Jerry C. Brewer
When the apostle Peter delivered the first recorded Gospel sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were convicted of their sins and interrupted his speech, asking, “men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Without missing a beat, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
A clearer answer regarding the purpose of baptism cannot be found in the Bible. After all is said and done, after all the objections are raised against this command of God, after the scholars have exhausted all their “academic” arguments opposing this command, it still remains that baptism is for (in order to) the remission of sins. Even though the religious world largely disdains this truth through a misconception of the remission of sins, baptism remains inseparable from it.
[Remission of sins] is confounded with a change of heart, and is supposed to be a renewing of the soul effected by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit. It is regarded as an inward experience, a matter of consciousness; and men are taught to look within themselves for the evidence of it, and to find that evidence in the state of joy which immediately succeeds it (J. W. McGarvey, “Excursus A,” A New Commentary on Acts of The Apostles, Standard Pub. Co., 1892, p. 243).
McGarvey is pointed in his observation and succinctly contrasts the difference between most of the religious world today and New Testament teaching regarding the matter of pardon. The phrase, “remission of sins,” means forgiveness. The word translated “remission” is generally defined as, “release, as from bondage, imprisonment, etc. Secondarily, when connected with sins, it means forgiveness, pardon of sins (properly, the letting them go, as though they had not been committed), remission of their penalty” (ibid. p. 244).
Forgiveness of sins, or pardon, is not an act that takes place within the consciousness of the one who is pardoned. The guilty party is forgiven by the one whom he has wronged and in the case of sin, the wronged party is God. Hence, pardon takes place in the mind of God and can be known only by some means of communication. Forgiveness is an act of the Divine mind, with reference to the sinner and not a change within the person who is forgiven (ibid. pp. 244, 245).
Remission of sins is not a change of heart. The heart is purified by faith (Acts 15:9). Neither is baptism the same as repentance. Repentance is a change of the mind or will (Matt. 21:28-29). When the gospel is preached, heard, understood, and believed, the heart is purified. Acting upon that faith, the hearer then determines to forsake his former manner of living and live according to the will of God. That is a change of will, preceded by godly sorrow and issuing in the reformation of one’s life, and that’s the exact Bible definition of repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).
As God requires belief and repentance before He forgives, so He requires baptism. The act of baptism is the consummation of primary obedience to God’s will and it is the single act that changes one’s relationship to God from alien sinner to His child. Baptism puts one into Christ where all spiritual blessings are to be found (Eph. 1:3), including redemption through the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7). No one believes, repents, or confesses into Christ. The single act that changes one from a citizen of the kingdom of darkness to a citizen of the kingdom of God is baptism (Col. 1:13). Those who are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ are those who have been baptized for the remission of sins.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:26-29).