The apostle Paul uses slightly different language to describe the biblical purpose of baptism. He states that the baptism commanded by Jesus is “in order that our body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6, NASB). Peter said that baptism is “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38); Paul says that it is “in order that our body of sin might be done away with.” Both are saying the same thing, but use different terminology.
Paul later adds that those who are “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching” are “freed from sin” (Romans 6:17-18). In the context, this “form of teaching” refers to baptism (Romans 6:3-7). When the Christians in Rome submitted obediently by being immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins, they were “freed from sin.”
In contrast, many churches today teach that salvation is received by “faith alone,” or when one simply accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior in his/her heart. It’s interesting to note that the words “faith alone” are found together only one time in the New American Standard. There it says that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
My wife was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in her native Peru for several years before she moved to Spain. She started attending at age fifteen or sixteen, when she “accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.” She was not baptized for a “public testimony” until about nine years later. The delay in getting baptized was due, at least in part, to the teaching that salvation is by “faith alone.” This makes baptism optional and not a matter of urgency.
In the Alliance and other churches many are led to believe that, while one should submit to the Lord in baptism, it really isn’t essential for salvation. For this very reason, people who are taught that salvation is by faith alone wait weeks, months, and even years (like my wife) before being baptized. When they do finally baptize interested candidates, it is not “for the forgiveness of sins” (Hechos 2:38) but rather for a “public testimony.”
A dear friend of mine and brother in Christ who used to be a Jehovah’s Witness told me that back in the 1970s he and many other Witnesses made a long trip from southern Spain to Brussels, Belgium in order to be baptized in a stadium there. Several thousand from different areas of Europe were baptized that day. Was it an emotional, exhilarating event? No doubt! But the Witnesses, just like the vast majority of Protestant churches, teach that baptism is not essential for salvation. That day, thousands were baptized for a public testimony.
In contrast, like the early Christians in Rome, you can be “freed from sin” when you are “obedient from the heart” to the biblical teaching regarding baptism (Romans 6:3-7,17,18). Why not obey Christ today?