The Purpose of Baptism

Baptism has been a controversial subject in the religious world and also a neglected subject by many preachers and teachers. Baptism is not at all an obscure subject as the word "baptism," or some form of it, occurs more than one hundred times in the New Testament. This subject needs to be studied, and it must be studied, as with any subject, with an open mind. It is important for us to have the attitude of the Psalmist who said in Psalms 119:128, "...I hate every false way."

Many people teach that baptism has nothing to do with salvation. Let us consider now what the Bible has to say regarding the purpose of baptism.

Mark 16:16

The first passage to consider is Mark 16:16. This verse, spoken just prior to the ascension of Jesus and is a part of what is called the great commission, says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." In this verse, salvation is promised, but it is conditional. Actually, two conditions are stated as necessary for salvation, and they are belief and baptism. The word "and" is a coordinating conjunction which joins elements of equal rank. It would be incorrect to strike out belief and say that we are saved by "baptism only." Equally, it would be incorrect to strike out baptism and say that we are saved by "faith only." Thus belief and baptism are clearly stated as necessary for salvation. Just as one must believe in order to be saved, one must also be baptized in order to be saved.

There are various illustrations which can be considered that should make this passage very clear to everyone. Suppose someone says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall receive a new car." I'm sure that people would have little trouble seeing that in order to get the new car, one would have to do both of the things stated. They could not just believe or just be baptized and expect to receive the new car. In Arithmetic, we know that two and two equals four. You must have both of the 2's in order to get the four. In like manner, verse 16 says, that belief and baptism equal salvation. You cannot take away either belief or baptism as both are necessary to obtain salvation. Baptism is clearly stated as essential, and it seems like it should be difficult for anyone to misunderstand this.

Acts 2:38

Another passage to consider is Acts 2:38. In the first part of this chapter, we read where the Apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Then Peter preached to the people and accused them of having murdered the son of God. The people, after hearing Peter's sermon, were "pricked in their hearts" (v. 37). They asked, "men and brethren, what shall we do?" Surely this was a time when a very clear and straightforward answer was needed. Peter answered (v. 38) with "...Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Thus, repentance and baptism are for the remission of sins; both are necessary for salvation and neither can be ignored.

Sometimes people say that the word "for" in Acts 2:38 means "because of," and thus the verse is saying that baptism is preceded by forgiveness. This argument is incorrect. The same construction in the Greek is found in Matthew 26:28 where we are told that the blood of Christ was shed "for the remission of sins." Would one argue that the blood of Christ was shed because people already had the remission of sins? No one would argue this. Why then, with the same construction in Acts 2:38, argue that baptism is "because of" the remission of sins. Furthermore, in Acts 2:38, whatever "for" means with reference to baptism, it also means with reference to repentance. Therefore, if the Greek word (eis/translataed "for") means that baptism is "because of" the remission of sins, it also means that repentance is "because of" the remission of sins. Surely no one would argue that repentance is because one has already obtained the remission of sins (consider Acts 3:19). It is very clear that baptism is for (unto, in order to obtain) the remission of sins and thus necessary for salvation.

Various Passages

Consider other passages which speak of baptism. Act 22:16 says that it washes away sins; Galatians 3:27 says that we are baptized into Christ; I Peter 3:21 says that baptism doth now also save us; I Corinthians 12:13 points out that we are baptized into the body of Christ.

Baptism is not all that is involved in the plan of salvation. The Bible teaches that one must believe (Mk. 16:16; Heb. 11:6; Jn. 3:16), repent (Acts 2:38, 17:30), confess Christ (Rom. 10:10). After obeying these commandments, one must be baptized. The Bible very clearly reveals the steps that man must follow to become a Christian. After a person becomes a Christian, he must remain faithful as long as he lives (I Cor. 15:58).

By Mike Johnson

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /