A friend of mine, Ken Craig, wrote an exciting little book called The Big Picture of the Bible, in which he lays out some common threads running through the Old and New Testaments. In Chapter 8, he makes this point:
“What made animal sacrifice work? It derived its power from the faith of the believers. The followers of God understood His instructions and they believed that killing the animal would remove their sins. So they acted and performed the animal sacrifice according to the instructions God had given them. One couldn’t just believe in animal sacrifice (Heb 9.22) any more than merely believing in medicine will make one well! The origin of true faith is, and always has been, by the instruction of God. Romans 10.17 emphasizes this point: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’“
Ken then goes on to parallel the faith-inspired act of animal sacrifice and the New Testament faith-inspired act of baptism, which is, I think, a Biblical parallel.
So, his major point: You must (1) Believe the action will result in forgiveness, and (2) Perform the action! You can’t receive forgiveness by saying, “Oh I believe I should offer a sacrifice in order to receive the forgiveness of sins (the word is ‘atonement’ in the Old Testament),” and not actually performing the sacrifice. Likewise, you can’t just perform the sacrifice without the faith behind the action and expect forgiveness.
True faith always acts. True faith always obeys as far as is possible. Read Hebrews 11 for a beautiful series of faithful, obedient actions.
And always remember – it was never the actual act of sacrifice, never the animal itself or even its blood, that forgave the sins. God forgave the sins based on the person’s faith. They may not have understood that at the time, but that’s what the New Testament teaches.
But Christ’s blood actually does atone for sin! Baptism is that way in which we call on His name (Acts 22:16). It’s that way in which we identify with His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7; Colossians 2:11-12). Always remember, though, it’s not the actual act of baptism, not the water itself, not the purity of the one doing the baptism, not the depth to which your are plunged or anything else about that physical act, that forgives our sins. God forgives our sins based on our faith!
It’s important to remember it’s God who forgives sins because when we start thinking the power is in the water we start putting our faith in our works. Our confidence then lies in what we have done. And sometimes we doubt what we have done. Was every part of our body submerged? Did I understand everything exactly like I should have (after all, I have grown tremendously in my understanding since the day of my baptism)? Was I in the right church building?
Now it may very well be that you did put your faith in the baptism itself and not in God. If that is true, perhaps you have now come to faith in Him. My question would be, “Were you baptized in the name of Jesus Christ?” That’s what seems to really count in Scripture – read Acts 19:1-10 to see Paul baptizing some folks in Jesus’ name because they had only been baptized in John the Baptist’s baptism. You don’t have to understand everything about baptism when you are first baptized. In fact, you probably will never understand all about it! Put your faith in the God who told you to be baptized. Put your faith in Christ, the One you swore to follow. Don’t trust in yourself. Don’t trust in the perfection of your sacrifice. Trust in Christ, the perfect sacrifice, God’s sacrifice for you!