Conversion: Wash Away Your Sins

By Cecil Willis

This week we are further concentrating our attention to a study of the purpose of baptism. In our last lesson we studied the statement of the Lord Jesus Christ made to His apostles just prior to His ascension, and saw that on that occasion, He sent the apostles into all the world with the responsibility of preaching a prescribed message. He commanded them to preach, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). It was seen that this passage was inspired of God, in spite of the claims of those who deny the necessity of Baptism that it is spurious. We furthermore saw that the Lord stated two requisites to salvation: faith and baptism. On the same criterion that one can say that baptism is not necessary, another could say that faith is likewise irrelevant, but with Jesus, both faith and baptism are indispensable to one’s salvation.

It is our purpose to further study the word of God concerning the reason one is to be baptized. It might be that there are some who think that we are spending too much time on the subject of baptism, and that we are giving too much emphasis to this specific commandment of the Lord, but be it remembered that not any of us can emphasize the importance of this commandment as did the Lord and His apostles. So many people are teaching error on the subject of baptism that we want to devote extra time to an exposure of this error and the elucidation of truth. Prior to our study of baptism, we consumed twelve lessons in studying the theme of faith, and four or five on repentance, and therefore I make no apology for spending several weeks studying this much misunderstood commandment of the Lord.

The Issues

To restate the issues that we are investigating might be worthwhile. The issue is: Is it necessary for one to be baptized? Is baptism essential to one’s salvation? For what purpose is one to be baptized? From Acts 2:38 it was seen that the purpose of repentance and baptism was “for the remission of sins,” and Mk. 16:16 said that faith and baptism were in order to be saved.

Now we are ready to introduce another passage from the New Testament that tells us the answers to the questions we are studying regarding baptism. “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). This statement is taken from one of the accounts of the conversion of the apostle Paul. Paul was not always a Christian, but in his early life, he was a very violent persecutor of the way of Christ. When the men of Jerusalem took up stones to kill Stephen, the preacher, the Scriptures say that they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. He, is called both Saul and Paul. Even Paul himself later testified that he “verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). Paul said, in Gal. 1:23, that the brethren in the churches of Judea did not know him by face, but they marveled when they heard that “He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith of which he once made havoc.” Even at the time that the Lord appeared unto Saul, he was on his way to Damascus that he might seek out and find all those that worshiped Christ. Paul described himself, during this period, as the “chiefest of sinners.”

What Must One Do?

There are three separate accounts of the events relating to the conversion of Paul recorded in the book of Acts. One account is in the ninth chapter, one in the twenty-second chapter, and the other account is in the twenty-sixth chapter. Paul and his company were on the road that went to Damascus, when a great light appeared unto Paul, a light which he described as being “brighter than the noonday sun.” Saul was blinded and fell to his feet, and a voice from heaven called out, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And Saul answered, “Who art thou Lord?” And the voice of heaven answered and said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” Saul was then aware of the fact that he had been fighting against God, and so he cried out, “Lord what wilt thou have me do?” Jesus answered him and said, “Go into the city of Damascus, and there it will be told thee what thou must do.” Having been blinded by the great light that he had seen, the men in Saul’s company led him into the city of Damascus.

In the meantime God had appeared unto Ananias and told him to go and tell Saul what he must do. Ananias, having heard of the terrible acts of persecution wrought by Saul, was rather reluctant to go to him, but nevertheless, at the command of God, he went. When h6 arrived he found Saul, just as God had said he would be found: praying. Paul himself told of his conversion, and spoke of it like this: “And one Ananias, a devout man, according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there, came unto me, and standing by me said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And in that very hour I looked upon him. And He said, The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For thou shalt be a witness for him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:12-16).

In answering the question, “Is baptism essential to one’s salvation?”, let us notice the statement made to Saul by the Lord. Christ told Saul to go into the city of Damascus, and there it be told him what he must do. Those things to be told him in Damascus, were not a group of needless commands, but they were things that he must do. When Ananias, the God-sent preacher, came to him, the very first commandment that he gave him, was to arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins. Certainly, this was a necessary commandment. It is a must command.

One of the things that I have never been able to understand is how one can read in the Bible that certain things are “musts” and conclude that one disobeyed God who did not do them, but then he could come to other commands which the Bible says are “musts,” and then he takes the attitude, “Oh, one can do it if he wants to, but if he should choose not to obey the command, God will not be at all displeased.” Believing is a “must” command. Paul (if he be the writer of the book of Hebrews) said, “and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him” (Heb. 11:6). Should someone argue that faith is not necessary, every denominational preacher would use this passage, and stress that the writer says that one must believe. Jesus also said: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” or you must repent or perish (Lk. 13:3). Could one be saved without repenting? Jesus said, ye must repent, and therefore it is indispensable to one’s salvation. Jesus also said, ye must be born again, or as it is stated in His words, “Except one be born of water, and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). In each of these instances in which mention is made of faith, repentance, and the new birth as being a “must” commandment, all men would agree that they are absolutely necessary, but Ananias gave the ,’must” commandment to Saul to be baptized, men have concluded, that it was not really necessary. If “must” does not imply necessity, I wish someone would tell me what it does imply. Baptism is a “must,” and therefore one cannot be saved without it, just as repentance and faith are “musts” and one cannot be saved without them.

The Design of Baptism

The fact that baptism is a necessary commandment also has bearing upon its design. But the specific purpose of baptism is here stated and summed up on the words “and wash away your sins.” The design of baptism is said to be to wash away one’s sins. This expression, “and wash away your sins” means exactly the same thing as the statement of Peter on Pentecost when he told the Jews to repent and be baptized” for the remission of sins,” but inasmuch as we spent a whole lesson studying the meaning of this expression, we will not revert back to a further study of it at this time. They both mean that we are to be baptized in order to have our sins forgiven.

In this passage, baptism is the process by which one is made clean of his sins. Individuals will often take very violent opposition to one’s statement concerning baptism’s washing sins away, and will argue that the blood of Christ is that which washes the sins away, and certainly I agree with them that the blood of Christ does wash the sins of men away, but the blood is efficacious only when one had met tile conditions laid down by Him whose blood was shed. Not every person in the world has his sins remitted by the blood of Christ, although the Lord made provision for all to have their sins blotted out. The reason why some still have unforgiven sins, is they refuse to do what the Lord said do in order to receive the remission of sins.

Some very scornfully and ridiculously refer to the commandment of the Lord, and say that we believe that the water literally washes away sins. No, I do not believe the water literally washes away sins, nor do I believe that the blood literally washes away sins, but I do believe that the Lord Jesus Christ forgives us our sins, when we have completed obeying the commandments of the gospel, and not before.

It is when one is baptized that he receives the benefits of the death of Christ, and it is with this understanding that one can comprehend how it is said that both the water of baptism, and the blood of Christ can take away sins. Paul, the one to whom the statement to “arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” was made, commented upon this action in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:14). It is here said that we have died to sin, that is, the practice of sin; we were buried with Him in baptism into death; and were then raised to walk in newness of life.

One can easily see the design or purpose of baptism in this passage by noticing when the new life came. It came after one’s obedience in baptism. It is said that we were baptized into His death, referring to Christ’s death, which can mean nothing other than that we are baptized into the benefits of his death. Jesus himself said that His blood was shed for many for the remission of sins. So as one is baptized into Christ’s death, he contacts the blood of Christ which was shed in His death, and therefore receives the benefits of His blood, which Jesus said was in order that man might have the forgiveness of sins. Paul continued to discuss the new life into which they had entered in this sixth chapter of the book of Romans, and he told us when they entered this new life: “But thanks be to God, that whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching where unto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17,18). Notice that they obeyed that “form of teaching.” Paul had just told them what that form of teaching was in the first part of the chapter. He reminded them of how they had died to sin, that is, how they had repented or changed their mind about sin; how that they had been baptized into the death of Christ, or into the benefits of His death, even the forgiveness of their sins; and then he reminded them how they had been raised from the burial in water to walk a new life. This was the form of doctrine. It was the likeness of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.

Now in these, last two verses we just cited, Paul told them that at one time they were the servants of sin, but they had obeyed from the heart that form of teaching of which we have just referred, and after they had done this, they were made free from sin, and became the servants of righteousness.

Friends, all the passages in the New Testament that instruct us as to why we should be baptized teach the same thing, even though they may be differently worded. Jesus said in Mk. 16:16 that it was to be saved; Peter said on Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2:38 that baptism was for the remission of sins; Ananias told Paul that it was to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16); Peter later said that it was to save one (1 Pet. 3:21); and Paul said in Romans 6 that it was to be made free from sin. The man does not live that can show that the Bible teaches baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is for any other purpose than to remit one’s sins.

Truth Magazine XX: 41, pp. 643-645
October 14, 1976