"The water doesn't wash away your sins." Exactly. So why did Elisha in II Kings 5:9-14 tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan River to cleanse him of his leprosy? Did the Jordan River rinse off his leprosy??? Of course not! It was Naaman's obedience to do God's will that made him whole. The same with baptism. In the New Testament, Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out and baptize all nations. Why would he command them to do such a thing that wasn't even necessary? If we obey His commandment to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (which is more specifically, JESUS CHRIST...read the bible study on God's name) we will receive remission of our sins.
What about circumcision in the Old Testament? Did cutting away this flesh actually make Abraham's people "clean?" No! But had they not been circumcised they would cut off from their people. God made this covenant with Abraham and it had to be followed. Now we don't have to be circumcised. But we still have to obey God's Word. And in the New Testament, Jesus commands us to be baptized.
"It's just an outward symbol." Water baptism does symbolize that you are taking on a new life. When you go down in the water your flesh "dies." You are buried in the water (Romans 6:4). When you come up out of the water, you are reborn....or born of water. Sound familiar? Read St. John 3:5. If you want to look at it as a symbol, then it is a symbol we must show.
That reminds me of another point about St. John 3:5. Jesus says that in order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born of water and of the spirit. I've heard bible scholars say that born of water means natural birth. They believe this because in the previous verse, after Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again to enter heaven, Nicodemus is confused and asks how someone can reenter into his mother's womb. Jesus replies in verse 5 by saying, "...Verily verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Some scholars think Jesus is saying you have to be naturally born and be born of the Spirit (receiving the Holy Ghost in our doctrine...again, see bible studies). But I ask you this...why would Jesus tell us we must be naturally born when that is something we cannot stop? Does this mean that babies that are done by C-Section cannot be saved? I most certainly hope not! Why, then, would Jesus say the door is open for anyone? Also, Jesus would have said born of the flesh, not water. If you look at the next verse, it talks about that which is of flesh is flesh. Reading Romans 8:5-13 clarifies this.
Ephesians 4:5 says there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."
Jesus showed us how to be baptized. The mere fact the He did it to fulfill all righteousness shows that it is very important. Read Matthew 3:13-16. He was fully immersed in the water.
What about the thief on the cross you may ask. You must think though, Jesus had not died yet. The salvation plan was not complete. Up until that time, faith and obedience saved you. In baptism, you put on Christ (Romans 6:4 again). How can you put on Christ before He ascends?
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