The Purpose of Baptism

Intro: There are many issues that distinguish the Lord’s church from the many religious groups of our time. It is challenging to preach and teach the gospel among the denominations because these differences are not always recognized or even perceived. Most today define Christianity loosely and do not hesitate to fellowship or endorse those who do not teach or practice what the Bible teaches.

  • When the newly converted Saul of Tarsus desired to join himself to the established church in Jerusalem, the church refused his request because they “did not believe that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) It was only after Barnabas testified to the apostles that Saul had seen the Lord and been obedient to His will that the church accepted him into their fellowship. So today, churches have a responsibility to extend fellowship only to those who are Christians according to the teachings of the New Testament. 1 John 4:1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God;
  • One of the mot prevalent questions addressed in this context is the question of baptism for the remission of sins. What is the purpose of baptism? Let’s consider this in light of what the Bible teaches (not attempting to defend a “church of Christ doctrine or practice).

I. The Common Denominational View: It is not hard to define the basic view of most denominations concerning the place of baptism in salvation. Although there are slight variations in practice and teaching, the prevalent view is that water baptism is not essential to salvation. It is to come after one is saved.

A. Consider these statements from a popular Baptist publication (What Baptists Believe And Why They Believe It; J. G. Bow) Not singling out Baptist Church – most denominations hold the same view)

      • “Baptists believe that no one is subject for baptism till he is already saved”… “We believe it is a positive command, enjoined upon the believing, saved soul, and is essential to true, loving obedience.”… “Baptists believe that the immersion of a believer is an open declaration to the world that such a one is dead to sin.” Edward Hiscox wrote… Is baptism necessary for salvation? I don’t beat about the bush about it at all. I come out with a plain, definite NO! No, baptism doesn’t save, doesn’t help save, and I’ll go even further to say that it doesn’t have anything in this world to with the saving of a soul.” (Good News, Edward T. Hiscox, March 2, 1972)

B. A public proclamation: Many teach that baptism is designed to be a public proclamation of one’s faith in the resurrection of Christ. As Jesus was baptized to introduce Himself to the Jewish nation as the Messiah, so one is baptized today to declare himself to the world as a disciple of Jesus. Is this a true view of baptism? It is an interesting correlation, but there is not such connection in the scriptures. Many view it as “an outward sign of inward grace”.

1. Some questions concerning this popular view: If baptism were solely a public proclamation of one’s faith…

            • What about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:35-39? He was baptized immediately, not later when it could be viewed by others.
            •  What about the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his family in Acts 16:25-34: They were also baptized “immediately”, after midnight and before daylight. No special public service was held, even before the church. The immediacy (urgency) of baptism in the book of Acts points to another reason for baptism.

II. The Biblical View: What does the Bible reveal about baptism?

A. Baptism in the Preaching of the Apostles: In answering the question whether baptism was necessary for salvation John MacArthur writes… “If water baptism were necessary for salvation, we would expect to find it stressed whenever the gospel is presented in Scripture.” His conclusion is that it is not necessary.Although it only takes one command of God to make something obligatory, I think we need to consider the place has in apostolic preaching.

1. Jesus told the apostles what to include in the gospel message in the Great Commission.

            • Mt 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. In the gospel of Mark, The Great Commission is worded in this way: “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:15-16) In both places we notice the mention of baptism… In Matthew, it is related to the process of making disciples; In Mark, it is mentioned in connection with salvation. Whatever the purpose of baptism, it must be important to Jesus. If, as Mr. MacArthur would suggest, the gospel message did not include baptism, the apostles did not follow Jesus’ instructions!

2. Baptism in the preaching of Peter: Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the first gospel sermon, Peter commanded people to be baptized “for the remission of sins”. The text tells us that those who gladly received his word were baptized. (Acts 2:41) (Even if we did not have v. 38, we would know he included baptism by v. 41)

a. Some dismiss Acts 2:38 with response that “for” in v. 38 means “because of”, rather than “in order to”. We find the exact same grammatical construction in Mt 26:28: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”. Clearly Jesus meant “in order to” provide remission of sins, and not “because” remission of sins had already occurred. The Greek word, eis means unto or toward in almost every occurrence in the NT.

 b. In Acts 2:38 both repentance and baptism are modified by “unto (for) the remission of sins”. (Joined by the conjunction “and”.) Therefore one is as necessary for remission as the other.

 c. Cornelius and his household: In the first gospel sermon to the Gentiles, Peter commanded his audience to be baptized – Acts 10:44-48 – 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. Peter’s preaching was in harmony with the statements of Jesus in the Great Commission: Preach the gospel, command people to be baptized.

3. Baptism in the preaching of Paul:

a. Lydia – Acts 16:13-15And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. Baptism followed apostolic preaching. Could we possibly assume that the apostle did not command it? She gave heed to the things spoken by Paul. Notice also her comment in v. 15. How could Paul have judged her to be faithful to the Lord? By her response to the command of the Lord concerning baptism!

b. The Philippian Jailor: Acts 16:29-34 –Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

1) Paul tells the jailor that he must believe on the Lord to be saved. Paul went on to speak concerning the Word of the Lord to him and his family. In response, they were immediately baptized! Evidently the word of the Lord stressed the need to be baptized quickly. In fact, in EVERY detailed example of conversion found in the Book of Acts, people were baptized after only one lesson!

c. Paul’s own conversion: (Saul of Tarsus) recorded 3 times in Acts.- notice Acts 22:12-16 – Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, 13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

              • He was told to go to Damascus, for there he would be told “all things appointed for you to do” (“what you must do” – cf. Ac 9:6) One of the things he was told was to be baptized without delay. Notice he was told to baptized in order to “wash away your sins”. When did that happen?
                  •  Seeing the Lord had not saved him,
                  • Accepting Jesus as Lord (cf. Ac 22:10) had not saved him
                  • Praying and fasting for three days had not saved him. Not until he was baptized were his sins “washed away”!

3. Baptism in the Preaching of Philip: Though not an apostle, Philip worked under the apostolic leadership of the church in Jerusalem. After persecution arose he went to Samaria and “preached Christ” – Ac 8:5.

a. Samaria: the response to such preaching: – Ac 8:12“…when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”

b. The Ethiopian – Philip was led by the Spirit to the Ethiopian. Again the text tells us he “preached Jesus”, from the O.T. text of Isa. 53. Though we are not told the content of Philip’s sermon, It is easy to recognize he spoke from the eunuch’s question we can deduce that it included baptism

              • Acts 8:35-39 – Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

B. Baptism in the Epistles: How was baptism referenced to Christians in the later teaching of the apostles?

1. Paul in Romans 6. Paul taught that baptism is a burial and a resurrection with Christ. Romans 6:3-5Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, When one is baptized he is buried with Jesus into His death. It results in a newness of life.

 a. Paul does not say that baptism “symbolizes things which had already occurred. Read the passage carefully. Paul describes baptism into Christ as WHEN such things occur. We were buried with Him “through baptism into death” – (Rom. 6:4) This certainly points to purpose. Why were we baptized? “That just as Christ was raised…even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) Note also Paul’s preface to these remarks: “as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were…” The blessings he describes pertain only to those who had been baptized! No baptism – no blessing.

              • [In his commentary on Romans, Martin Luther wrote: “Baptism has been instituted that it should lead us to the blessings (of this death) and through such death to eternal life. Therefore IT IS NECESSARY that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and His death.” (Commentary On Romans, Kregel Publications, p.101).

2. Paul in Galatians 3 – Gal 3:26-27For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Baptism is involved in the process of becoming sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. The “for” beginning verse 27 begins an explanation as to HOW we become sons of God through faith. Baptism is therefore the means by which we “put on Christ”, and become sons of God! Could we possibly conclude that one who had not been baptized had put on Christ?

3. Paul in Colossians 2 – Col 2:11-12In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Paul describes baptism as a “spiritual circumcision” in which sins are “cut away”. Again we see the apostle describe it as a burial and resurrection with Christ that is made effective “through faith in the working of God” (Col 2:12) that results in the forgiveness of sins (Col 2:13).

            • baptism is a work of God, not a work of man. Our part is faith in the working of God. He is the One who makes us alive, that we might rise to walk in newness of life
            • [Martin Luther also wrote… “Yes, it is true that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work but God’s.” (as quoted by Jack W. Cottrell in Baptism And The Remission of Sins, College Press, 1990, p. 32-34)
            • In Titus 3:5, Paul also stated that we are saved by God’s mercy through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. The figure “washing” certainly alludes to water baptism. Just as Jesus said: “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – (Jn 3:5). Again these statements point to the time at which one is forgiven (reborn); thus the purpose of baptism.

 Conclusion: We will end with the apostle Peter’s depiction of baptism in 1 Peter 3:21Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

  • In a reference to the water of Noah’s flood, Peter says that baptism saves us. He explains… It is not a physical washing, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience. There is no way to understand this verse without recognizing the purpose of baptism in salvation. When one is baptized he is appealing to God for a conscience that is free from sin. He cannot conclude that he is already forgiven, or this makes no sense. He must realize that he is to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

There is only one reason to be baptized… for the forgiveness of sins. Will you be baptized today?