Born of Water: Don’t we contact the blood of Christ at baptism?

BaptismofJesus2In the Churches of Christ, it’s long been taught that souls are cleansed when we contact the blood of Christ in baptism. Very typical is this from Jeffrey Asher[1]

I submit that the Scriptures teach the blood of Christ is applied to sinners in baptism, and that this is what the apostle Paul had in mind in Romans 6:3 when he said we are “baptized into [Christ’s] death.” …

Baptism into Christ’s death enables us reach the blood of his cross (John 19:34). Baptism is God’s operation of washing us in the blood of the Lamb and cleansing us of our sins (Col. 2:12,13). “[You] were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. . . . ” How much clearer can it be? God forgives men of their sins when they obey his command for baptism.

Of course, John 19:34 says nothing about baptism. It actually says,

(John 19:34 ESV) But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

And Col 2:12-13 says nothing about the blood of Jesus.

Asher’s argument is that our sins are forgiven at baptism; our sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus; therefore, we contact the blood of Jesus in baptism.

But the Bible never says this. Alexander Campbell taught the importance of purity of speech when speaking of biblical things. Why speak in terms that the Spirit never inspired?

The waters of baptism are never said to symbolize the blood of Jesus. They symbolize his death and the Spirit. They symbolize cleansing. And I believe, with Asher, that baptism is the moment when we’re forgiven. I just think God’s makes exceptions when needed to honor his many promises to save all with faith in Jesus. I don’t believe in the sort of sacramentalism that requires water for salvation no matter what.

In fact, in NT thought, the waters do not carry the efficacy of forgiveness. The forgiveness comes from the receipt of the Spirit –

(Tit. 3:4-7 ESV) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

“Regeneration” in v. 5 could be translated “new birth,” “new beginning,” or even “re-begetting,” reflecting God’s becoming the convert’s father in parallel with Psa 2. The only other use of the underlying Greek word in the NT is –

(Matt 19:28 ESV) Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [NIV: the renewal of all things], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The word is borrowed from the Stoics and refers to the end of the age. It’s plainly eschatological and looks ahead to the Second Coming when all things will be made new (Rev 21:5). We are not just given a fresh start, but we’re given a new nature as new creations by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor 5:17). (Those who deny a personal indwelling of the Spirit deprive themselves of one of most beautiful promises in the Bible.)

The language of v. 5 is ambiguous both in the English and the Greek. Is the washing “of renewal and regeneration” so that “of the Holy Spirit” applies to both? Or is Paul saying that the washing regenerates and the Holy Spirit renews? I doubt seriously that Paul believes that the water regenerates and the Spirit renews. Rather, the Holy Spirit is poured out like water (v. 6) to wash, regenerate, and renew us. Water does not forgive. Only God can forgive, and when we’re saved (normatively at baptism), he does so through God the Spirit.

(1 Cor. 6:11 ESV) And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(2 Thess. 2:13 ESV) But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

So it’s really much more about the receipt of the Spirit than the water – not that we aren’t supposed to experience both. But we in the Churches of Christ tend to overlook the Spirit’s role because some deny any “direct operation” of the Spirit on the Christian – and yet it’s the Spirit’s operation on the Christian that is often credited with our forgiveness!

And so, we’ve substituted the idea of contacting the blood of Jesus for the biblical concept of being washing, sanctified, justified, and saved by the Spirit – which we normally receive at baptism. We leave the Spirit out and so find ourselves treating the water as the carrier of God’s forgiveness – when in fact the carrier is what the water symbolizes: the outpoured Spirit.

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[1] “Baptism and Jesus’ Blood,” Truth Magazine, XXXI: 15, 460-461 (August 6, 1987). http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume31/GOT031202.html.

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  1. I usually can LIKE whatever Jay writes. I’m wondering if he overlooked in this particular study that Jesus says the new birth is of water and spirit, obviously referring to the human spirit which must turn to Jesus as Lord and to the baptism which is commanded BY JESUS for every new believer. I don’t read any passage which credits the Holy Spirit with being our Savior.

    I see many passages which credit JESUS with being our Savior. I note that the Spirit is God’s GIFT to every new CHRISTIAN, meaning the Spirit is given AFTER we have turned to Jesus for salvation. The Lord commissioned HUMANS to win the lost. We’re all familiar with the “great commission.” Do some imagine Jesus was speaking to the Spirit in giving the commission?

    Both water (baptismal water) and spirit (repentant human spirit) are involved in new birth INTO CHRIST, after which the Spirit is given by God to the NEW CHRISTIAN. Yes?

  2. Yes, I believe that God will honor His word that He will save those with faith.. Of course a person of faith would respond to the command to be baptized…So, this debate of when exactly God forgives seems like an argument that does more to cause division than unity. God does the forgiving.. We do the believing and try to do as He instructs.. Imperfectly at best.

  3. Perhaps the argument for being washed in the blood comes from the KJV in Revelation 1:5 “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” And not only that, we have E.A. Hoffman a noted ordained Congregationalist minister who wrote one of our mainstays “Are You Washed In the Blood.” As I understand it, a more accepted translation is “freed” us by his blood from our sins.

  4. The scriptures are filled with symbols, imagery, patterns and typology to help us understand the abstract, (i.e., faith, trust, the unseen forces that make up the spiritual realm, yet are real, but outside our physical senses). We cannot see faith, trust, or the wind for that matter, but we see the reality of their existence in the actions they produce (i.e., Heb.11, what faith looks like, the faith and death of the martyrs, past and present; medals-valor, the American Eagle-courage). The Spirit in inspiring the writers of the old and new testaments freely used symbols to help us understand the reality behind things unseen. Water baptism, as a symbol of a spiritual reality, is shared by virtually all protestant denominations to convey the abstract reality of a spiritual cleansing that we understand from the physical cleansing by water of our bodies. Yet this spiritual cleansing is in itself something unseen without the reality of our faith which reality symbols help us to understand. What is a symbol?

    A symbol is an object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, action, or material entity. Symbols can take the form of words, sounds, gestures, or visual images and are used to convey ideas and beliefs. Wikipedia

    Symbols hold the mind to truth but are not themselves the truth… Heinrich Zimmer

    Guidelines For Interpreting Symbols:
    1. Look beyond the symbol for its intended meaning.
    2. Look for interpretation of the symbol in the scriptures themselves.
    3. Look for Christ in the symbols and imagery of the scriptures.
    4. Let the nature of the object used as a symbol contribute to your understanding of the spiritual meaning.
    5. Seek the reality behind the symbol.

  5. Price, I believe you are correct. The scriptures never point to separating the concept of faith from works and making it a separate entity, even though the apostles do make a separation from the works of the law and the thinking that one can save themselves. The people in the OT weren’t saved through the law, but through faith and also were doomed due to lack of it, which meant they weren’t doing what God wanted as a result. The Israelites were doomed for rebelling in expression before they ever got to Canaan or even acted, but this actually kept them from acting, which was not pleasing to God.
    There are times when we will not do everything perfectly and there are times when our faith will falter, but the question is what do we do over all? It was a lack of faith that caused Peter to sink, which caused lack of action as he stopped walking. These things were seen as parts of each other. Walking…great faith, stopping and sinking…little faith.
    Baptism is an expression of faith and faith will express itself, otherwise it is not faith or trust.

  6. Jim H., please show where baptism is regarded as a symbol or that washing for cleansing was a symbol.
    This is often alluded to, but there are no scriptures that do not regard cleansing and baptism as a real application and catalyst that acts. It doesn’t simply reflect faith, it expresses it. Jesus wasn’t a symbol of salvation, but was salvation. Jesus wasn’t a symbol of the word, but was the Word. We are not to be a symbol of the light, but are to be the light.

  7. Romans 6: 3-5, “or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of his resurrection.” God chose water baptism as the mode, water is water. It is the act of obedience that is important. Remember Naaman? did the river Jordan contain anything that was cleansing? Or was it the simple act of obedience that cured Him? Acts 2;38, Acts 22:16 are both clear, baptism washes our sins away. We contact the blood of Christ when we are buried with Him in baptism. Where was His blood shed? In His death. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We come into contact with it through the obedience of baptism.

  8. We need to think like Jews here. While the Passover was to be done because it was in honor of their deliverance from Egypt, it was also in honor of God’s deliverance from the bad to good. Within the Passover they had to kill a lamb because it reflected the lamb that was killed to place its blood on the door post, they still killed the lamb. And they ate unleavened bread due to the hast with which they had to leave, but they ate unleavened bread. They didn’t simply do things to symbolize something with something else, but did that actual thing. The ritual of physical cleansing didn’t symbolize physical cleansing, but was cleansing of themselves before God. They knew better. After Jesus healed the lepers Jesus told them to go cleanse themselves in the Temple, not because they needed physical cleansing, but because they needed cleansing before God. Baptism, as noted in I Peter 3:21, doesn’t put away the filth of the flesh, but shows before God the answer of a good conscience. It is our answer to God’s question of do you want to be clean and holy and saved?

  9. Dwight: I agree that baptism expresses faith. But how does it express faith? It is in itself not faith, but an expression that seeks to represent or picture faith. Symbols do much the same thing. Some examples: Baptism as a symbol to express, represent, or to suggest the idea of salvation (Ac 22:16; and as a death and a resurrection (Ro 6:3-4; and as a cleansing (!Pt 3:21); Baptism as a circumcision (Col 2:11-12); As a outward sign of cleansing from sin and a defiled conscience (Ac 22:16; !Co 6:11; Tit 3:5).; As a putting on of Christ (Gal 3:27). Other examples where symbols represent or convey ideas and images: Rainbow as a covenant (Ge 9:13; Eze 1:18; Rev 4:3); Wind and fire as the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:8; Ac 2;2-3); A dove symbolizing the Spirit (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10); A lamb symbolizing Jesus (Rev 5:6); Jesus as a vine (Jn 15:1); Jesus as a gate (Jn 10:7-9). All these examples came from http://www.biblegateway.com, and a quick Bing/Google search study on bible symbols will yield a great many others and illustrate the Spirits use of symbols, imagery and typology in the writing of the testaments to convey/express/represent spiritual things. We live in a world of symbols. And symbols, in and of themselves, are NOT the reality they endeavor to portray. Please look again at my original posit on a definition of symbols and guidelines to consider when confronted with symbols and and ponder it awhile.

  10. There is much more evidence in scripture that the water of baptism is much more than just a symbol. Can you explain how the use of water in baptism by John the Baptist was also just a symbol?
    Can you separate each of the following into symbols?
    1Jn 5:4-9 ESV For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (5) Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (6) This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (7) For there are three that testify: (8) the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. (9) If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
    This explains that Jesus came by water. Can you explain what that could mean? I am asking where in scripture that scripture identifies that Jesus came by water, except here? Next question would be, why was water identified in this communication? Notice that the water is equal to the blood. The Spirit testifies because it is truth. Verse 7 states that three testify, and verse 8 states that all three testify and agree. Verse 9 says that when men testify their testimony is not as great as God’s. It continues with the concept that the testimony of God is through the three testaments of The water, The Blood, and The Spirit.
    The major question, if we allow that God sometimes makes exceptions by not requiring the water to testify, why not always?
    Jesus came by water but not only water but the blood. He came by water prior to coming by the blood. Unless, this is in reference to the pierced side producing water and blood, this is the substance which he shed for our sins. Water and blood, not just one but both. Would this be a normal occurrence when an individual is pierced to produce a substance which men could easily identify as two distinct different substances? The observers did not need science to identify the two substances. In the use of this concept the Blood was not the only substance which was shed to cleans the sins of mankind. To remove the water from the equation in the testimony of God above would negate the testimony (distort, destroy, modify) God’s testimony. Can man do that without repercussions?

  11. Most Protestants think baptism is a symbol for the same reason they think the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper are symbols. Romans 6 says that we were buried with Christ when we were baptized, and the gospels say that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine, his blood. Protestants just think it is more reasonable that Christ and Paul were speaking in symbolic terms.

    Symbols communicate thoughts. In Romans 6, it seems that Paul expected those who had been baptized to begin thinking and acting as servants of Christ, suggesting that they had received a communication when baptized. When we were baptized, it was God communicating to us that we are participants and sharers in Christ’s burial and resurrection, and that our sins are washed away.

  12. Jim H, The difference between Jesus as the lamb and baptism is that baptism or immersion doesn’t replace or stand in for a thought, but is the thought itself in regards to salvation. Now admittedly it is symbolic of physical burial with Christ and yet we are indeed buried in Christ and raised in Christ.
    When Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac God didn’t say this was symbolic of faith, but was faith. In Acts 2 Peter didn’t have to argue that baptism was symbolic of faith or even mention faith, because it was faith.
    The difference between baptism and the elements of the Lord’s Supper is that the elements aren’t said to do anything for us. We partake in remembrance of his body and blood, physically they are bread and wine, but spiritually they are not. But we are told in baptism that we are saved by baptism, water baptism, not because it cleanses us physically, but spiritually. Again see the lepers and those who went to the Temple to be cleansed. They understood that this was a cleansing before God, but it was a cleansing.

  13. James 2: 14 “What does it profit my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? Verse 17 “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. verse 18, But some will say, you have faith, and I have works, show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.” Verse 22, Do you see that faith was working together with His works, and by works faith was made perfect.” Baptism, is a “work” of God. Through our obedience to this work, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

  14. Monty,

    You are right. The better manuscripts have “freed” rather than “washed” in Rev 1:5, and the modern translations uniformly make this correction to the KJV. From the NET Bible translator notes:

    The reading “set free” (λύσαντι, lusanti) has better ms support (î18 ‌א‎‏‎ A C 1611 2050 2329 2351 ÛA sy) than its rival, λούσαντι (lousanti, “washed”; found in P 1006 1841 1854 2053 2062 ÛK lat bo). Internally, it seems that the reading “washed” could have arisen in at least one of three ways: (1) as an error of hearing (both “released” and “washed” are pronounced similarly in Greek); (2) an error of sight (both “released” and “washed” look very similar – a difference of only one letter – which could have resulted in a simple error during the copying of a ms); (3) through scribal inability to appreciate that the Hebrew preposition ‌ב‎‏‎ can be used with a noun to indicate the price paid for something. Since the author of Revelation is influenced significantly by a Semitic form of Greek (e.g., Rev 13:10), and since the Hebrew preposition “in” (‌ב‎‏‎) can indicate the price paid for something, and is often translated with the preposition “in” (ἐν, en) in the LXX, the author may have tried to communicate by the use of ἐν the idea of a price paid for something. That is, John was trying to say that Christ delivered us at the price of his own blood. This whole process, however, may have been lost on a later scribe, who being unfamiliar with Hebrew, found the expression “delivered in his blood” too difficult, and noticing the obvious similarities between λύσαντι and λούσαντι, assumed an error and then proceeded to change the text to “washed in his blood” – a thought more tolerable in his mind. Both readings, of course, are true to scripture; the current question is what the author wrote in this verse.

  15. Ray,

    Why would you assume that any reference to the work of the Spirit pre-conversion supports Calvin’s teaching of irresistible grace mediated by the Spirit pre-conversion? The orthodox Arminian view is that the Spirit works on the heart of the heart to allow the hearer to accept God’s word as an act of free will. That is, Arminians teach that the Spirit frees the will preconversion, whereas Calvinists teach that the will is never freed.

    The issue between Arminians and Calvinists is not whether the Spirit works preconversion but whether it works to irresistibly bring about conversion for the elect and only the elect. No one here is arguing any such thing.

    On the other hand, there are verses that suggest a pre-conversion work of God/Spirit on the hearer’s heart. For example,

    (Acts 16:14 ESV) One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

    And we have to reckon with —

    (1 Cor. 12:3 ESV) 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

    “Jesus is Lord” is, of course, the confession made by a new convert (Rom 10:9). Paul says it can only happen by the Spirit. Campbell says the Spirit has no operation until after the confession.

    Of course, the Spirit’s indwelling is not necessarily the same thing as the Spirit’s opening one’s heart to be able to believe. Perhaps the Spirit (sometimes? all the time?) opens our hearts to make us able to believe, and then as an act of free will, we choose to believe or not. Why couldn’t Arminius have it right?

  16. In Hebrews 9, does the writer not make a connection between the work of Christ with his own blood and the work of the High Priest on the day of Atonement? If that is the case, what happened to the blood on the Day of Atonement? Read Leviticus 16 and I believe we’ll see that the blood then was never “applied” to humans – it was “applied” to the mercy seat. Furthermore, It wasn’t applied there to cleanse people – it was to cleanse the tabernacle BECAUSE of the sins of the people.

    “Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.
    Leviticus 16:16 ESV

    In other words, that day was about cleansing the sacred space in which God dwelt because people, and their sins, have a way of sullying up the place. The NT counterpart is recorded in Hebrews 9. Jesus went into the Most Holy Place not made with Hands (Heaven) with his own blood and, one would think, purified the sacred space BECAUSE of our sins. The big difference is the temple (sacred space) is not a building, it’s you and me. Thus being purified by his blood, our life (temple) is a fit residence for the spirit of God. The question that remains is, do we have faith in the efficacy of that work of Christ? Or do we seek some other way to “save ourselves”?
    I would argue that the blood of Christ isn’t even contactable because he took it to heaven and applied it to the mercy seat (throne) of God.

  17. And yet in Heb.9 “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”
    The covenant blood was sprinkled on the people as well and is argued that the blood purifies and remits sin, as well as cleansing the things used by the people towards God.

  18. Sorry, I’m still not quite convinced.

    The sprinkling of Blood was a ceremony at the ratification of the law from Sinai in Exodus 24. It was a one time thing and it didn’t make the people that participated in it children of God. They were already his covenant people via circumcision. Circumcision predated the Law by hundreds of years yet they were still God’s chosen people; even before the law.

    The Day of Atonement was a yearly thing. And that is the type that the writer uses to describe what Christ did with his blood. Christ took his blood into the holy place and made atonement for us by bringing it inside the Most Holy Place.

    As for the sprinkling of blood on the people, Moses also threw that on lots of other things besides people. And again, I’m not convinced that Moses “applied” that blood to everyone. The congregation was quite large by that point. I read the Exodus 24 account as a ceremony. Half the blood went to the people and half went to the alter. This, I think, is reminiscent of the covenant made in Genesis 15.

    It seems to me, then, that Jesus’ blood application was done on the actual throne of God – not us, and was a triple entendre of sorts; he secured redemption for us, made atonement and made us fit to be a dwelling place for God’s Spirit, and simultaneously ratified the new covenant.

  19. Whenever I think of baptism in the NT, I am reminded of the Passover in Exodus 12. Christ is our Pascal Lamb…He is the antitype of the slain animals in Ex 12. Christ shed his blood for us, and his blood will ensure that God’s wrath will passover us on judgement day. I don’t know how the Passover, then or the future, will happen. I just know that it does.

    I think we can get in the weeds with regard to how Christ’s blood saves us, and it is an interesting discussion. But I have come to the point where I don’t really care about how we “contact the blood.” The Bible doesn’t care to clearly elaborate to suit our detail-oriented minds. Perhaps we run ahead of God and speculate a bit too much. Just believe and obey the Gospel. Christ will take care of the details.

  20. Kevin, I do believe you are right. Many times in the NT the apostles reference scripture from the OT and they don’t line up exactly, but the point wasn’t of lining up exactly, but to expound a concept that was universal in many applications.