Baptism is a topic discussed in nearly every group professing to follow Christ. This makes sense since the Greek word from which we get “baptize” is found over 70 times in the New Testament. Despite the universal practice of baptism in Christendom, there is disagreement in why people get baptized. Some say that they are baptized as an outward showing of an inward grace. But is this concept biblical? Does the Bible ever say that the purpose of baptism is to merely outwardly demonstrate the salvation already given within? As with all religious questions, this question should be answered with the Scriptures. What does the Bible say about the purpose of baptism? Why be baptized?
“FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS”
The above quote is from Acts 2:38 and gives a vital insight into the purpose of baptism. The Jews converted to Christianity on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. In fact, all who received Peter’s words were baptized (see Acts 2:41). Some say that “for the forgiveness of your sins” in Acts 2:38 would be better translated “because of the forgiveness of your sins.” But if that is the case, why does no known English translation translate the phrase in such a way? Notice how the NRSV renders the phrase: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).
Peter was saying that the purpose of repentance and baptism was salvation. The Greek word translated “for” in “for the forgiveness of your sins” in Acts 2:38 is the Greek preposition eis. This word is used over 1,600 times in the New Testament and not once does it mean “because of.” The same Greek word is translated “for” in Matthew 26:28: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Was Jesus’ blood poured out because sins were already forgiven? No! Jesus shed his blood so that sins could be forgiven. Similarly, the purpose of baptism in Acts 2:38 is to bring about the forgiveness of sins, not because sins have already been forgiven.
IN ORDER TO WALK “IN NEWNESS OF LIFE”
The above quote is from Romans 6:4 where Paul gives the Christians in Rome this reminder about their baptism:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:3-5).
Paul reminds the Romans that all who were baptized were baptized into the death of Christ. Why? Paul states that they were baptized “in order that” just as Christ was raised from the dead, they too would be. Paul states that baptism is the point at which our old self is put to death, and the new man rises to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul explicitly states that the purpose of baptism is new life. The implication being: No baptism, no new life. According to Romans 6:3-5, the purpose of baptism is to bury the old man of sin in order to walk in newness of life (see Colossians 2:11-12).
IN ORDER TO “PUT ON CHRIST”
The above quote is from Galatians 3:27. In the context of this passage, Paul is reminding Galatian Christians that the blessedness of God does not come from works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul writes that the law is unnecessary now that forgiveness is found through faith in Christ. It is in this context that Paul penned,
[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
We are children of God through faith because in baptism we “clothe [ourselves] with Christ” (NIV). Baptism is a faithful response by which an individual can “put on Christ,” thus becoming Christ’s and heirs according to the promise given to Abraham. In Christ is found “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). But how do we enter Christ? How do we put Christ on? Through baptism!
BECAUSE BAPTISM “NOW SAVES YOU”
The above quote is from First Peter 3:21. Peter compares baptism to the flood of Noah’s day. The Bible tells us that in the same way eight souls were “saved through water” in the flood of Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20 NIV), baptism now saves us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
[B]ecause they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:20-22).
Notice that baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Nobody appeals for something they already have. Baptism saves us and is the means by which the resurrection of Jesus Christ works its power in our life.
While there is much discussion over the purpose of baptism in Christian circles, the Bible clearly speaks on the “why” of baptism. The Bible never describes baptism as an outward showing of an inward grace. The Bible rather tells us that baptism is “for the forgiveness of your sins,” brings about new life, clothes us in Christ, and even saves us through Christ’s resurrection. Thank God for His Son’s soul-cleansing blood! “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16 NIV).