I am teaching the book of Acts in our Sunday morning Bible class. I am preparing myself to teach Acts 22. In particular, I was examining Ananias’ command to Paul in verse 16-
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins,calling on his name. (ESV)
So I thought I would check out the study Bibles on this verse. The NLT Study Bible does not have a study note for this verse. Rather, the NLTSB refers the student to a lengthy article on baptism in Acts 2. Because of the size, I will not examine the NLTSB here. But the ESV Study Bible has a note on this verse.
ESV Study Bible:
22:16 Be baptized and wash away your sins does not imply that the physical act of baptism itself cleanses people spiritually from sin, for Ananias gives Paul two distinct commands. Thus baptism should be viewed as an outward symbol of the cleansing from sin that occurs when someone trusts in Jesus (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21). Belief leads to cleansing, but baptism pictures this. Because baptism pictures the reality, the two are often discussed as if they belong to the same act. As Heb. 10:19—22 shows, the believer’s sins are “washed away” through faith in “the blood of Jesus,” with the result that the believer is “sprinkled clean” and “washed with pure water.”
I don’t know if I am the only one who is getting tired of the immediate backpedaling that occurs in study Bibles and commentaries when we come across a text that speaks about the importance and necessity of baptism. Instead of just noting what Paul is told to do and how it relates to this text, the scholars have to do their best to explain that the verse does not mean what it sounds like it means.
Obviously, baptism alone (without belief, confession in Jesus, repentance of sins, or placing one’s trust in God) does not cleanse people from sin. Do we have to point this out? Mindless water drenching does not save us. I think we know that. I don’t think anyone reads the scriptures and thinks that mindless water drenching saves. Why not just write about what the verse says, instead of arguing what it does not say?
We could say something like this:
Though Paul had been healed of the blindness that took place on the road to Damascus, there was more that was required of Paul, namely, baptism. This is seen in the imperative in Ananias’ words: “And now why do you wait?” Basically, what are you waiting for? Be baptized. This action is described as “washing away your sins” and as “calling on the name of the Lord.” While baptism alone does not save, baptism is a necessary part of the process of having our sins washed away and how we call upon the name of the Lord for forgiveness, as revealed throughout Acts (Acts 2, 5, 8, 10).
Why do we feel like baptism has to be downplayed? I believe baptism has been so downplayed that no one thinks it is even relevant or important, even though the scriptures are filled with examples of baptism and commands to be baptized. What is the big deal? No one argues that we are saving ourselves by meritorious works in baptism. Baptism, like confession and repentance, is part of our faith, trusting in God to remove our sins by his gracious love, believing that we are now forgiven children of God.