On the day of Pentecost, Peter referred to baptism being for the remission of sins.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
The baptisms performed by John the Baptist were also for the remission of sins.
John, did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)
Symbolism of Baptism
To understand what is meant by the “remission of sins”, let us turn to the Apostle Paul and his explanation of the symbolism behind baptism. In his epistle to the Christians in Rome, Paul gave beautiful meaning to this symbolism. He explained that baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior. Just as Jesus went into the grave with a mortal body and came forth in the resurrection with a glorified and perfect body of flesh and bones, so we enter the water of baptism as sinful persons and come forth from the water into a newness of life, having been forgiven of our sins.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)
We enter the water of baptism as an “old man” of sin. That “old man” is “crucified” with Jesus through repentance and by being buried in the water, and we come forth from the water forgiven; thus, our “old man” is dead, and, through the Savior’s atonement, we are freed from sin.
In writing to the Ephesians, Paul referred to the cleansing effect of the atonement of Christ, as symbolized by baptism.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27, emphasis added)
Baptism in water is only a symbol–it does not wash away sins as water washes away dirt. Christ’s blood through his atonement removes the sins, and we symbolize this in baptism, as explained by Paul. When we accept Jesus as the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, we agree to take his name upon us and to represent him to the world; we become ambassadors for him. We agree to live his commandments and to do all we can to bring souls to him. We symbolize this relationship by being baptized in water and afterwards receiving the baptism of the Spirit. We go into the water, having repented of our sins and changed our lives, just as he went into the grave. We come out of the water into a newness of life, having been forgiven of our sins, just as he came forth from the grave. We strive to live a better life just as he lived a perfect life. Baptism in water is truly a beautiful symbol of our commitment to Christ! Paul spoke of this symbolism.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
Necessity of Baptism
Jesus referred to baptism as a birth when speaking to Nicodemus.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-3)
Nicodemus did not understand the metaphor of being “born again” and asked how this could happen.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (John 3:4)
Jesus explained what he had meant by being “born again”.
Jesus answered, 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)
To understand that Jesus was referring to baptism when he spoke of being born again of water and of the Spirit, let us turn to Matthew’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist.
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: (Matthew 3:11)
John baptized with water in the Jordan river and prophesied that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost. This indicates that there are two baptisms, one of water and one of spirit. Paul likened baptism to a death, burial, and rebirth, and Jesus spoke of being born of water and of Spirit. It seems clear that Jesus was referring to the two baptisms mentioned by John when he spoke to Nicodemus, and that baptism in water is essential if one is to enter the kingdom of God.
Further evidence that baptism is essential comes from the Apostle Peter. Peter referred to Noah’s time and the flood saving Noah’s family from the sinful world in which they had been living. He likened that to the saving of us by baptism through the Atonement of Christ.
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:20-21, emphasis added)
In his grand commission to the Apostles to take the Gospel to the world, Jesus commanded them to baptize.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19)
Mark’s account of that grand commission said baptism was necessary for salvation.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not [and hence does not repent or be baptized] shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16)
Some people have pointed out that these two verses from Mark are not in some of the older manuscripts and may not have been written by Mark. However, the absence of these verses from some manuscripts does not imply they are not inspired, because we do not know if they were inspired and were lost from some manuscripts or were not inspired but added to other manuscripts.
In this chapter, we have seen there are two baptisms, one of water and one of the Spirit. People who say water baptism is not necessary point out that the Biblical verses that speak of baptism might be referring to baptism of the Spirit and not to baptism of water. Those people do have a valid argument, because the same Greek word (baptizo) is used for both water and Spirit baptisms. In some cases, the context is clear that the word “baptism” refers to water baptism. In other cases, the context is not clear, and we are faced with a dilemma: is it baptism by water, or baptism by the Spirit, or both? To those who suggest the word “baptism” might be referring to baptism of the Spirit and not to water, I say this: if context does not allow us to determine which baptism is being referenced, then we should interpret the word “baptism” to mean both. This is because without context to guide us, there is no compelling reason to accept either “water” or “Spirit” as the meaning of the word “baptism”.
The Book of Mormon Teaches Baptism
Even though they lived before the birth of Jesus, the Nephites were Christians because they believed in Jesus Christ and looked forward to his coming as the Messiah. The Nephite prophet Alma taught the people about baptism and explained that it is a public witness of the covenant we make with God.
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life–
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:8-11)
Through baptism we become disciples of Christ, and as disciples we follow his example in having love, and in caring for those in need.
Alma was ordained with the authority of God and was able to baptize his people. Without this authority, he would not have baptized them. The first disciple baptized by Alma was Helam.
And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
And they [those baptized by Alma] were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church. (Mosiah 18:13,17)
Through baptism, the people came together in fellowship and formed a church.
Alma taught that redemption comes through Jesus Christ, but we must have faith, repent, and be baptized before Jesus will allow his blood to remove our sins.
And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.
And behold, he cometh to redeem those who will be baptized unto repentance, through faith on his name. (Alma 9:26-27)
Jacob taught that everyone must be baptized.
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
Nephi explained that even Jesus Christ, the only person to live a perfect life, had to be baptized.
And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. (2 Nephi 31:5-8)
Nephi then explained that Jesus set the example for us.
And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. (2 Nephi 31:9)
Nephi continued by explaining that in following Christ’s example in being baptized, we are obedient to God.
And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ by baptism–yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:10-13)