What Must I Do?
The subject of baptism involves a number of issues. In this lesson we focus on the fact that baptism is a necessary step toward eternal life. We are not here teaching "water salvation" or "baptismal regeneration" for we know that it is not water but the blood of Christ that washes us from sin. However it is in water baptism that, having believed in Christ and repented of sins, we enter into the death of Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins through his blood, and receive the Holy Spirit so that we might rise up from baptism to walk in new life.
Peter said, "Repent and be baptized... for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38).
Some say this means "because you have forgiveness of sins". This is based on the fact that "for" can mean "because of" e.g., "Take no anxious thought for tomorrow" (Matt 6:34). However the people listening to Peter did not have the forgiveness of sins. They stood condemned (Acts 2:36-37). Furthermore, it was not baptism alone that Peter commanded "for the forgiveness of sins" . He also commanded them to repent for the forgiveness of sins. We know that he meant "Repent...in order to receive forgiveness." This shows that the word "for" in (Acts 2:38) does not mean because you have... but rather so that you may have... forgiveness of sins.
In addition, Jesus said His blood was shed "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mtt 26:28). If we know what the phrase meant there, why do we want to change the meaning of it in (Acts 2:38)? Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins because it is in baptism that the blood of Christ is applied. We are "baptized into his death" (Rom 6:3-5).
It is worth noting that Saul of Tarsus did not have his sins washed away before he was baptized. Ananias said to him, "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
"Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jhn 3:5).
Some say this is the water of physical birth. If so, that means one cannot enter the kingdom unless born physically. This would prevent an unborn child from entering the kingdom if it died. What would become of that child?
We are saved by the "washing of rebirth" (Tit 3:5). This is also called "the washing of water by the word" (Eph 5:26).
Romans 6:3-8 shows that in baptism the old self dies and the new self comes into being. Notice that the old self is "buried with Christ through baptism into death" (Rom 6:4).
"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal 3:26,27).
Only in Christ can we have forgiveness (Col 1:14; Eph 1:3-14). How do we get into Christ? Paul says in the above quote that we are "baptized into Christ" (Gal 3:27).
Referring to how Noah and his family "were brought safely water", (1Pe 3:20) Peter goes on to say, "And corresponding to that baptism now saves you. It is not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God" (1Pe 3:21). If a good conscience toward God is essential to salvation, and baptism is the answer of a good conscience, then baptism is essential to salvation.
We know that we have not misunderstood Peter here, because he clearly says, "...baptism now saves you..." . He does not mean it is the only thing or the primary thing that saves us, as if to leave Christ out, but he certainly makes it clear that Christ will not save us if we leave out his commandment to be baptized in his name.