THE PURPOSE OF BAPTISM
By Robert L. Goldsby
Many denominations teach baptism as a "symbol". That is not a Biblical doctrine. The Bible does not use the word symbol but speaks of real transactions - actual benefits that occur in baptism.
- Romans 6:1-5 This passage teaches that in water baptism there is a real transaction that takes place, an identification with Jesus' death, burial & resurrection. This is not a symbol, it is a real transaction. While there certainly is a "picture" in the waters of baptism (Peter uses it), the fact is that Paul teaches that when we are baptized, something real happens. We loose that point completely when we use terms like "symbol" and "represents". Notice especially Romans 6:3.
- Colossians 2:11-15 Clearly, the "circumcision made without hands" is water baptism. Paul describes the same benefits in Romans 6:1-6 buried with Christ. He amplifies on it by pointing out that once (before baptism) they were dead in their uncircumcision (the Old Testament equivalent of being unbaptized). He goes on to talk about the things God has done in them (presumably since they have been baptized), namely:
" 13...hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;" (Colossians 2:13-14).
- Colossians 3:1; Paul goes on to state that since we have been resurrected with Christ we should live with our eyes on "things above" which simply means, we should live with heavenly plans and goals ever before us.
- Acts 22:16; Ananias, speaking to Saul announced that the Lord has sent him to pray for him that he might receive his sight. He uses a term one would expect to be associated with baptism since, as we have seen, baptism means to wash or cleanse with water. He tells Paul: "16And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Baptism, apart from faith, is simple water, but when associated with faith, sins are washed away. See "Washing of Regeneration..." Titus 3:5 You can see too why Ezekiel's prophecy is so pertinent. Baptism is a work of God, not of man in obedience to God, in which God performs a work of grace in man. In Ezekiel 36:25 God says that He will wash His people clean and sprinkle clean water on them. Ananias refers to water baptism as the vehicle to wash away sin.
As we have seen in previous studies, baptism is efficacious only when associated with faith. The Bible does not teach that baptism works this great work apart from faith. All the instances of the administration of water baptism are in the context of faith.
- I Peter 3:20-21 I have heard this passage interpreted many different ways in an attempt to reject the idea of salvation associated with water baptism. When one understands that God's plan is to work in us His salvation through baptism entered into by faith which is produced by His grace, we don't need to twist the passage. Clearly, as we have seen above, Christian baptism cleanses, so as to save when received by those with faith. Peter understood this. In his mind and experience it is so closely associated (baptism and salvation) that he has no problem when the Holy Spirit inspires him to say "Baptism saves us". If we have problems with that concept it says more about our rejection of God's plan than about truth.
- Acts 2:38 Even on Pentecost day, Peter says that they are to be baptized ..... "for the remission of sins."
Clearly it is Biblical to refer to water baptism as a vehicle of God to "wash away our sins". "Thank you Lord that You have undertaken in our behalf to cleanse us, to take away our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh. Thank you that you create a new spirit within us and cause us to be born again by Your grace. Thank you that you have washed away our sins in water baptism and our separation from You has been eliminated. I believe it Lord. I receive Your truth by faith, trusting You for Your salvation. Amen "
- Galatians 3:26-27 This passage reveals yet another benefit of baptism: putting on Christ. The context emphasizes that Paul is speaking to those with Faith and he is warning them against succumbing to the temptation to obey the law. He assures them that having been baptized in Christ, they have put on Christ. Not the keeping of the law, but in faith being baptized clothes them in the righteousness of the Messiah.
1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul here indicates that those who have been baptized have been made a part of the body of Christ. Clearly, those who have faith should be baptized, those who have no faith should not be. Those not part of the Body of Christ are condemned to hell, and those who are part of the body of Christ, faith in Christ, have eternal life. Paul associates water baptism with being a member of the Body of Christ.
To say it again, no one is saved, or made a part of the body of Christ apart from faith, but with faith baptism is efficacious and one of the benefits is being made a part of the Body of Christ.
Baptism is not just a symbol. Through Scripture we are told that baptism accomplishes something.
- Baptism identifies us with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
- Baptism washes away our sin and brings salvation.
- Baptism clothes us in Christ so that the deeds of the law are no longer needed.
The document was written by Robert L. Goldsby (5101 NE 121st Ave #140, Vancouver, WA 98682-2121) and is the sole property of the author. It may be used for personal and group Bible study but may not be used for any commercial or publishing purposes without the express written consent of the author.
Last Updated on: January 17, 1998