Sin…humanity’s most common and deadly problem ever. Every mentally competent person has committed rebellion against the God who created everything from nothing. The apostle Paul declares that “all have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If we are among that accountable group of people, then we have acted in ways that are contrary to the standard of right and wrong: God’s perfect nature.
Why did God create us in the beginning? Notice the way God sets forth our purpose at the very outset of creation: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:26-28).
God created us as Divine image bearers; to exist like mirrors set up at 45-degree angles to reflect the glory of our Creator to the universe and to spread His reign. Sin is whenever we focus on and reflect a different “glory” (cf. Rom. 1:18-32; etc.)
We exist for His pleasure (Rev. 4:9-11). One well might sing, “For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4). When we sin, we depart from our created purpose, and we ultimately sacrifice our right to life (cf. Rom. 6:23a).
Throughout history God has worked to provide forgiveness for lost humanity. From the time of the first sin, God promised a coming Savior to deliver from sin and death (Gen. 3:15). God made several covenants with different individuals and groups, often connected to forgiveness of sins and restoring communion between God and mankind.
Due to the nature of sin and its fruit, the shedding of blood was always associated with forgiveness and reconciliation. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev. 17:11). “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
God has made two major covenants with humanity, and they are often called “the Old Covenant” and “the New Covenant.” Both covenants were ratified with blood (cf. Heb. 9). However, the first one was made and operated on the basis of animal blood which cannot actually remove sins (cf. Heb. 10:1-4). The New Covenant was created by the power of the blood of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate (cf. Heb. 9:11-28; etc.)
One enters the New Covenant by being washed in the blood of Jesus, by being spiritually circumcised by God’s power. For example, Paul told a group of Christians to be careful about being captivated by the philosophies of men, and to remember the fully Divine nature of the Messiah (Col. 2:8-9). He reminds them that they were filled in Jesus, “who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10). He then writes: “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of the Messiah, having been buried with Him in immersion, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling out the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him” (Col. 2:11-15).
The spiritual circumcision which allows us entrance into the covenant is set forth as immersion or what is often called baptism. When someone submits to being immersed, then they are putting off their ways of living in sin, and they are initially forgiven of their rebellion against God. Ephesians 2:1-10, a parallel text to this section of the letter to the Colossians, also teaches this.
Some argue that immersion is a work of man to earn salvation from God. But the inspired apostle tells us that immersion, when done per God’s teachings, is not a human work but rather a work of God. If we have obeyed the teaching of immersion, then we were “raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God.”
The Greek term which most English versions of the Bible translate as “baptism” means immersion. Thayer states that this word is “properly, to dip repeatedly, to immerge, submerge” (Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody Hendrickson, 2007, p. 94). Practices such as pouring or sprinkling in the place of actual immersion in water contradict the plain teachings of God.
Not only does the Greek term refer to immersion, but the text also describes immersion as being buried with Jesus, and then resurrected with Him to be in His covenant. The very idea of a burial eliminates any practice other than a complete immersion in a watery grave.
Jesus shed His precious life blood in His death upon the cross, and we are reenacting that His death, burial, and resurrection in our submission to immersion (cf. Rom. 6). If we have obeyed in that way, then we are washed in His blood from the filth of sin (Rev. 1:5). The washing away of sins by Jesus’ blood is what Paul calls the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5) and the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). We are united with Jesus, our Savior and King, by being immersed into His death (Rom. 6:3-6). If we continue to live for Him, then we are continually cleansed from all sin by His blood (Rom. 6:1-2, 11-15; 1 John 1:5-10).
When Peter preaches the first full gospel sermon as recorded by Luke in the second chapter of Acts, He proclaimed that God has made Jesus both Master and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Those who heard his words about Jesus inquire as to their proper response. Peter replied, “Repent and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Is repentance essential for obtaining forgiveness of our sins? It should not surprise us that Peter says that repentance and immersion are both “for the forgiveness of your sins.” According to this inspired apostle, if immersion is not necessary for entering the covenant, then neither is repentance. The words of Peter are perfectly consistent with the rest of the preaching and conversions recorded for us in the book of Acts. Compare these commands and examples with Jesus’ very own words of commission to the apostles prior to His ascension to the throne in heaven (cf. Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:44-53; Matt. 28:18-20).
The phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” in Acts 2:38 is almost identical to what Jesus Himself expressed about His blood. When teaching about communion, He says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin” (Matt. 26:28, emphasis added). Jesus shed His blood for our forgiveness, and we obtain that forgiveness by being in His covenant. We enter the covenant by being immersed into Him.
Prior to his conversion, Paul had been praying what one might label a “sinner’s prayer” for three days (Acts 9:1-9), but he was still in his sins and had not yet called on the name of the Master. God sent a man named Ananias to Paul with this message: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be immersed and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Please notice that immersion is an appeal to Jesus’ authority to wash away our sins by the power of His blood.
Immersion is for the forgiveness of sins because it is what the Word of God teaches. Immersion in water is how we contact the saving blood of the Lamb to enter a covenant with God where we are constantly forgiven of our sins (1 John 1:5-10). Have you made that appeal to God (1 Pet. 3:18-21) to be saved through immersion by the resurrection of Jesus? As a Christian, are you living the covenant lifestyle set forth in the writings of the New Covenant?
Gantt currently resides with his wife and two children in Elk City, OK. He has been preaching in some form since 2007, and is currently the preaching minister for the 2nd & Adams congregation in Elk City.