Is baptism merely symbolic and nothing else? I wondered quite a while about this because of verses like "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;" and "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." Mark 1: 4 and Acts 2: 38, respectively.
Though I knew for sure that we're saved by God's grace through faith, it struck me every time I read the above verses that baptism might also be a crucial, required element for being saved. I thought this knowing that if it is a requirement, there would be exceptions, such as the thief on the cross and other deathbed situations.
What caused me to wonder if the baptism act itself had saving power are the words that are associated with baptismthe "remission of sins." The dictionary defines "remission," in biblical terms, as "to forgive; to pardon; to remove."
To me, that meant salvation. But then, something else came to mind. Instead of forgive, pardon, and remove being salvific words, perhaps they are simply cleansing words.
By cleansing words, I mean sanctifying words; words that replace our unrighteousness (sins) with God's righteousness. If so, baptizing, then, seems to be both a symbolic and experiential act.
It publically and officially symbolizes a life left behind; a union with the Lord; and at the same time, it is an actual experience of yielding, surrendering, and committing to the new life in God's sanctifying love.
The remission of sin is the result of God's faithfulness to our faith that believes in Jesus.
But baptism, itself, doesn't do the saving. Our faith in Jesus alone is what saves us. The way I see it now is that baptism, and all that entails, including the remission of sins, is the fruit of faith.
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