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