False Traditions: “Baptism of Water is Remission of Sins”

First, A Note About False Traditions

False traditions are obstacles that keep you from “awakening from your deep sleep” (Alma 5:7) or even “awakening to an awful reality” (2 Nephi 9:47).  In my personal journey to awake, arise and know the Lord, I have been faced with the very uncomfortable situation of learning truth.  Truth is anything that is revealed directly from the Lord–either personally or through the Spirit of Truth.  This sort of truth can be so humbling that it breaks down your personal foundation but also has power great enough to rebuild it stronger than ever before.

The purpose of dispelling false traditions is to remove obstacles and barriers that truly bring us to become converted to the Savior, Jesus Christ, only.  This is never easy.  No one, especially the “natural man/woman” enjoys being wrong and that is true for me personally.

The problem with false traditions, assuming they are in fact false, is that we share them–we pass them onto other generations who, in turn, also share them and pass them on.  The natural man/woman finds comfort in these traditions–that’s why we hold onto them and impart them to others as chunks of wisdom in hopes they too will hold onto them for their personal benefit.  We find so much comfort in these false traditions.  So much so that we depend on them even to the point that our personal salvation is linked-to or dependent upon them.

We should challenge orthodoxy while remaining in harmony with doctrine and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Christ came he broke the traditions of the Jews and especially the Pharisees because they loved their traditions more than Christ, Himself.  They found comfort in their traditions and they even believed their traditions would save them.  Their false traditions were roadblocks or idols in place of Christ, Himself.

Confronting unbelief and false tradition is never easy.   If you truly love God, value truth, and want to develop faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, you’ll need to confront your unbelief and seek truth above tradition.  Faith can only be founded upon truth. If it is founded upon anything else, it is not faith.  If confronting unbelief and false tradition is uncomfortable yet the only way to know the Lord, I will gladly offer that sacrifice.

The False Tradition

“Baptism of water cleanses me from sin–receiving a remission of sins–and partaking of the sacrament each week renews that event.”

If you have ever attended a baptismal ceremony, you have likely heard this one repeated.  We also, share it over the pulpit and in classes too, of course.  Unfortunately it a false tradition and not even scriptural.

This tradition has two parts to it: (1) Baptism of water remits my sins, and (2) the sacrament renews that event and covenant(s).

The Baptism of Water

The requirement prior to baptism of water is repentance.  Repentance is (1) recognizing that no mortal or worldly pleasure can offer salvation, and (2) committing to turn away from the world and then toward the Lord, Jesus Christ for salvation.  Looking at the Fourth Article of Faith:

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The writers of The Book of Mormon call it “baptism unto repentance,” meaning it is to be preceded by sincere repentance (Mosiah 26:22; Alma 5:62; Helaman 5:17,19; 3 Nephi 1:23; 7:25-26).  See also here for more on seeking repentance prior to baptism of water.

The First Law of Heaven:  A Sign Initiating the Covenant Journey

Baptism by immersion is the sign of one’s repentance and desire to begin the process (present tense) whereby one can (future tense) obtain a remission of sins from having received the event baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (once received is past tense). Obedience is the First Law of Heaven. Per Moses 5:5, “Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord” thereby preparing him for the further light and knowledge that he was seeking from the messengers sent from the presence of God.

“And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins [personal commandments or personal revelation that leads to receiving one’s baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost]; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart [sanctification that prepares a person for more to come]; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost [gift of the Holy Ghost], which Comforter [gift of the Holy Ghost is first comforter and the gift is received at the time one receives their baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost] filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end [the tree; Second Comforter] shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God [be in the presence of the Lord]” (Moroni 8:25-26).

Joseph Smith

“God has set many signs on the earth, as well as in the heavens; for instance, the oak of the forest, the fruit of the tree, the herb of the field—all bear a sign that seed hath been planted there; for it is a decree of the Lord that every tree, plant, and herb bearing seed should bring forth of its kind, and cannot come forth after any other law or principle.

“Upon the same principle do I contend that baptism is a sign ordained of God, for the believer in Christ to take upon himself in order to enter into the kingdom of God, ‘for except ye are born of water and of the Spirit ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ said the Savior [see John 3:5]. It is a sign and a commandment which God has set for man to enter into His kingdom. Those who seek to enter in any other way will seek in vain; for God will not receive them, neither will the angels acknowledge their works as accepted, for they have not obeyed the ordinances, nor attended to the signs which God ordained for the salvation of man, to prepare him for, and give him a title to, a celestial glory; and God has decreed that all who will not obey His voice shall not escape the damnation of hell. What is the damnation of hell? To go with that society who have not obeyed His commands.

“Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

–History of the Church, 4:554–55; paragraph divisions altered; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Mar. 20, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois

The Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and restores those plain and precious truths about faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost that were once lost.

  • (2 Nephi 31:6-14) “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, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?”
  • (Mosiah 5:1-4) “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us…And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.”
  • (Mosiah 18:8-13) “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 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.”
  • (Mosiah 21:35) “They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.”
  • (Alma 7:15) “Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.”

The 8-Year Old Baptism

Consider the familiar eight year old baptism. The scriptures teach, as do the modern day prophets, that children under the age of eight cannot sin. The Lord declares: “. . . that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me; (D&C 29:46-47.)  Children cannot sin before they reach the age of accountability, and this age we are taught, is eight years. A child therefore, cannot be baptized until the age of accountability, meaning that the baptism of the child of record cannot cleanse them from any sin for they were not able to sin before baptism. Baptism exists then not as a cleansing, washing or remission of sin, but an ordinance that will lead to the remission of sin event later. Parents therefore, have the important responsibility of teaching their children to understand the gospel truths, principles, and ordinances, and to prepare them with this knowledge about baptism by the time they reach the age of accountability; otherwise, the sin is upon the heads of the parents (D&C 68:25). Children should understand that they are making a covenant to do the will of God as they enter the waters of baptism and not to be cleansed of sins that they had committed.

The phrase in scripture about sin being “washed” is almost always used in reference to the washing or cleansing of sin that comes by fire and the blood of the atonement as our garments are “washed white in the blood of the Lamb” (Alma 13:11-12), and not the waters of baptism. This baptism, in scripture, represents a burial and a death of the “old” person and a coming forth or resurrection of a “new” person one that will be obedient to the will of God.

A Burial

The Lord himself defines the symbol of Baptism as inspired prophets recorded His words in scripture. In the Inspired Version or the JST we read not of a cleansing but the burial of baptism.

  • (JST Genesis 17:4-5)  “And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers;  And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them
  • (JST Colossians 2:10-12)  “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power;  In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;  Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

These passages teach that the actual symbol of baptism is a “burial” rather than a washing with a “cleansing effect” with power to remit sins. The Lord echoes these words about the symbol baptism in the Doctrine and Covenants, explaining why baptismal fonts are below ground:

  • (D&C 128:13)  “Consequently, the baptismal font was instituted as a similitude of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble, to show forth the living and the dead, and that all things may have their likeness, and that they may accord one with another—that which is earthly conforming to that which is heavenly, as Paul hath declared, 1 Corinthians 15:46, 47, and 48”

The Apostle Paul continues with the concept of the baptism or burial of the old man, and the rising of the new man in Romans:

  • (Romans 6:2-6)  “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  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.”

Paul makes it clear that baptism is considered a burial and the resurrection to a new person or a person with a new commitment “that henceforth we should not serve sin”. This apostle declares as does Joseph Smith stated that: “Baptism is a sign.”  This “newness of life” offered “in Christ” spoken of by Paul is the new and committed life of ‘obedience’ to the will of God preparatory to receiving a remission of sins (baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost) directly from the Lord.

Remission of Sins

Contrary to tradition, the Baptism of Water is not for the remission of sins. The remission of sins takes place at the time of our Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost–burning or cleansing us as if by fire. To help you with this, remember that Mormon chapter 8 reminds us that children are perfect and do not need baptism. If then at age 8 they are baptized, their sins are not being remitted or symbolically washed away. Look closely at the use of the term “baptism for the remission of sins” in the scriptures and realize that it is speaking of a different baptism–the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.

  • (3 Nephi 12:1-2) “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost…for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.”

The Sacrament

Also, there is a false tradition that the sacrament is a renewal of our baptismal covenant and also cleanses us from our sins. This is only partially correct. We now know that baptism of water does not cleanse us from sin (remission of sins) however, the sacrament does point us to the covenant we made at the baptism of water.

  • (Moroni 4:3) “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son [the desire to receive baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost at some time in the future], and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them [personal commandments from personal revelation], that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”
  • (Moroni 5:2) “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

Thus, we see that the primary covenants of the sacrament are to:

  1. “Remember Him” (repenting; turning away from world; turning toward the Lord; focusing on the Lord as the means of salvation going forward)
  2. “Keep His commandments”  (obey personal revelation; follow written commandments)

These are similar commitments that a person would personally take upon themselves at the time they choose to be baptized.  So, in this way the sacrament is renewing our baptismal commitments but it does not wash away or remit our sins.  The use of the words “bless and sanctify” are referring to the bread and wine.  In this way, the prayer is simply setting that particular bread and wine apart from all others as a sacred symbol of the body and blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Check Yourself

Contrary to tradition, Baptism of Water is not a symbol of washing away our sins. Therefore:

  • What is the meaning of the baptism of water?
  • Why would you need to receive a baptism of water?
  • What does it mean to “receive” your baptism of water?

JourneyDoctrineOfChrist.org is based on complimentary, online Study Guides to help you learnbelievelive and teach the Doctrine of Christ. The Study Guides invite any and all to see and know this truth for themselves that the Savior, Jesus Christ, has in fact introduced His doctrine and He personally invites all to literally receive Him while in the flesh (mortality).

Blog posts are intended to supplement the Study Guides.  Per all blog posts, seek the understanding and confirmations from the Lord in your own personal revelation.  Study guides are intended to point you to both the Lord’s written word and His voice (personal revelation). These study guides will help you uncover what the Doctrine of Christ is and other essential topics that will help you in your journey to come into His presence while in mortality. All study guides are available at JourneyDoctrineOfChrist.org


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