My Musings

BAPTISM: “For the Forgiveness of Sin”

BAPTISM: “For the Forgiveness of Sin”

A hymn written by Robert Lowry in 1876 begins with a good question:

    What can wash away my sin?

The answer is immediate and accurate:

    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What about the water of baptism? Doesn’t it wash our sins away too? Be careful. The real sin-cleansing power comes from above and works only through the blood of Jesus. Baptism has no power or meaning apart from Jesus’ blood. The water itself is neither magic nor holy. Without the cross, it’s just a bath. But because of the cross and the forgiveness we can claim through Jesus’ blood, baptism becomes the most meaningful act we can carry out this side of heaven.

If the act of baptism is not the actual agent of forgiveness, how could the apostle Peter preach: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38, bold font added)? And why did a devout Christian named Ananias tell Saul of Tarsus: “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16)?

Just because baptism is empty and meaningless apart from forgiveness, that does not mean it is itself the agent of forgiveness. I see a powerful connection between forgiveness and many other acts of faith and obedience, like prayer, communion and worship. I fully believe in prayer for the remission of sin. When I pray, “Lord, forgive my sins,” I am expressing this belief. I am praying for forgiveness without presuming that prayer is the agent of my forgiveness. I also believe in the Lord’s Supper for the remission of sin. Remove the forgiveness part and it’s just juice and crackers. I partake of this sacrament as a means of access to the blood of Jesus, knowing that it’s the blood itself that forgives me in the end. I even believe in worship for the remission of sins. What joy would there be in worship and song if we separated them from forgiveness? Still, Lowry was right; nothing but Jesus’ blood can cleanse the sinful soul.

Does the sinner’s prayer actually forgive sins? Of course not. Yet, we pray for the forgiveness of our sins because we are desperate for it–a desperation that also takes us straight to the waters of baptism as instructed in the New Testament. So why all the fuss over the phrase “baptism for the remission of sin”? Like praying for forgiveness, it’s biblical!

We understand that literal water, juice, crackers, song lyrics, musical notes and prayers are not the agents of our salvation. But the minute we separate them from the forgiveness of sins we get through Christ, they lose all meaning. That’s why Peter could preach, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38).

As it happens, Robert Lowry also wrote the hymn lyric:

    Shall we gather at the River?

He was great at asking good questions.


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.


  1. Gary  June 8, 2013

    Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider
    these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what
    did he mean?

    he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which
    his Word was written? If so, then his
    Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and
    Greek only? He would not
    preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the

    did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the
    Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and
    the true doctrines of the Christian Faith?
    Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by
    translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three
    original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no
    translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any
    language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the
    Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus
    Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of
    your faith.”

    is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord
    and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire
    world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists
    believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in
    a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, 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,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved,
    and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the
    Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as
    to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism?
    And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible
    have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you
    honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with
    translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain
    interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins
    in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of
    evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000
    years after Christ believed that: Water
    baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT
    forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will
    find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do
    Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith?
    THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free
    will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide
    faith and belief as a free gift,
    with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or
    after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read
    “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the
    name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of
    Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water
    baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t
    seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit
    with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism
    verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are
    literally correct?? If we believe God’s
    Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call
    AND when they are baptized? Why not
    believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes
    and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple
    words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought
    out and very reasonable…but it is wrong.
    Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient
    Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist
    “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated,
    states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as
    Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly
    says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    investigate this critical doctrine further.
    Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find
    out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth
    century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    bless you!


  2. Gary  June 11, 2013

    Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct…there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.

    One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible…neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ’s day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.

    So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.

    And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works.

    Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God’s literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font…they are saved by the power of God’s Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!

    There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals


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