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 Vol. 8, No. 7 

July 2006

~ Page 14 ~

The Purpose of Baptism

By D. Gene West

Image There is much discussion on this subject, especially between those who have characterized themselves as "change agents," or "progressives" and those of us who, in their estimations, are neither. Some have gone so far as to insist that as long as a person being immersed is aware that he is doing that to please God, his immersion is acceptable in the sight of God. This is not a new discussion among us-it has gone on intermittently for nearly a hundred and fifty years. The question actually comes down to whether or not it is necessary for a person who wishes to be immersed to know why that action is being taken.

The first question that comes to our minds is this: If one wishes to be immersed, but does not know why, and/or has no interest in knowing why, how can he submit to baptism as an act of faith? Can one do a thing by faith ignorantly, since faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17)? If one has heard the Word of God sufficiently to desire immersion, we fail to see how he could possibly do that without knowing why. If he does not, is he ready for that beautiful step? One finds it difficult to understand how anyone could give the Book of Acts even a casual reading and not know the reason for baptism. Surely any person can understand the language of the incomparable apostle Peter who told the converts on Pentecost Day to "repent and let everyone of you be baptized for the remission of sins…" Surely one who is a subject for conversion would have read these memorable words! How is it possible for anyone who is mature enough to put Christ on in baptism miss the point that was made by the inimitable Ananias when he said to Saul of Tarsus, "what are you waiting for, arise, be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord?" Anyone either hearing or reading this language, even for the first time, would thoroughly understand that baptism is for the purpose of washing one's sins away. To be baptized for the remission of sins and to have one's sins washed away in baptism is one and the same thing. It certainly speaks to the purpose of baptism in the clearest and most easily understood terms, does it not? One who has heard enough of the Word of God to understand that God will forgive him of all sin upon the completion of the act of baptism is one who can submit to that baptism by faith. It seems to this student that such minimal knowledge would be the least required to intelligently do what God has commanded.

However, the Bible deepens its view of the purpose of baptism a bit when it speaks of our being baptized into Christ, or our being baptized to put on Christ. In Galatians 3:27, the extraordinary Paul wrote, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." From this simple declaration we wish to notice two important matters. (1) When one is baptized he is baptized "into Christ." This sentence as it is literally found in the Textus Receptus is: "For as many of you as into Christ were baptized, in Christ you were clothed." This is a beautiful statement worthy of some consideration. The word "into" in this easily understood sentence comes from a Greek word meaning, "entrance into" (Thayer p. 183). Hence, those who are baptized "into" Christ are granted entrance into him. This presupposes one's accepting all the obligations of being a disciple of the Lord. (2) Paul also said that those who are immersed into Christ are "clothed" in him. That is, he is "put on" like apparel is put on. He is worn by us. This is, of course, metaphorical language which means that after immersion we display the attributes of Christ in our daily lives as we display the literal clothing that we wear on our bodies. We "wear" those qualities named by Peter when he declared, "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-8 NKJV). All these qualities were evident in the life of our Savior, and we demonstrate them in our lives as if we wear them as clothing. While a person newly educated in the Bible may not understand all the finer points we have made today, surely he can understand he is being baptized to be forgiven of sin, which after all is the point, isn't it?  Forgiveness of sin is the purpose of baptism!Image

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