A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER ABOUT WATER BAPTISM
By Wayne S. Walker
Quite a few years ago, more than twenty in fact, the congregation with which I was then working had a “Dial a Bible Message.” People could call the number and listen to a short recording on some Scriptural topic. The machine that we used allowed the caller to leave a message, so we invited listeners to ask any Bible questions which they had. The following question was called in to the Dial a Bible Message, and the answer that I gave to it follows, with some additions. I thought that it might make for interesting and informative reading.
Question: Is there any virtue in water? Answer: It is difficult to know exactly what is intended by this question. The most logical assumption is that it has reference to baptism, since many who object to the teaching that baptism is essential for salvation often say that there is no virtue or power in the water to forgive sin. Before we can answer the question, we need to look at a couple of plain facts from the Bible. First, Jesus Himself commanded baptism (Matthew 28:18-20). He gave it a connection with salvation, saying in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Can anyone be saved without doing what Jesus commanded us to do to be saved?
Next, the Bible makes it clear that baptism is a part of God’s plan for washing away our sins. In Acts 22:16 Saul of Tarsus, who became better known as the apostle Paul, was told by a God-sent preacher, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (cf. Acts 9:17-18). Even though he was already a penitent believer, Saul did not have his sins washed away on the road to Damascus or while he was fasting and praying for three days, but only after he arose and was baptized. This tells how he called upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13). He later wrote that his conversion serves as a pattern for everyone else (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
It is quite obvious to anyone who reads the New Testament that water does have a role to play in God’s scheme of redemption. In describing the new birth, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:3-5). After Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch asked, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36-39). The same apostle Peter who told the Jews on Pentecost, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), said after preaching to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” and then commanded them to be baptized (Acts 10:47-48). Paul wrote that the church is cleansed “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). And the Hebrew writer tells us that before we can draw near to God we must have “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
So in answer to the question, no, there is no virtue in the water. The water itself does not save. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us by the power of God (Romans 5:8-9). However, baptism is said in the Bible to save because it is the divinely ordained means by which we come into contact with the blood of Christ to be saved by God’s grace, being baptized “into His death” (Romans 6:3-4). This is what the apostle Peter had in mind in 1 Peter 3:21 when he wrote, “There is an antitype, namely baptism, which now saves us—not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The virtue of baptism is simply in our obeying God and approaching Him with a good conscience for salvation.
—in Faith and Facts Quarterly; Oct., 2017; Vol. 44, No. 4; pp. 53-55