Is baptism for past sins, present sins, or future sins? On the surface this might not seem like a difficult question, but there is some depth here to investigate. What sins are washed away by baptism?
Washing Sins Away
Matthew 26:26-29 records the last supper of Christ, and, in this, Jesus says His blood is poured out for many – those willing to receive it. Also, Luke 24:44-48 says Christ’s followers were to offer this salvation to all nations, Romans 1:16-17 additionally states this salvation is for all who believe. The gospel is for all, and baptism washes away sins. Which sins, though?
- Baptism washes away our present sins. Before we enter into Jesus’ blood through baptism, we are in a sinful state of being. Ephesians 2:11-13 contrasts the state of those Christians before and after accepting Christ – once separated, now close. In Acts 2:23, Peter condemns his audience for the blood of Jesus, but he offers reconciliation in Acts 2:38 through repentance and baptism despite their current situation of sin. Another example can be found in Simon the Sorcerer of Acts 8. He was currently living a life a deception, and his baptism washes that away.
- Baptism washes away past sins. In Acts 22:16, Paul is in the midst of recounting his conversion after his Damascus road vision. Paul repented directly after the vision and was actively penitent and praying to God. Ananias tells him that baptism will wash away those past sins. Cornelius, in Acts 10, is described as a devout, generous individual, and the angel, in verses 13-14, tells him to send for Peter to discover how he should be saved. This leads to his baptism in verse 48, washing away a past of sins that were not yet atoned for.
- Baptism does not automatically forgive future sins. Returning to Simon in Acts 8, we see the former sorcerer fall back into sin pretty quickly, trying to bribe the disciples for spiritual power. Peter instructs him to repent of that sin and pray for forgiveness. Jesus provides an avenue for forgiveness, but we cannot be presumptuous of that forgiveness. The Hebrew writer, in chapter 2:1 warns against drifting away, even after being converted. Hebrews 3:12 also speaks of Christians falling away, and this concern is voiced more times in Hebrews.
Baptism puts us on the road to salvation, but sin can still drive us off that path. Being baptized brings us into a new relationship with God, washed of our imperfections, made sons and daughters of God. From this point, we put sin behind us and strive to live after the pattern Christ set for us.
I John 1:6 warns us that we have no fellowship with Jesus but we live sinfully. However, if we keep walking in the light, then we have forgiveness in Christ, and verse 9 reminds us that confession of our sins brings us back to that relationship if we fall. Once uniting with Christ, we do have an avenue of forgiveness when we fall, but our goal should be to live as Christ-like as we can.
lesson by Tim Smelser