The purpose of New Testament Christian baptism is plainly taught throughout scripture even beginning with the baptism of John.
"John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4)
Notice the words "baptism... for the remission of sins." Is this the baptism that is preached today?
We see what kind of baptism John preached when he came to "prepare the way of the LORD" (Matthew 3:3), but did Jesus teach the same thing concerning His baptism? Let us parallel all four Gospel accounts. Each Gospel records the Lord Jesus?final instructions to His disciples, known commonly as the "Great Commission." What were His final orders before leaving this world to go back up into heaven? As we read the words spoken by Jesus Himself when He initiated the process of conversion which we commonly refer to as the "plan of salvation," we will see the same basic theme; spread the word, baptize/remit sin, and evidence of Spirit/Jesus with us. Four different accounts of the same event and they read as follows:
1. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
2. "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.'" (Mark 16:15-18)
3. "Then He said to them, 'These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.'" (Luke 24:44-49)
4. "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (John 20:21-23)
Notice how the Gospel writers have Jesus interchanging the term "baptize" with the phrases "remission of sins" and "forgive the sins." Now these parallel scriptures, when taken as a whole, provide an in-depth detailed account of the things Jesus taught to His disciples concerning how they were to make new converts and what people were to do in order to be converted to the faith of Christ. Then they, in turn, taught us. Colossians 2:11-12 and Romans 6:3-11 are examples of this, and although Paul learned, at times, through direct revelation from the holy Spirit, he also learned the Gospel from those who followed Jesus before him. Ananias, who no doubt had to learn from someone as well, told the repentant Paul,
"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)
Now we read in Acts chapter 2 that on the Day of Pentecost, 10 days after Christ's ascension, when the Spirit was first poured out upon the one hundred twenty disciples who followed Jesus, Peter being one of them preached the Gospel publicly to all who stood by. Aside from the first one hundred twenty, this was the first public invitation for anyone who heard the message and believed to receive the Spirit of Christ into their hearts. When those who had heard Peter speak about Christ and receiving the holy Spirit were convicted in their hearts to the point of crying out, "What shall we do," how did Peter respond? Acts 2:38 reads,
"Then Peter said to them, "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."
In the very next chapter, Peter again gets a lot of attention when he heals a lame man by the power of the name of Jesus. Then he preaches the same gospel again a second time. He proclaims the exact same Gospel message using different words. Peter tells them,
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before." (Acts 3:19-20)
By examining the apostle Peter's message in the above passages it is evident that the apostles believed and taught that baptism and conversion are synonymous. That is, baptism and conversion are one and the same. This explains why, in 1st Peter chapter 3, the apostle, when writing about the flood of Noah's day tells us in verse 21,
"There is also an antitype which now saves us- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
First we saw how Peter, at the beginning, taught that baptism is conversion for the remission of sins, and now we read of him stating that baptism saves us. This would mean that a person is converted (saved) when he is baptized in water. Why is this? It is because of the purpose behind the Christian baptism.
The Bible teaches no other reason for water baptism other than the remission of sins. Does this make void the blood of Christ- of course not! The Scripture doesn't contradict itself; it compliments itself. We know that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from our sin. However, what does this fact have to do with how we are to come to God in order to receive cleansing from sin? Does God's cleansing agent, namely the blood of Jesus, affect what we have to do in order to be cleansed? The Lord Jesus purchased our redemption at the cross. Is this fact alone enough to save us? Are we automatically saved simply because of Jesus' sacrifice, or is it necessary for one to come forward and receive Him? Must one really do anything in order to take part in the redemption which Christ purchased? Jesus would say so. In Matthew 7:21 He informs us,
"Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
We've learned from Scripture that it is necessary to be baptized in order to have one's sins washed away. We've seen how God worked through John the baptizer and through the first apostles, and also how Jesus Himself worked to ordain and establish water baptism as the means in which to administer remission of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Is God not free to choose any means He wishes- yes indeed! For Isaiah says in one place,
"Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him?" (Isaiah 40:13)
In chapter 46 verses 9-10, again through Isaiah God declares,
"For I am God, and there is none other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.'"