The remission of sins

An important requirement of the LORD’s relationship with the people of Israel was that they had to be consecrated or to be made holy in order to have contact with him. The consecration of the priests involved the sacrifice of specific animals, putting on holy garments, being anointed with special oil and with the blood of the ram of ordination on the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot. At the conclusion of this process, Exodus 29:31 states, “You shall take the ram of the ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy.” The atonement that was made was of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it was central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word kaphar (kaw-far’) “conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature…The word also communicates God’s covering of sin. Persons made reconciliation with God for their sins by imposing something that would appease the offended party…By this imposition, sin was purged (Psalm 79:9, Isaiah 6:7) and forgiven (Psalm 78:38). The offences were removed, leaving the sinners clothed in righteousness (cf. Zechariah 3:3, 4)” (H3722). Once a year, the process of consecration had to be repeated so that all of the Israelites’ accumulated sins could be atoned for. The Day of Atonement occurred on a specific date and became an axis on which the entire Mosaic Law seemed to revolve. Leviticus 16 describes the events that took place on the Day of Atonement. A critical element of the process was the scapegoat being sent away into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people.

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22)

The confession of sins that took place when Aaron placed both of his hands on the head of the live goat was meant to transfer the guilt from the sinners to live animal so that it could be removed from their consciousness. Leviticus 16:29-30 states, “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.” Afflicting yourself means that you do a type of soul searching that forces you to see yourself as you really are, a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.

John the Baptist’s ministry bridged the gap between the Mosaic Law and the gospel of Jesus Christ by linking together the concepts of atonement and regeneration through his messages about the remission of sins. Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (KJV). The Greek word that is translated baptism, baptisma (bap’-tis-mah) means something immersed, but metaphorically it can mean “baptism into calamity, i.e. afflictions with which one is oppressed or overwhelmed” (G908). This word may have been used by John to bring to mind thoughts of being drowned by the weight of sin or consumed by the waters of guilt. Mark went on to say, “And all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). People were openly identifying themselves as sinners when they went to John to be baptized, but the key to the remission of their sins was repentance. The Greek word that is translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) means “a change of mind…implying pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341).

Luke’s gospel contains a prophecy from John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah that clarifies John’s role and the purpose of remission of sins. It states:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79, NKJV)

According to Zechariah’s prophecy, remission of sins was intended to give God’s people knowledge of salvation. In other words, salvation was experienced through the remission of sins. It made salvation real to them so that they could understand how it worked in a more practical way. Zechariah’s prophecy depicted Jesus’ ministry as a source of spiritual light. The term Dayspring which is used in reference to Jesus Christ is derived from the Greek words ana (an-ah’) denoting upward movement (G303) and telos (tel’-os) “a noun meaning an end, a term, a termination, completion. Particularly only in respect to time” (G5056). One way of interpreting Dayspring could be the last sunrise and it seems likely that this term was associated with the prophetic time period known as the last days in which Christ is expected to reign on Earth. Zechariah said that the Dayspring would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). The Greek word epiphaino (ep-ee-fah’-ee-no) which is translated give light, when it is used metaphorically means “to be conscious, to be known and manifest” (G2014). The Greek word that is translated darkness, skotos (skot’-os) is spoken of “a dark place where darkness reigns” and is spoken figuratively “of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655). From that standpoint, the darkness could represent the human heart and the light that shines upon it the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The first epistle of John begins with his personal testimony about the eternal life that was made real to him through Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. John said:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

The Greek word that John used that is translated touched, has to do with verification by physical contact (G5584). John wanted his readers to understand that he had experienced physical contact with God through Jesus’ human body. John referred to Jesus as the word of life in order to convey a tangible aspect of eternal life which was Jesus’ ability to walk around on earth and to have conversations with human beings after he was resurrected.

John conveyed an important point about the remission of sins by utilizing the metaphor of light and darkness that was introduced through Zechariah’s prophecy. John said:

This is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

John associated the remission of sins with walking in the light. It seems likely that John was referring to the regular confession of sin when he talked about walking in the light as God is in the light, but it’s possible that he was referring to the repeated practice of memorizing scripture. John contrasted walking in the light with walking in darkness. The Greek word that is translated darkness in John 1:6, skotos (skot’-os) is used figuratively to refer to “persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). From that standpoint, walking in the light could mean being under the influence of the Holy Spirt. In whatever way you look at it, John was making it clear that the blood of Jesus does not cleanse us from sin unless we do something to initiate the process.

John indicated that practicing the truth was necessary for fellowship with God. The Greek word poieo (poy-eh’-o) is used figuratively “of a state or condition, or of things intangible and incorporeal, and generally of such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will” (G4160). Therefore, practicing the truth has to do with a conscious decision that we make to do what Jesus commanded us to. When he instituted the New Covenant, Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions about how they were to deal with sin from that point forward. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that his blood was being shed for the remission of sins and Paul pointed out in his first letter to the Corinthians that it is the remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial act that we are to practice on a regular basis (1 Corinthians 11:25). Paul added, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). One of the meanings of the Greek word kataggello (kat-ang-gel’-lo), which is translated proclaim in 1 Corinthians 11:26, is “to implant in the mind by repetition” (G2603).

The point of Jesus’ blood being shed for the remission of sins was that it contained the essence of his divine nature in a form that was connected to the animating force of human life. Leviticus 17:10-11 explains the function of blood in the atonement for sins. It states:

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word nephesh (neh’-fesh) as both life and soul, whereas the English Standard Version uses the words person, life, and souls interchangeably. Nephesh is properly translated as “a breathing creature, i.e. animal or (abstract) vitality…When this word is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315).

John concluded his discussion about walking in the light with an admonition to confess our sins so that the cleansing or atoning power of Jesus’ blood can be applied to them. John said:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Jesus’ ability to cleanse us from all unrighteousness is based on his blood being sufficient to propitiate or reconcile us to God completely because it satisfies God’s requirements for atonement perfectly. Paul explained Jesus’ once and for all transaction of redemption in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

God’s divine forbearance is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit because of his ability to convict us of our sins (Hebrews 10:15-18). Remission of our sins results in us having a clear conscience.

John noted that there was a condition to the remission of our sins. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, emphasis mine). To confess our sins means that our lives “say the same things” that Jesus did. In essence, you could say that remission of sins is an indicator of a life that has been aligned with God’s word. God is able cleanse us from all unrighteousness because Jesus took our guilt upon himself when he died on the cross. In a similar way to the goat that was sent away in the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21-22), our sins are removed from our consciousness as if they had never been committed and we are able to start fresh in our walk with the Lord.

Godly behavior

Jesus summarized the entire Mosaic Law into two simple commandments that focused everyone’s attention on loving God and other people. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). When God first spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, he intended that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), but the Apostle Peter’s first letter indicated that never happened and that believers in Jesus Christ have become the treasured possession that God sought for himself (1 Peter 2:9). The details contained within the Mosaic Law were meant to provide specific examples of how to deal with the various conflicts that would inevitably arise from living in a close-knit community. Most of the laws dealt with conflicts between family members and neighbors that were interacting on a regular basis. They are still applicable today because the principles behind the laws are eternal and can prevent believers from harming the people they love.

At first glance, the laws about slaves might seem irrelevant, but Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven clearly portrayed believers as servants (Matthew 10:24) and he often talked about doing God’s will in the context of a slave that was being obedient to his master (Matthew 18:22-35, 22:2-14, 25:14-30). The laws about slaves introduced an important principle that carries over into God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of souls. Exodus 21:7-11 states, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” This law partially explains why God hasn’t forsaken the people of Israel even though they haven’t met his expectations with regard to becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The nation of Israel was originally intended to be the bride of Christ, but the church has replaced it and now has the responsibility of making disciples of all the nations and teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). The concept of redemption had to do with the liberation of human beings from slavery, but it can also be applied to sinful behavior and addictions to harmful substances. The Hebrew word that is translated redeemed in Exodus 21:8, padah (paw-daw’) means to release. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (H6299). Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant portrayed God’s forgiveness of sins as something that should be reciprocated. After a servant that owed his master ten thousand talents was released from his debt, he went out and demanded payment from his fellow servant who was unable to pay him the small amount he owed. The parable states, “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:29-35).

In addition to introducing the concept of redemption, the Mosaic Law also taught the Israelites about the principle of restitution. Although the laws that dealt with restitution may have seemed like common sense, it was necessary for them to be spelled out because of the natural human tendency to justify our own behavior, while at the same time condemning the actions of others. Exodus 21:33-34 states, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” and “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution” (Exodus 22:5-6). The Hebrew word that is translated full restitution, shalam (shaw-lam’) means “to be safe (in mind, body, or estate)…Shalam means to finish, complete, repay, reward. The Hebrew root denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete…Perfection and completeness is primarily attributed to God. He is deficient in nothing; His attributes are not marred by any shortcomings; His power is not limited by weakness” (H7999). Therefore, when a person makes full restitution, he is exhibiting godly behavior.

Peter’s first letter indicated that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Essentially, what that meant was that we have been released from sin’s power to control our behavior and can live a godly life if we choose to. The Greek word that is translated die in the phrase “die to sin,” apogenomenos (ap-og-en-om’-en-os) means to be absent (G581) and seems to suggest that our sinful human nature has been removed, but Peter indicated that we might die to sin. In other words, dying to sin involves volition and is not guaranteed through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. As hard as we may try to do things that please God, righteousness is not something that we can attain through our own efforts, it is something that is imputed to us, or credited to our account, because we have identified ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism. As far as God is concerned, anyone that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has fulfilled all the requirements of the Mosaic Law and will be rewarded with eternal life. What is left then is for us to reflect the character of Jesus through conscious choices that align us with God’s will.

Peter specifically addressed the conduct of husbands and wives and gave instructions to all believers that were intended to be a model for godly behavior. After stating that believers are to be subject to every human institution, Peter went on to say, “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The Greek word hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) which is translated be subject “was originally a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (G5293). Peter encouraged wives to be subject to their husbands so that if they weren’t believers they would be won over to the Lord without their wives having to say anything to them about being a follower of Christ. This was important in the time period in which Peter gave this instruction because Christians were being persecuted for their faith and wives were expected to conform to their husbands’ belief system.

Peter’s mention of a woman’s external adorning in contrast with her internal beauty was likely intended to point out that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was meant to transform our character and make us look different to the outside world. The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos), which is translated adorning, is often used in connection with worldly people and sometimes is associated with a system of government that is opposed to Christ. The Apostle Paul used the word kosmos in his letter to the Ephesians to describe the former way of life that believers are expected to leave behind when they choose to follow Christ. Paul stated, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added). Peter indicated that wives should let their adorning be “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). In that sense, adorning had to do with a woman’s attractiveness and Peter wanted women to know that the hidden person of the heart could be much more compelling to a man than the way she dressed herself.

The hidden person of the heart is connected with the mortal human nature that affects our behavior. When we think of ourselves exhibiting godly behavior, we have to realize that our mortal human nature is a hindrance to us becoming like Christ. Peter encouraged wives to display “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Imperishable beauty implies immortality and suggests that Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit when he talked about the hidden person of the heart. It could be that Peter meant for wives to rely on the Holy Spirit to make them godly women, but his comment about a gentle and quiet spirit being very precious to God seems to suggest that there is a volitional element involved in all godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated very precious, poluteles (pol-oo-tel-ace’) was used in Mark’s gospel to describe the ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). It seems likely that Peter was referring to a gentle and quiet spirit as being a type of spiritual sacrifice that pleases God and wanted women to know that godly behavior is more important to the Lord than any other type of sacrifice that a believer can make.

After he addressed the conduct of their wives, Peter told husbands, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter made it clear that husbands should treat their wives as equals and should not expect their prayers to be answered if they were treating them with disrespect. Peter told men to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” An understanding way is one that is based on a comprehension of God’s word. Typically, men received instruction in the holy scriptures and then, passed the information along to their wives, but they were not required to and weren’t held accountable for their wives’ spiritual training. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more liberal viewpoint than Peter about women’s involvement in the church and even identified Phebe as being a teacher of God’s word at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). When Peter described wives as being the weaker vessel, he may have meant that they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting an education and didn’t typically have access to the Old Testament scriptures which were important for understanding the bigger picture of God’s plan of salvation.

In his general comment to all believers, Peter stated, “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The qualities Peter identified were focused on the collective suffering of believers that was due to the persecution of the church. The Greek word that is translated sympathy, sumpathes (soom-path-ace’) is derived from the word sumpascho (soom-pas’-kho) which means “to experience pain jointly or of the same kind (specifically persecution; to sympathize)” (G4841). Peter continued, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). To bless someone means that you speak well of them. Peter indicated that believers are called to bless others which may have meant that believers were expected to intercede on behalf of unbelievers in order for them to receive salvation. Since Peter was referring to Christians blessing those who do evil to them, it seems likely that he was talking about the Roman officials that were persecuting the church, but Peter may have been thinking about the internal conflict that was taking place within the Jewish community.

Peter’s first letter was most likely written in the AD 60s not long before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. Peter addressed his letter to the Jewish exiles in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) north of the Taursus Mountains (Introduction to the first letter of Peter, p. 1418). This particular group of Jews had already left the land of Israel and were living among foreigners which made them particularly vulnerable to outside pressure to conform to the Roman government’s way of doing things. Peter asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Having a good conscience is something that happens when we exhibit godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated conscience in 1 Peter 3:16 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) which means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…Suneidesis literally means ‘a knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con – ‘with’, science ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). That’s why Paul said that we need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Peter explained that water baptism does not wash our sins away like when we take a bath to clean ourselves, but makes it possible for us to put on the righteousness of Christ. Using the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood as an example, Peter said, “Baptism which corresponds to this, now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Essentially, what Peter was saying was that when we get baptized we are expressing a desire to be cleansed from our sins and it is because of that act that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, resulting in a good or you might say clear conscience. The reason why Peter said that we are saved through baptism is because it protects us from being condemned by our own consciences when we stand before God in the final judgment and are asked to give an account of our actions during our lifetimes on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

Baptism

When Paul returned to Ephesus during his third and final missionary journey, the topic of baptism came up. Paul’s conversation with the Ephesian believers is recorded in Acts 19:2-6 where it says:

He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Paul’s differentiation between John’s baptism of repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit emphasized the fact that repentance was only one aspect of salvation and that it was insufficient for conversion or being born again. Paul’s interaction with the believers at Ephesus was probably a result of his awareness that there had been no change in their behavior in spite of their profession of faith. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul discussed the new life with Christ and talked about walking according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2). Paul told the Ephesians they “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:2-4).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated quickened, suzoopoieo (sood-zo-op-oy-eh’o) means to reanimate conjointly with (G4806). Suzoopoieo is a contraction of the words sun (soon) and zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-eh’o). These two words together convey the idea of a connection that facilitates co-life, somewhat like how Siamese twins sharing vital organs cannot be separated after birth. The Greek word zoopoieo refers specifically to resurrection life which involves the changing or fashioning anew of the bodies of the living. In this context, quicken means to be enabled to respond to the voice of God. “Once born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, one does not have to wait to be able to respond. Response comes fully and instantaneously” (G2227). Paul’s understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit seemed to include an aspect of shared power. Just like blood flowing through our physical veins, Paul seemed to see the Holy Spirit as a lifeforce that flows in and through the believer’s spiritual heart. According to Paul, without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a believer was for all intents and purposes, still spiritually dead. In their conversation about being born again, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Equality

Peter’s trip to Caesarea (Acts 10:24-48), the headquarters for the Roman forces of occupation, could be described as a life altering experience. Peter’s attitude toward non-Jewish people caused him to isolate himself from anyone that did not share his religious beliefs. After he heard a voice saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15), Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to “Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). The 30 miles distance between Joppa and Caesarea probably seemed like a great distance to a man that had likely never traveled outside of his hometown before he met Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and may have wondered what the beautiful port city of Caesarea was like, but he never would have traveled there if it hadn’t been for the Holy Spirit’s instruction to go with the men that sought his help.

Cornelius, the man that sent for Peter, was described by Luke as a centurion, “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). A centurion was a Roman soldier that commanded a military unit of at least 100 men. Centurions were carefully selected; all of them mentioned in the NT (New Testament) appear to have had noble qualities (e.g. Luke 7:5). The Roman centurions provided necessary stability to the entire Roman system” (note on Acts 10:1). After Cornelius told Peter about his angelic visit, Luke recorded, “then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter’s statement was an amazing testament to the impartiality of God. The Greek word translated accepted, dektos means approved (G1184) and refers to the status of everyone that receives salvation by Jesus’ propitiation of sin.

According to Peter, the equality of the Gentiles with the Jews was demonstrated when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Afterward, Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). Later, in his explanation to the Jews in Jerusalem of what had happened in Caesarea, Peter referred to Jesus’ teaching about baptism. He said, “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:16), and then he added for emphasis, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God” (Acts 11:16-17). Peter’s endorsement of Gentile believers resulted in them being viewed as equals by the Jews in Jerusalem. Luke stated, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

A divine appointment

In the midst of his success in Samaria, Philip was unexpectedly called to go to the middle of the desert and wait for further instructions. It says in Acts 8:27-31:

And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (ESV)

Luke’s description of the man that Philip encountered in the middle of the desert provides a clearer understanding of what was going on when these two strangers met. First, it’s very unlikely that the Ethiopian was Jewish or had any contact with the temple in Jerusalem. As a foreigner and a man that had been castrated (G2135), the Ethiopian was excluded from being a member of the Jewish congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1). The Ethiopian’s intent when he went to Jerusalem to worship was probably to obtain the ancient scroll that he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. It could have been a personal quest that led the Ethiopian to seek out knowledge about God or an assignment from the queen that caused him to travel hundreds of miles to Jerusalem. The Ethiopian’s identification as a man of great authority who had the charge of all the queen’s treasure meant that he was both intelligent as well as financially secure. It’s likely that the Ethiopian’s wealth enabled him to obtain the scroll of Isaiah which probably cost him a substantial amount of money.

It says in Acts 8:32-33 that the place of the scripture which the Ethiopian eunuch read was this, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer; so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” The Ethiopian eunuch seemed to have stumbled upon a passage of scripture that was very relevant to the day in which he lived. With Jesus’ death and resurrection still fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems almost ironic that the Ethiopian left Jerusalem with an ancient prophecy that was directly related to their current circumstances.

After Philip explained to him how he could be saved, the Ethiopian wanted Philip to immediately baptize him (Acts 8:36). Even though they were in the middle of the desert, Luke indicated “they came unto a certain water” (Acts 8:36) and after confirming the Ethiopians decision, Philip complied with his request. Luke stated, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart , thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:37-38).

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.

Baptism

John’s baptism was meant to cleanse sinners from the stains upon their spirits that caused them to separate themselves from God. Just like Adam in the garden of Eden, everyone that commits a sin against God knows that he is guilty and deserves to be punished for what he has done. The key to understanding the effect of John’s baptism was to realize that God didn’t want people to live with the guilt they felt for the rest of their lives and had made a way for their sins to be removed from their spiritual awareness. The description of John’s ministry found in Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated remission basically means freedom, but it also has a legal connotation that suggests a pardon, such as when a prisoner is set free and is forgiven of his offense. Although John’s baptism was welcomed and there were many who took advantage of his offer of forgiveness, John made it clear that he was preparing the way for Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. “And he preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the lachet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8).

John’s baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although the details vary, there is one aspect of Jesus’ baptism that is the same throughout, the arrival of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit on the earth. Mark described it this way, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was different than John’s baptism because it signified the beginning of a new life. Not only did God intend to forgive the sins of those who accepted his Son as their Savior, but he also wanted to enable believers to live a life similar to that of Jesus Christ, one that would be consistent with his commandments. The Holy Spirit, who is also God in the same way that Jesus is, dwells within believers and causes them to be convicted or aware of their sins. The Holy Spirit’s job is to cause believers to repent and to seek out God’s will for their lives. Only through the Holy Spirit can one really understand what it means to be a child of God. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, no one can realize what Christianity is really all about.

John recognized that Jesus did not need to be baptized by him, because he had no sins to repent of. John tried to forbid him from doing it, but Jesus persisted, “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). What Jesus was saying was that the Holy Spirit needed to be introduced to humanity through his own baptism. You could say that Jesus’ baptism was symbolic of the baptism of everyone that would follow in his footsteps. As the Holy Spirit descended upon him, Jesus represented all of mankind in its sinful state being reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appeared immediately after Jesus was raised up out of the water (Mark 1:10), because it is the Holy Spirit’s presence that regenerates the believer’s heart and makes him alive spiritually or what we think of now as being “born again” (John 3:3). In his first gospel message, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ instruction to believe the gospel was intended to be a reminder that repentance was not enough. In order to be truly born again, one must believe that a new way of life is possible.

Repent

John the Baptist’s message was very simple and direct. The single most important point he made could be summed up in one sentence, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-eh´-o) means “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (3340). At the core of John’s message was the idea of looking at the world differently, to see things from God’s perspective. The kingdom of heaven had to do with the rule of God and was considered to be both a present reality and a future hope for the Jewish people that lived during Jesus’ ministry on earth (Note on Matthew 3:2). The unique time period in which John preached was a key factor in the way he talked to people about repentance. According to John, time was of the essence; there was no time to waste when it came to getting right with God.

Some of John’s harshest messages were directed at the religious leaders that appeared to be righteous, but were only pretending to be interested in God’s kingdom. What the religious leaders really wanted was to control the Jews behavior. They made up rules that they expected everyone to lived by, but the rules were actually too difficult for the people to follow. Matthew 3:7-12 states about John:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John’s introduction of the spiritual concept of fruit was meant to make people aware of the fact that God wanted to see evidence of the change that had taken place in people’s hearts. Merely saying that someone had repented was not enough. As fruit is a tangible sign that a tree is reproducing or bringing forth a new source of life, so fruit in a Christian’s life showed that a real change of heart had taken place and a new way of living would follow.

Baptism

After becoming a Christian, I was baptized a few weeks later. I know something happened to me on the inside through the experience, although I can’t say exactly what. I felt different, as if I had been changed on the inside instantaneously. I’ve never wanted to do it again, but I have wished I could get that feeling back.

Cleansing and purification were a major focus of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Among the furnishings of Solomon’s temple was a “molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about” (2 Chronicles 4:2). The molten sea was a large metal tub approximately 15 feet wide and 8 feet high filled with water “for the priests to wash in” (2 Chronicles 4:6).

The immense size of the molten sea indicates two things. First, the priests were cleansed by immersing themselves in the water. The height of the molten sea made it impossible to stand without being completely covered with water. Second, the cleansing was not meant for the priests’ bodies because a single bath of water, approximately 22 liters of water, would have been sufficient. The molten sea contained 3000 baths of water (2 Chronicles 4:5), enough to fill a large room.

The purpose of baptism by immersion is identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but I believe it is also a type of spiritual bath. In and of itself, being dunked in the water doesn’t do anything for us, but I think a cleansing does take place for those that believe in baptism’s transformative affect. When I was baptized, I believe I was made clean on the inside. All the internal effects of sin were eliminated as I was spiritually buried with Christ and resurrected to new life.