SALVATION BY REPENTANCE AND BELIEF: DOES WATER BAPTISM FORGIVE SINS?
If water baptism forgives sins, then it would be necessary for salvation, i.e., in order for someone to be saved. Well, does it? What we’re actually going to do is take a radical approach to find this out. We’ll determine what water baptism doesn’t provide, which should help us find out what it indicates and hence, its purpose.
The answer as to what the purpose of water baptism is according to the salvation message of repentance and belief is multi-faceted. Where should I begin? By asking a question that will help us in trying to formulate one thing that water baptism might or might not accomplish. And by the way, bear with me as this will involve much information and minutia.
Does water baptism forgive sins?
Some believe that one of the reasons why water baptism is a necessary part of salvation is because it forgives sins. Obviously, if it does, it would most certainly be something that must take place in order to complete the salvation process. According to this salvation message, we’ll find out if it does or doesn’t. Let’s begin by opening up the Bible, if you have one handy to the book of Acts.
Suggested Reading: Acts 2:1-47
36-37 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
These verses were declared by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost when Jews came to Jerusalem from all over the region to celebrate the fiftieth day of the feast of Pentecost. Peter and the other disciples received the indwelling Spirit on this day and proceeded to speak to them in their native tongues by means of the gift of tongues concerning Jesus Christ, whom they crucified and slain, and is both Lord (the supreme Governor of all things and all persons78) and Christ (Messiah; God’s chosen one). Their response was, what shall we do?
38 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.
Peter responded by saying to them that they needed to repent and be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ, and their sins would be forgiven. This appears to be straightforward repent, be baptized in water, and your sins will be forgiven. However, sometimes, what appears to be obvious really isn’t. Why? Because to better understand whether what is stated is true or not, we need to put on a different pair of glasses.
You might be thinking this must be about the Koine Greek, the language in which most of the New Testament manuscripts were written, as mentioned earlier in this study. Yes, this is what I’m referring to. In this case, as in a different one that we looked at earlier, this involves an Aorist Participle. I won’t reiterate what this is all about except to say remember that the minor verb always precedes the major verb or verbs.
And there’s one more thing that we need to watch out for when analyzing verses, and that’s prepositions (e.g., from, in, of, at, for, with, etc.) Believe it or not, in Greek, they can have different expressions, which take on different meanings. One other thing that we’ll become aware of is the relationship between the subject of a sentence and the related verb or clause that follows it. If the subject is singular, then the verb or clause that is identified with it should be singular. Likewise, if the subject is plural, then the verb or clause associated with it should be plural. This will help us determine what goes with what or what causes what when interpreting the words of a verse. I know that this is a lot to consider, but sometimes we have to dig deeper to find answers. With that said, we need to take another look at Acts 2:38.
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.
Peter told the unbelieving Jews on the day of Pentecost to Repent, and be baptized. The word Repent means a confession of sins, a hearty purpose to turn from them.79 Repent and what? Some say and be baptized. These are the words that follow in the verse. However, what words should have followed this word weren’t needed to be restated here because it was already declared previously in verse 36, which was to believe in the one who is both Lord and Christ. So, it’s understood that what was being said was, Repent, believe in the one who is both Lord and Christ, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. The words be baptized means to be baptized in water for the remission (forgiveness) of sins. Is the ordering of these words correct? Let’s see.
For one thing, if we were to take another look at the word Repent, what we could determine is that in Greek, it’s described as a verb that’s in the plural. This is so important because in the clause for the remission of your sins, the preposition your is in the plural. You might say this word your doesn’t appear in the English translation. That’s true, but [it’s] contained in Greek text called the Textus Receptus that draws from a group of ancient manuscripts80 from which we get the English translation in the King James Version of the Bible.
And along with this, the words be baptized is a verb in Greek that is in the singular. Off goes the alarm! Did you hear it? Therefore, only the clause for the remission of your sins goes with the verb repent. Therefore, the wording of this verse should be rewritten as, Repent, and believe in the one who is both Lord and Christ for the remission of your sins, and be baptized.
Just to add one more thought or clarification to this, take a closer look at the preposition for, which is the Greek word eis that can also mean on the basis of. Again, we could further rewrite this verse as, Repent and believe in the one who is both Lord and Christ on the basis of the remission of your sins. In other words, what Peter was really saying to the unbelieving Jews was repent and believe in Christ on the basis of your sins having already been forgiven at the cross, and after which, be baptized in water. As we can see, in this instance, water baptism doesn’t forgive sins.
Is there another verse that will help us determine whether water baptism forgives sins?
Yes, there is. Please go to the book of Ephesians.
Suggested Reading: Ephesians 1:3-11
6-7 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
The Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians at Ephesus, telling them the many things God the Father had done for them. In particular, let’s focus on what was made known to them, and that is:
●By His grace, which He freely bestowed on them, He made them accepted (freely bestowed on us the grace which saved us81) in the beloved (in the sphere of the Lord Jesus, His Person, and His work on the Cross82).
●He provided for them in Christ redemption through his blood from the retributive wrath of a holy God and the merited penalty of sin83, and the forgiveness of sins (to carry away our sins so they might never again be seen84).
It’s pretty obvious that these verses are telling us that the forgiveness of sins took place at the cross.
What else can we find out about water baptism with respect to the forgiveness of sins? By going to the book of Acts.
Suggested Reading: Acts 3:1-4:31
Acts 3:1-2 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
A man, who was born crippled at birth, was placed at one of the nine gates of the temple at Jerusalem to beg for money. He was miraculously healed by the Holy Spirit, through the intermediary of the Apostle Peter. After the healing took place, he entered the temple with the Apostles Peter and John. The people, who knew personally of this man’s physical disability, had witnessed the incredible healing for themselves and subsequently gathered together in the porch that is called Solomon’s.
Acts 3:16 And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
Peter, seizing the opportunity, spoke to all of them and said that it was through faith in the name of Jesus Christ that this man was made whole in order to walk again.
Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
And then he said to them that likewise, if they were to Repent (to have a change of mind about themselves, their sin, and Jesus Christ85) and be converted (turn to God through this Christ … and believing on his name86), then their sins may be blotted out (to cause you to have no guilt87) when the times of refreshing (blessings of God such as peace, love, joy, and communion with himself88) shall come from His presence, which would signify the fruit or spiritual qualities of the Holy Spirit.
Once someone is saved, they have an amazing opportunity to learn how to walk in the Spirit by confessing sin to God the Father and receiving forgiveness for them. This forgiveness has to do with being restored to fellowship with God in time and recovering the filling of the Spirit. What this is essentially all about is learning how to grow spiritually.
There’s another group of Scriptures that will shed further light on the forgiveness of sins. Please stay in the book of Acts and proceed to chapter 10.
Suggested Reading: Acts 10:1-48
43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
The Apostle Peter, being accompanied by fellow Jewish Christians, was in the house of a Gentile named Cornelius and his kinsmen proclaiming the salvation message of Christ. He told them that whosoever believed in the name of Christ (by virtue of who He is and what He hath done89) shall receive remission of sins (not just to the guilt of sin merely, but also to its power, nature, and consequences90).
The words shall receive in Greek are classified as an aorist active infinitive. We haven’t yet talked about what an infinitive is. An infinitive is otherwise known as a verbal noun that simply expresses the aim of one’s previous action. In other words, when an unbeliever chooses to believe in Jesus at a point in time, the result is that they’ll receive the forgiveness of their sins. This seems confusing, doesn’t it? Because at the cross, we’ve learned that all mankind has already had their sins forgiven. So, this has to mean something else.
Romans 6:3-8 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: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
What this has to do with is something we’re all too familiar with, and that is the bundle of benefits received at salvation following the receiving of the Holy Spirit. At salvation, each new believer is baptized, not by water, but by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. At this time, positionally, as God sees them, they’re dead to sin, and all that pertains to it. When Christ died to sin, so did we. However, in our experience, we’re working this spiritual reality out.
Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s no mention of water baptism forgiving sins because it doesn’t.
We have one final section of Scriptures to look at. These are also found in the book of Acts.
Suggested Reading: Acts 22:1-16; Acts 9:17-18
The Apostle Paul finally made it to Jerusalem, his ultimate destination. After presenting himself before the Apostle James and the elders of the church that were residing there, he was told by them that many of the Jewish Christians were upset with him. Apparently, they were under the impression that his teachings prohibited them from observing their Jewish customs.
Therefore, a plan was devised to try and dispel this notion by the Christian leaders that would take place at the temple of Jerusalem. This, unfortunately, didn’t go as planned. When Paul arrived there and attempted to show that he still supported some of their customs, he was apprehended by an unruly mob who attempted to kill him. Fortunately, he was rescued by Roman soldiers, whose purpose was to bring him into a nearby castle where he’d be interrogated so as to find out by them what he’d done wrong that provoked the crowd.
1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you.
As Paul was being led up the stairs of the castle, he turned back to face the mob, telling them about his Jewish religious background and how his conversion to Christianity came about. He told them about a certain disciple of Jesus named Ananias, who was sent to lay hands on him so that he would receive his eyesight back that was temporarily lost during his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
Acts 9:17-18 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.
Not only did he receive his sight back, but in the original account of this incident, he also was filled with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
So, we could assume that either the filling occurred simultaneously with the indwelling at this time or that Paul received the Holy Spirit earlier after he fell to the earth, heard a voice, and asked who it was.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
If we were to take a look at the recounting of this story in Acts 22, what we’re told was that he was baptized in water having his sins washed away (forgiven), calling on the name of the Lord. And here we go again. At face value, we could say that after Paul received his sight and was filled with the Spirit, he was baptized in water, having his sins forgiven and called on the name of Jesus. Is this the actual order of the words in Greek? Well, we’ll have to put on our Greek glasses again in order to figure this out. Do you have them on?
Believe it or not, the words calling on are in the form of, you guessed it, an Aorist Participle, which is the minor verb that precedes the two major verbs of be baptized and wash away. This tells us that Paul called on the name of the Lord before he was baptized in water. The idea could be that he was baptized in water after he’d made a confess of Christ as His Lord and Savior.
And then he was immersed in water, having his sins washed away. Does this mean that water baptism forgives sins?
Colossians 2:12 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.
According to this gospel, its symbolic of God’s inner work of washing away sin.
Another way of saying this is that water baptism is an illustration of what already took place at salvation. It’s a picture of the new believer being dead to sin and, like Christ, being raised from the dead to newness of life. I don’t know about you, but we’ve learned that the forgiveness of sins is multi-faceted.
While this addresses one significant aspect of water baptism, there’s another conjecture that when someone is baptized in water, they’ll receive someone of great importance into their life that will confirm the necessity for this event needing to take place. Any idea what this is all about? We’ll find out in the next chapter.
80What is the Critical Text?
84The Bible Exposition Commentary/New Testament 1989, 12 December 2018 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
85The Bible Exposition Commentary/New Testament.
87UBS New Testament.
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