Acts 2:38 is a scripture verse that we want to cover in some detail. This is a statement which Peter made in response to several thousand Jews’ question, “What shall we do?” Peter’s answer is: “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter’s answer is straight-forward, and contains two requirements: (1) Repent; and (2) Be immersed in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
Nobody, as a rule, gets “hung up” on the necessity of repentance as a requirement for salvation. Immersion in the name of (by the authority of) Jesus for the purpose of forgiveness of sins is where some people have real problems.
Most of the so-called “fundamental evangelical” denominations (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.) teach that an individual is saved by “faith alone.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Arbitrarily assigning to immersion the status of works, and excluding immersion from faith, such groups automatically come to the conclusion that immersion cannot possibly have anything to do with salvation. Immersion must be a work which follows salvation. Therefore immersion could not possibly be for the purpose of forgiveness of sins - forgiveness would have taken place earlier when the individual was “saved.” Therefore, groups which hold this doctrinal position try to squirm around the obvious meaning of Acts 2:38 rather than let God give His definition of faith.
One of the arguments that is used is this: the word translated for can also mean because. A man is thrown in jail for the commission of a crime - he is thrown in jail because he committed it. Parallel reasoning then applies to Acts 2:38; a man is immersed for the remission (forgiveness) of sins - a man is immersed because his sins are remitted (forgiven).
Unfortunately, that attempt to wiggle away from the force of Acts 2:38 will not succeed. The word translated for is the Greek word eis, which rarely ever means because, and certainly not in this context. Consider Matthew 26:28. In this verse, where Jesus is instituting the Lord’s Supper, He describes His blood as being shed “for the forgiveness of sins.” Nobody who believes that the Bible is the Word of God would claim that Jesus shed His blood “because mankind’s sins were already forgiven.” Jesus’ blood was shed for the purpose of forgiving men’s sins! And that same purpose, in exactly the same language (in Greek as well as in English) is ascribed to immersion!!
Others, still attempting to deny the obvious meaning of Acts 2:38, use a different tack. They say, “Okay, I agree that immersion in the name of Jesus is for the forgiveness of sins. The word baptizo means simply to immerse. How do you know that it’s referring to immersion in water? Couldn’t it be immersion in the Spirit, which occurs when you accept Jesus into your heart - to be followed with water immersion later?”
It could be. But let’s look a little deeper into the matter of immersion in Jesus’ name. In Acts 8:36, as Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian, the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being immersed?” Water immersion evidently has something to do with the preaching of Jesus.
In Acts 10:44, the household of a Gentile (non-Jew) soldier named Cornelius received what the Bible calls the “immersion in the Holy Spirit.” This sign from heaven consisted of a sound like a mighty wind, tongues like fire coming down on their heads, and speaking in foreign languages. The sign in this case was for the purpose of convincing the Jewish Christians that Gentiles were acceptable to God, and could be saved. (For more detail, see the study entitled The Holy Spirit, the section concerning the immersion in the Holy Spirit.) As a result of this happening, Peter and the Christian men with him were amazed, and Peter said, “‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be immersed who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47,48).
Acts 10:47,48 prove beyond any shadow of doubt that immersion in the name of Jesus takes place in water.
Acts 2:38 plainly says, then, that repentance and immersion in water are necessary for salvation, and that immersion in water in Jesus’ name is for the forgiveness of sins.
Romans 6:1-11 Romans 6:1-11 is the longest section of scripture in the New Testament dealing with immersion. In the fifth chapter Paul has been writing concerning the greatness of God’s grace. The Christian may have a tendency to take advantage of God’s willingness to overlook mistakes by deliberately sinning.
The question under discussion is: “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” The answer comes, “May it never be!” followed by a discussion of how we as Christians died to sin.
“Or do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ have been immersed into His death?” It is important to note that only in Jesus is there no condemnation (Romans 8:1)! All of God’s blessings are reserved for those in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). The most important practical question for every person is: “How do I get into Jesus?” This verse of scripture gives God’s answer to us - everyone must be IMMERSED INTO CHRIST JESUS!
No one enters into Christ by “accepting Jesus into his heart.” This is purely man-made perversion of the gospel - anathema to the Lord, and to be so for us as well (Galatians 1:6-10).
The only way through the door of salvation is immersion into Jesus! Anyone who tries to enter another way is a thief and a robber (John 10:1).
When an individual is immersed into Christ, he is immersed into Christ’s death. It was in Christ’s death that His blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins (John 19:31-37). When we are immersed into Christ’s death we contact the blood which washes away our sins. This is entirely consistent with the teaching of Acts 2:38: “Be immersed... for the forgiveness of your sins;” and Acts 22:16: “Be immersed, and wash away your sins.”
“Therefore, we have been buried with Him through immersion into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
This is as clear a description of being “born again” as it is possible to write (See John 3:3). We have been buried with Him in immersion, and resurrected to walk in newness of life. You bury the old man, and a new one is raised who walks in a different life. That’s what it means to be “born again.” No where does the Holy Spirit even hint that immersion is a “symbol of the conversion that has already taken place.” He insists that the process of being born again, in which He does the work, isaccomplished in immersion.
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5)
There is only one Biblical thing that is the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection - immersion in water. Sprinkling is not that likeness, neither is pouring. Because this whole section of scripture is dealing with immersion into Christ, this description of immersion into Christ as the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection makes it clear that immersion into Christ occurs in water!
Our union with Christ occurs in the likeness of His death - not before, not after - IN!
If we have been united with Christ in the likeness of His death, Paul says that we certainly shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. An examination of the verse by itself would lead one to think that the primary meaning of the text is that we will be resurrected when Christ comes again. In context, however, the Holy Spirit is talking about a resurrection like Christ’s for us in this present age! We have buried the old man; the new man certainly is as Christ was after He was resurrected!
“…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6,7).
The biggest problem that a Christian faces is the desire of the flesh to sin. The Christian really needs to be conscious of the fact that the sinful body has been crucified in immersion; it’s dead. Therefore a Christian is not a slave to sin - sin has no business telling him what to do. The Christian can tell sin to “get lost;” he is free from sin’s power.
“Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him” (Romans 6:8,9).
When Christ was resurrected the devil had no more that he could do to Him. Christ had destroyed him who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). And we believe that we live with Him - “He who hears My words, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
“For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:10,11).
When Jesus burst forth from the grave, Satan could no longer tempt Him. No longer would the devil be able to meet Him in the wilderness and tempt His flesh with appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the boastful pride of life. Sin could no longer touch Him or tempt Him.
We, as a result of our sharing in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through immersion, are to consider ourselves just as removed from the power of sin as Jesus was when He burst forth from the grave! If we don’t think of ourselves as being this way, it’s a cinch that we won’t even come close to acting that way.
The important points in this section are:
Immersion places one into Christ.
A person buries his old man in immersion, and is raised to walk in newness of life - he is born again!
Union with Christ takes place in the likeness of His death, which is immersion in water.
Following immersion into Christ, a Christian is to consider himself just as removed from the power of sin as Jesus was when He was resurrected.
Galatians 3:26,27 In Galatians 3:26,27 we find that Christians are the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus because everyone who has been immersed into Christ has been clothed with Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were immersed into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Once again, the expression “immersed into Christ” is used. As we pointed out in our commentary on Romans 6:3, the only way into Christ is by being immersed into Him. No scheme that man might devise will place a lost and damned-to-hell sinner into Christ.
Many religious groups have trouble reconciling the statement that Christians are sons of God by faith, and that the adoption occurs during immersion into Christ.
Ephesians 2:8,9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Those groups which believe that an individual is saved by “faith alone” define faith as a mental state of mind, involving the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and trusting Him “totally” for salvation. Under this definition of faith, immersion must be a work that follows that trust in God, and therefore cannot be connected with salvation, for salvation comes “not as a result of works.”
But why not, as in the case with repentance, let God define what He means by “faith”?
In Galatians 3:26, the Holy Spirit tells us that we are sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Then He goes on to tell us how that marvelous transition occurred: when we were immersed into Christ, we were clothed with Christ.
For example, suppose that you were going to a costume party. Before you go, you put on a costume that looks like Donald Duck. You have now been clothed with Donald Duck. When someone looks at you, they can’t see you - all they can see is the costume.
So it is with immersion into Christ. When you are immersed into Christ, you become clothed with Christ - you have put on a costume that looks exactly like Christ. When God looks at you He sees Jesus - and that is why He accepts you as a son of God; you become sons of God through faith, because in being immersed into Christ we have been clothed with Him.
Faith, then, in God’s definition, includes more than “simple belief.” It includes repentance, confession with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and immersion in water into Christ.
I Corinthians 12:13
“For by one Spirit we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). There are two possible interpretations of this verse. One is that through the action of the Holy Spirit we have all entered the body of Christ (which is God’s church - Ephesians 1:22,23) by being immersed into it. The second is: The word translated Spirit is the Greek word pneuma. In the original manuscripts all the letters were capitals - there is no way to tell whether pneuma is to be translated Spirit or spirit - only the context will tell. The word spirit refers to either our inner person, or an attitude. In other words, another way to translate I Corinthians 12:13 is: “For with one attitude we were all immersed into one body . . .” This alternate translation seems to be more consistent with the scripture’s teaching of the repentant sinner making his appeal to God in immersion. (There are some who twist this passage to speak of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurred only twice - once to begin the church on Pentecost, and once to extend salvation to the Gentiles. For more information see the study entitled The Holy Spirit.)
There is really no question that immersion into the body occurs through the medium of water, for one cannot be in the body of Christ without being immersed - in water - into Christ.
Colossians 2:12 In this verse the point is again made that we have been buried with Christ in immersion. Here Paul adds to our knowledge by pointing out that from immersion we were “raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Any works connected with immersion are on God’s part - we are saved through faith in His working!
Romans 6:17,18 Romans 6:17,18 are interesting verses. Although they do not mention immersion directly, they add to our knowledge of the subject.
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18).
“Having been freed from sin” tips us off that Paul is still talking about immersion, as he was earlier in the chapter (Romans 6:1-11). And that brings to our mind some questions.
The fact that we were obedient from the heart to the form of the teaching (or doctrine) to which we were committed, and in that way we were freed from sin, prompts us to ask, “What is the form of doctrine to which we were committed?” The word form means “mold” or “likeness.” For example, when contractors lay the foundation for a house, the first thing they do is to build “forms.” When the forms are completed, concrete is poured into them. When the concrete has set, the forms are ripped off, leaving a concrete foundation. Notice that the forms are not the foundation - they are a mold or likeness of the foundation.
Christians have obeyed from their hearts something that is a form of the doctrine. What is the basic doctrine about Christ? Paul says that he delivered to the Corinthians, as of first importance, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). The basic doctrine is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Is there anything that is the form of the doctrine? Is there anything that is the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? There certainly is - immersion into Christ! And it is consistent with the rest of the Bible in that obeying the form of the doctrine, we were made free from sin.
One other item - notice that the “form of the teaching to which we were committed” is to be obeyed from our own hearts! If a person has been immersed for any reason other than his own desire to obey, his immersion is not meeting the requirements of the Bible. It is easy to see, for example, that infant sprinkling is not valid - no baby obeys from his own heart.
I Peter 3:2l I Peter 3:21 states, that as water served to destroy the old world in Noah’s time (II Peter 3:5,6) by immersion in water, and to save Noah and his family, so immersion now saves us. “And corresponding to that, immersion now saves you - not the removal of the dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21).
“…immersion now saves you . . .” That seems like a pretty plain statement. Those who deny that immersion has anything to do with salvation have real trouble with this verse. Dr. Kenneth Taylor, a Baptist, in his paraphrase of the Bible (the Living Bible), gives us his opinion in this way: “That, by the way, is what baptism pictures for us; in baptism we show that we have been saved. . .” (I Peter 3:21, emphasis added). This is straight Baptist doctrine! Baptists teach that an individual is saved by “accepting Jesus into your heart,” and that immersion is a public witness that “you have already been saved.”
The Bible, in contrast, teaches that “Immersion now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Christ.”
There are many things that save a person: grace saves, faith saves, the blood of Jesus saves, God saves, obedience saves. If God chooses to make all of these operative when an individual is immersed into Christ, who can set aside that choice?
It is important to note that immersion is an appeal to God for a “good conscience.” A good, or clean, conscience has only been available since Christ’s death on the cross. Because it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4), even the righteous men of the Old Testament never had the sense of complete forgiveness available through the sacrifice of Christ. They lived during the time in which “both gifts and sacrifices [were] offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings...” (Hebrews 9:9,10).
Immersion is that appeal to God for a clear conscience, and through immersion, a person is saved because he enters the resurrection of Christ.
John 3:3,5 In John 3:3, Jesus told a very important Pharisee named Nicodemus that, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus then asked how a person could be born again after he was old. Jesus told him how: “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Being born again consists of being born of water and Spirit. Although the passage can be strained to be interpreted in a number of ways, it seems clear that Jesus was speaking of immersion in His name, which clearly includes water and Spirit (Acts 2:38). The kingdom of God did not come until the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection (see the study on the kingdom of God in the lesson entitled Christ’s Church), neither did God’s Spirit (John 7:37-39), and neither did immersion in Christ’s name. Jesus was teaching Nicodemus of things yet to come from his standpoint in time; all of these things did come on the same day some 2 1/2 years later.
Titus 3:5 The same point is made in Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Paul speaks of God saving us through the bath of regeneration. This more literal rendering of the Greek ties together with the thoughts expressed in I Peter 3:21 and John 3:5. Titus 3:5 is clearly speaking of being born again through immersion in water - born of water and Spirit. The bath of regeneration eliminates all past sin; the continuing renewing action of the Spirit continues to save the faithful Christian.
Ephesians 5:26 In Ephesians 5:26 Paul speaks of the church as having been “cleansed. .. by the washing of water with the word.” Literally the church has been cleansed with the bath of water with the word. The word of God cleanses the church, on an individual basis, in immersion. Not mentioning either water or Spirit, but in remarkable unity with the rest of the scriptures, Peter says, “. . . you have been born again... through the living and abiding word of God” (I Peter 1:23).
Ephesians 4:4-6 Our final scripture verses dealing with immersion as taught in God’s word are Ephesians 4:4-6. In making a plea for the church at Ephesus to preserve the unity of the Spirit, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one immersion, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Just as there is only one Spirit, and only one Lord, and only one Father, so also there is only one body, and only one faith, and only one immersion.
I have gone into the hospital to visit the patients. I am often asked, “What faith are you?” When I reply, “Christian,” the question often comes, “I know. But what faith Christian?”
THERE IS ONLY ONE FAITH - CHRISTIAN! Similarly there is only one immersion. Denominations practice all their various forms of “baptism” for all their various reasons. As far as God is concerned, there is only one immersion - into Christ! Those who have been “baptized” with another “baptism” have wasted their time. They are still lost and condemned to hell by their own sins.
A Few Extraneous Thoughts One time I telephoned a contact to see if I could drop in and visit for a few minutes. One of the girls answered the phone and said, “Sure, come on out.” When I got there, not only was the family there, but also two Baptist preachers. And the preachers were going through their “plan of salvation” with this family.
So I listened quietly as they explained how God loved these people, but that their sins separated them from God, so it became necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for their sins. When the family understood that, the preachers asked them if they would “accept Jesus into their hearts as their personal Savior.” At that point I broke in and asked, “What about baptism?” And one of the preachers quoted I Corinthians 1:14: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Then he jumped down to verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” And he proceeded to explain to me that immersion had nothing to do with salvation - there were a lot of saved people in Corinth, but only Crispus and Gaius, and the household of Stephanus had been immersed.
Knowing what I knew about immersion, I knew that his thinking couldn’t be right, but at that time I didn’t know how to answer him. (“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you might know how you should answer each person” - Colossians 4:6). So I went home and studied my Bible.
Why did Paul say that he was thankful that he hadn’t immersed many in Corinth? He gives the answer himself: “... that no one should say you were immersed in my name” (I Corinthians 1:15). It wasn’t that the Corinthians weren’t immersed, because Paul would say later in the same letter, “we were all immersed into one body” (I Corinthians 12:13). In Corinth Paul preached the gospel, and let others do the immersing!
One other time I was talking with a gentleman about immersion into Christ. He mentioned that there were more than one hundred scriptures which talk about how a person is saved by faith, but how there were only just a few which mentioned immersion in connection with salvation. Therefore, because immersion wasn’t mentioned very often, it wasn’t very important. Notice that if that line of reasoning is correct, being born again isn’t important at all, because it is mentioned only four times (John 3:3,7; I Peter 1:3,23).