When Aaron and his sons were being prepared for the priesthood they had to be purified in water (Exodus 40:12-16). When God prepared to appear before Israel at Mt. Sinai, the people had to be cleansed in water before they could be in his presence (Exodus 19:10-13). Likewise, in John 3:3-5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the new birth requires water, as does physical birth. Water is a cleansing agent throughout Scripture.
Water is used in Scripture for cleansing and purifying everything from the mundane to the miraculous. The world was “purified” when the flood eliminated all those who had been rebellious against God (Genesis 6-9). The Israelites were liberated from the Egyptian army by the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). In several chapters of Leviticus we find numerous examples of people and objects that were told to be cleansed and purified in water.
God tells Ezekiel that he would cleanse them with water. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25). This cleansing would lead to a new heart and spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Naaman, the leper, was told to dip seven times in the Jordan River. He complained about the wisdom of this command but was finally convinced to do so. When he complied, his leprosy was cleansed (2 Kings 5:1-14). In fact, he could not be “clean” without the washing of the water.
Salvation comes by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Sins are washed away in the blood of Christ (Romans 5:6-10). Water, we will find, is when the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins.
We all have sinned and we have no human antidote for sin (Romans 3:23). We require a Savior (Romans 7:24; Jeremiah 10:23). Man does not possess the knowledge or ability to wash away his own sins. Only the blood of Christ can do so.
Acts 22:16 says, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Thayer, the Greek scholar, writes, “those who have gone down into the baptismal bath are said to have washed themselves, or to have washed away their sins, i.e. to have been cleansed from their sins.”/1 Bauer concludes it means, “to wash away one’s sins.”/2
In Acts 2:38, we read, “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.” This perfectly follows Jesus’ teaching in John 3:3-5 that the spiritual new birth involves water and the spirit.
The blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, as has been noted. Water washes away our sins (1 Peter 3:21). Is there a contradiction? No, Scripture is perfect and complete, so we must dig deeper (2 Timothy 3:16,17). If blood and water both are involved in removing our sins, then they must coincide. Water and the blood of Christ, therefore, meet when we are immersed into Christ for the remission of our sins. If we will have our sins washed away, we must come to Christ and submit to baptism in order to be cleansed from our sins. It is our only hope.
1/ Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 65.
2/ Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature, p. 96.