nations because it means that people from many nations may have sprinkled (washed) with the Gospel so that they would be washed clean of their sins. Because many nations are being spoken of, it definitely is related to the New Testament era after the explosion of the Gospel as recorded in Acts.
When Philip explained this to the Ethiopian eunuch, he, too, wanted the outward sign of salvation which is water baptism. The
sign Philip and he had been discussing was sprinkling. Therefore, the implication is very strong that after Philip and the eunuch had both gone into the pool of water, Philip sprinkled water on the eunuch as the baptismal shadow of that which hopefully had occurred in the heart of the eunuch.
A significant passage that relates sprinkling to salvation is Numbers 8, versus 5-7:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.
Verse 11 continues with:
And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD.
Verses 14-18 state:
Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me. For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself. And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel.
This passage beautifully points to Christ who was typified by the Levites. We who become saved are typified by the firstborn.
Jesus, who was typified by the Levites, was given as an offering on behalf of the firstborn (those whom He came to save). We who are believers have had our sins washed away by Christ giving His life for us. He was washed (sprinkled) by enduring the wrath of God.
Significantly, the ceremony which pointed to spiritual cleansing was sprinkling with water (Numbers 8:7).
Significantly, the ceremony which pointed to spiritual cleansing was sprinkling with water (Numbers 8:7).
Thus, we are definitely directed by God to sprinkling as the New Testament mode of water baptism.
Summarizing What We Have Learned
Summarizing what we have learned about the method by which water baptism is to be performed, the following principles are in view:
· Immersion (going down into the water so that the water covers) or emmersion (coming up from under the water), is never used in a way that is related to baptism.
· Washing, cleansing, or purifying is the focus of salvation and, therefore, should be the focus of the ceremonial act of water baptism. This accords with the meaning of the word "baptism" which is washing.
· The Old Testament symbols of cleansing were sprinkling or washing. Washing could include parts of a person's body or his whole body.
· Sprinkling particularly points to New Testament ceremonial cleansing both in Ezekiel 36:25 and Isaiah 52. Therefore, it is the most desirable method of water baptism.
Now we should be ready to examine some remaining questions concerning water baptism. Who is to be baptized in water? Are we absolutely sure that there is no spiritual grade in the act of water baptism? We will examine these and other questions in the next chapter.