Does Immersion in Water Cause the Remission of Sins?

by Greg Circle

A while ago, I mentioned in one of our Bible classes the view of some that “we are baptized because of the remission of sins” (i.e., because our sins have already been forgiven). With that, I also mentioned Dr. Daniel Wallace’s comment on it. He mentions that “the linguistic evidence for a causal eis [falls] short of proof.” He then gives possible explanations.

His view is the common view that baptism is “an outward sign of an inward grace” (not his words, but how many may often say it). His interpretation of the book of Acts is “Water baptism...serves both as a public acknowledgment...and a public confession...that one has been Spirit-baptized.”

I disagree with his view because of the experience of the Samaritans that repented and were baptized at the preaching of Philip (Acts 8.12). They had not yet received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8.15-16). Why were they baptized? And, again, the twelve Ephesians who had been baptized with John’s baptism did not receive the Holy Spirit until after they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19.5-6). Why were they baptized?

Dr. Wallace mentions two views we will briefly discuss. One is the view that salvation comes at repentance in Acts 2.38 (with some re-punctuation), but as he points out, that view’s “subtlety and awkwardness is against it.” The other view is that the baptism of Acts 2.38 is spiritual only, which he rightly dismisses as “not [fitting] well with the obvious meaning of ‘baptism’ in Acts – especially in this text (cf. 2.41).”

The view I hold, which Dr. Wallace dismisses with the conditional phrase, “if this is all there is to it,” is that the baptism that produces the remission of sins is a physical immersion in water. This view is often dismissed because it is called “works salvation.”

What say the Inspired Scriptures? Baptism is where God does the work (Colossians 2.11-12). Baptism puts us into Christ (Romans 6.3; Galatians 3.17). Baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3.21).

So, to answer the question, “Yes, immersion in water, according to the Scriptures, causes the remission of sins.” But let us also answer Dr. Wallace’s condition: “There is more to the view.” He points out that repentance precedes baptism, and this is true. One must change before being baptizes, or all he’s doing is getting wet. The view is not that our works save, but that God saves us through our works. “He has become the author of eternal salvation to them that obey Him (Hebrews 5.9).

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