A BIBLICAL VIEW OF BAPTISM
A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome
Although the Bible
makes several references to forgiveness in connection with baptism,
whenever those statements are interpreted to contradict what the Bible
says about faith in Christ, the truth of the gospel is obscured.
Therefore, before examining what the Bible says about baptism, we need
to remind ourselves that forgiveness comes to us only through faith in
God's promise of forgiveness in Christ. For that reason, any offer of
forgiveness given in connection with baptism should be seen as a
promise of forgiveness in Christ (Galatians 3:6-22). In other words,
God uses baptism (just as He uses preaching) to give us His promise,
but it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is
promised (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22). With that fact in mind, let us
look at what the Bible says.
While we tend to
define "baptism" by separating it from repentance and faith, the New
Testament writers defined it by presenting it in its context of
repentance and faith in Christ (Luke 3:3, Acts 2:38). Defined in that
way baptism can be seen as consisting of four parts.
1- The call to repent, and
promise of forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38).
2- Our response to that call
3- The application of water in
the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
4- The assurance that when we
came to Christ our sins were washed away (Acts 22:16).
I am going to refer
to those four parts of baptism throughout this essay so keep them in
mind. You might also notice, that parts one and three are the Word of
God while parts two and four are our response to the Word. That is
significant because the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring us
to repentance and faith in Christ (Romans 10:14-17). Another thing to keep
in mind has to do with the fact that baptism is gospel, not law. It is
the good news of forgiveness in Christ, not an act of obedience. God
has connected that ceremony with repentance, not only as a way of
pointing those who repent to Christ for forgiveness, but also as a way
of assuring them that when they came to Christ their sins were washed
away (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16).
On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to
all who had been convicted of their sin, "Repent, and be baptized every
one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts
As we examine those
words, you might notice that the words Peter spoke constitute the first
part of baptism, the call to repent coupled with God's promise of
forgiveness in Christ. The purpose of that call is to point people to
Christ as the source of forgiveness. In fact, to be baptized "in the
name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" is to be baptized
believing that there is forgiveness in Christ. To accept forgiveness in
the name of Jesus is to accept Jesus as the source of that forgiveness.
For that reason, the Jews to whom Peter was speaking knew that if they
responded to Peter's call, all who were with them would know that they
had accepted Christ. Therefore, their act of going forward to be
baptized was, on their part, a public expression of faith. And that
expression of faith, which came as a response to the Word of God spoken
by Peter, is the second part of baptism (Acts 2:41).
The significance of
the phrase, "in the name of Jesus Christ" might be explained by
comparing it to a signature on a check. For instance: If I give you a
check, but forget to sign it, the bank should refuse to cash it.
However, as long as that check has my signature on it, you will be
given the designated amount on the authority of my name. Similarly,
because the forgiveness that is offered to us in baptism is offered "in
the name of Jesus Christ," only those who come in His name (looking to
him for forgiveness) receive what is promised (Galatians 3:22,
Because Jesus is
the one who died for our sins, those who come to baptism are to come in
His name (Acts 2:38). His name is the name on the check. However,
Because it is the Father, Son And Holy Ghost together, who forgive sin,
those who baptize are to do it, "in the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). Their name is the name of
At the time of Paul's conversion
Ananias said to him, "arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins,
calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
Since the promise
of forgiveness that is given to us in connection with baptism is a
promise of forgiveness in Christ, it is only through personal faith in
Christ that we receive what is promised (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22).
However, in Acts 22:16 the words, "Calling on the name of the Lord"
indicate that our act of coming to baptism is a way of calling on
Christ for forgiveness. In other words, by our actions we are saying
that we believe that there is forgiveness in Christ, while, at the same
time, acknowledging our need for that forgiveness. Consequently,
forgiveness comes to us through the faith we express by our response to
the call to baptism, not through any work that we perform (Romans 5:2).
[Our response to the call to baptism is the second part of baptism.]
Shortly before Christ ascended into
heaven He said, "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" (Mark 16:15-16).
The words, "preach
the gospel to every creature" relate to the first part of baptism, the
call to repent and come to Christ for forgiveness (see Luke 24:47, Mark
1:4, and Acts 2:38). The phrase, "he that believeth" relates to the
second part of baptism (our response to that call). While the phrase,
"and is baptized" relates to the third part of baptism (the actual
[Note: This verse does NOT say, "he
that is baptized not shall be damned." Instead it says, "he that
believeth not shall be damned," for it is the lack of faith, not the
lack of baptism, that damns. Baptism gives us God's promise of
forgiveness in Christ, but it is only through personal faith in Christ
that we receive what is promised (Galatians 3:22, 2Corinthians 1:20,
Jesus said unto Nicodemus, "Except a
man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the
kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
Since the word
"water" is an implied reference to the baptism of John, these words
imply that Nicodemus had refused the call to repentance and forgiveness
when it was offered by John the Baptist (Luke 7:29-30). Taken together,
the words, "water" and "Spirit" point to two things: 1- The promise of
forgiveness in Christ that is connected with baptism; 2- Our faith in
that promise (which the Holy Spirit produces in our heart). In short,
we are born again through faith in God's promise of forgiveness in
Christ (1 Peter 1:23, Romans 10:17, Galatians 3:22).
Therefore, there are actually three
valid interpretations of this verse, all of which agree with what I
1- We are born again through
repentance (water, Mark 1:4) and faith (the Spirit, 1 Corinthians
2- We are born again through
repentance and faith (water, Acts 2:38) both of which are gifts of the
Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 2:25).
3- We are born again through
the Word of God (water, Ephesians 5:26) and faith (the Spirit, Romans
10:17, Ephesians 2:8-8).
[Note: Those who see the word "water"
as a reference to physical birth, understand this verse to be saying,
"except a man be born physically and spiritually." However, since a man
would not be a man unless he was already born physically, that
interpretation conflicts with the logic of the sentence.]
John the Baptist pointed people to
Christ, saying, "I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall
baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:8).
With these words,
John is telling us that it is not what he did, but what Christ does,
that cleanses us of sin. In other words, even though the significance
of baptism is washing or cleansing, the purpose of the ceremony is to
assure us of forgiveness in Christ, not to take Christ's place as the
source of forgiveness (Acts 22:16). Christ is the source of
forgiveness, it is His blood (not water) that washes away our sin, and
we receive that inner washing when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith
in Christ (1John 1:7, John 1:29, Romans 3:28). God uses baptism (just
as He uses preaching) to give us His promise of forgiveness, but it is
only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised
(2Corinthians 1:20, Galatians 3:22). [Revelation 1:5, Psalm 51:2,7,
Ephesians 2:8-9, John 15:26 and 16:7-14, Romans 3:28, 2 Timothy 2:25, 1
"baptized you with water" (in Mark 1:8) relates to the third part of
baptism, while the phrase, "baptize you with the Holy Ghost" relates to
parts two and four of baptism. The baptism with water conveys a promise
of forgiveness in Christ. The baptism of the Spirit is the fruit of our
Spirit engendered response to that promise (namely faith in Christ).
Since the Holy Spirit will not dwell in an unforgiven sinner, it is
only as our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ that He comes
into our heart (Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:2, Romans 8:9,15).
[Note: Through the ceremony of
baptism, Christ (through His representative) says to all who come to
Him, "be of good cheer thy sins be forgiven thee" (Matthew 9:2). We
accept that forgiveness by faith in Christ.]
Concerning baptism Paul said, "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 should walk in newness of life. For if
we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall
also be in the likeness of His resurrection" (Romans 6:3-5).
Just as there is
both a physical death and a spiritual death, so there is both a
spiritual resurrection and a physical resurrection (Genesis 20:3,
Ephesians 2:1,5,6). When it comes to the spiritual death, we are all by
nature dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:3), and if we die in
that condition we will remain spiritually dead for all eternity.
Nevertheless, there is a way to escape spiritual death, and that is by
becoming a partaker in Christ's death through faith in Him. To that
end, the ceremony of baptism gives us God's promise that when we came
to Christ our old nature (with all of its sins) was buried with Him,
and we were raised from spiritual death to new life in Christ. And, the
second death has no power over those who believe that they have
forgiveness and eternal life in Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6, Revelation
1 PETER 3:21
In regard to salvation Peter said,
"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" (1 Peter 3:21).
Since Peter was
referring to the baptism of repentance, his reference to baptism must
be understood in its context of repentance and acceptance of the gospel
(Luke 3:3). Without the gospel baptism has no power to save (Galatians
3:22). It is the promise of forgiveness in Christ that is the power of
God unto salvation, and the ceremony of baptism was designed to give us
that promise (Acts 2:38, Romans 1:16). Moreover, because faith is our
Spirit worked response to that promise, it makes no difference whether
that promise is proclaimed orally or by means of a ceremony, we still
receive what is promised through personal faith in Jesus Christ (Romans
5:2, Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 3:6,22).
In this passage the
word "baptism" refers to all four parts of baptism. The last phrase,
"the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of
Jesus Christ:" emphasizes the fourth part of baptism (walking in the
assurance that when we came to Christ our sins were washed away). It is
the removal of sin (which is ours through faith in Christ) that gives
us a clean conscience toward God (1John 1:7, Galatians 3:22).
The three parts of
faith, (knowledge, assent and trust) go hand in hand with baptism. The
call to repent and come to Christ for forgiveness gives us KNOWLEDGE.
Our response to that call is our ASSENT to that knowledge. And, our
assurance that when we came to Christ our sins were washed away is
TRUST in that knowledge.
To the church at Colosse, Paul said,
"In whom ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands,
in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of
Christ: 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" (Colossians 2:11-12).
When Paul speaks of
a, "circumcision made without hands" he is not talking about the
outward act of baptism, for hands are used to baptize. What he is
talking about, is what he elsewhere calls the circumcision of the heart
(Romans 2:29). Baptism is mentioned because when baptism is carried out
as God intended it goes hand in hand with repentance and faith in
Christ, and that is the circumcision of the heart (Luke 3:3). The
words, "the faith of the operation of God" point to the fact that even
though God uses baptism to give us His promise of forgiveness, it is
only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised
To the Galatians, Paul said, "as many
of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians
We put on Christ when we, by faith,
put on the garment of His righteousness (Isaiah 64:6, Revelation 19:8,
To Titus Paul wrote, "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."
The washing that
produces the new birth (regeneration) is not the outward washing with
water, but the inner washing of forgiveness that goes with it (1John
1:7). Therefore, the reference to water (washing) and the "Holy Ghost",
can be understood as a reference to repentance (the baptism of
repentance) and faith (which is a gift of the Holy Ghost, 1Corinthians
12:3). In other words, Paul is referring to all four parts of baptism,
not just the application of water.
Paul told the Ephesians that Christ
gave Himself for the church so, "that He might sanctify and cleanse it
with the washing of water by the Word" (Ephesians 5:26).
Notice that Christ
cleanses the church, "by the Word." It is the Word, not water that
removes sin. God has simply connected the water with His promise of
forgiveness in Christ. The Bible never talks about the water alone
bringing forgiveness, for water by itself cannot save anyone. Christ
cleanses His church through faith, and faith comes by hearing the
gospel promise of forgiveness in Christ (Romans 10:4,17).
For many years I
earnestly and prayerfully sought God’s gift of wisdom so that I might
understand what the Bible says about baptism, and how it agrees with
justification by faith. However, in answering those prayers, God had to
change my entire way of looking at baptism. For example: I had to come
to the realization that the Word of God connected with baptism is not
some decree that empowers the ceremony, but the simple gospel message
of forgiveness in Christ. Moreover, the faith by which we receive what
is promised to us in baptism is not faith in the ceremony, but personal
faith in Christ (2Corinthians 1:20, Galatians 3:22).