In baptism, does the “old man” come up out of the water? Is he washed off, raised up, and sent back out? Or is the old man killed and buried in the water? And is that killing of him – is that what we think of as “forgiveness of sins”? Or could something else be involved?

To answer that, let us consider some things rarely considered. And let’s leave the topic of baptism for a moment and just consider spiritual life and spiritual death.

God cannot forgive a person who is spiritually dead. Why not? Because that person is spiritually dead. There’s nothing in that person to forgive. There’s no life there. Forgiveness is washing, healing, cleaning. There is nothing in that dead, empty person to clean.

Imagine this: a man goes around saying he’s forgiven. You ask him, are you spiritually alive? He says no, he’s spiritually dead. In other words, he clearly admits he’s bound for destruction but he contends that he is forgiven.

He says that he has asked God for forgiveness – maybe for one small blemish, one small fault in his life – and he knows that the Bible says that God is faithful to forgive.

And yet – apart from the question of whether that man has a spiritual life or not – what would be the point of God “forgiving” someone who has no intentions of going to Heaven? This might seem like an odd question but it packs some weighty considerations.

You cannot forgive a person who is spiritually dead. Why? There’s nothing there to forgive. Nothing there to wash off. Because there is no life in that person—no spiritual life put there by baptism—that would require cleaning. Our flesh does not need forgiveness. Only our spirits do. Our flesh is not the question. It is our spirits. And if our spirit is dead, then any washing it might get is totally worthless. Doctors don’t heal dead bodies. They heal live bodies. We need an aliveness in us that can be periodically washed and restored and regenerated.

We can see this to be true in the Bible. There is a way whereby we know that the children of Israel were spiritually alive, and that is because they were dealing in matters of forgiveness. The people who lived before Moses’ time never received forgiveness. There was nothing in them to forgive. They had no life. But life was put into the children of Israel when they passed through the Red Sea. (I Cor. 10: 1-4:) “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, (2) all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (3) all ate the same spiritual food, (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”

How could anyone be spiritually alive before Christ died for our sins? Hebrews 9:15 tells that Christ’s victory saved them. Christ died for everyone on both sides of the cross—before and after. They were spiritually alive through Christ. “That Rock followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”

There was no mercy, no forgiveness given, nor even mentioned, from Gen. 1:1 all the way to the Red Sea. But immediately after the Red Sea we find a flurry of activity all devoted to the idea of keeping people’s spiritual lives cleansed – continually cleansed.

I’ve gone back and looked. There is no talk about forgiveness before Moses. Mercy, yes. But mercy is not forgiveness. Heavenly direction, yes. But direction is not forgiveness. And there is an excellent reason why there is no discussion of forgiveness prior to the coming of the Law. It’s called spiritual death. You cannot give forgiveness to someone who is dead and bound for eternal destruction. What good does it do to forgive someone who is going to perish anyway? The Bible says that “Death reigned from Adam to Moses.” (Romans 5:14). Wait a minute–shouldn’t that have said that death reigned from Adam to Christ? But no, it says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. And there is a reason for that. Spiritual life came back to earth at the crossing of the Red Sea.

(Now, to understand how figures such as Noah and Abraham could have been saved into Heaven, we must understand the difference between being forgiven [they weren’t] and being “credited with righteousness,” which is a different matter and cannot be undertaken here.)

When we are baptized, all our previous sins are forgiven. Right? That’s probably what most Christians believe. But what if new life is put into us and that new life—which is Christ’s life—has no sins on it? Then do we need forgiveness for past sins, or do we need a way to keep this new life pure and clean, because we as humans are likely to sin going forward?

In Acts 2:28 we see the admonition, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of your sins.”

It says, “Be baptized… for the remission of your sins.” To remit means to “put back.” So someone says, “See there? Baptism really does forgive our old sins. This is talking about our sins and saying that they are remitted.” Well, it is talking about sins. But it’s not talking about our old sins. Our new spiritual life was born in that instant. It did not sin those sins that were in the past. This is a new life. The sins that we read about in Acts 2:38 are the Christian’s future sins. Be baptized for the remission of your sins. Exactly. You will have a new life and for the first time you will have access to forgiveness. Use it. Take it and use it for the remission of your sins. The forgiveness of them. The “putting back” of them. They are to be put back, as though they never happened. You are put back. Each time you exercise that privilege you are put back to the same condition as when you came out of the water.

I don’t want that old man coming up out of the water. I want a new creation coming up out of the water. I want a spiritual life coming up that is the life of Christ. That is Christ in me.

The people who criticize us (some of us) for “not having faith in our salvation” are people who have missed the whole point. The whole point of being saved is to get the forgiveness. Not the other way around. You don’t get forgiven in order to be saved. You get saved in order to get forgiveness. The business of needing forgiveness didn’t end at the act of being saved. It started there. The business of needing forgiveness begins at the act of being saved, for us, just as it was for the Israelites. For this is a new creature, but the (additional) good news is that this new creature, being in Christ, has a way to obtain remission of sins and that is through prayer… not (more) baptism, but through prayer—and through “walking in the light, as He is in the light.” (I John 1:8). All forgiveness is obtained through prayer and faithfulness. All new life is obtained through baptism. They are two different things.

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