What Does It Mean To Wash Away Your Sins?

And now why do you wait?  Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

Acts 22:16

Contextually in Acts 22, the apostle Paul – formerly known as Saul of Tarsus – is recounting his conversion in Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1ff).  Those familiar with the biblical account will recall that Saul went to Damascus as an enemy of the Way, looking to arrest any followers of Christ (Acts 9:1-2).  As he approached Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him and he heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  (Acts 9:3-4).  The voice belonged to Jesus, who told Saul to “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:5-6).

A lot of people say that Saul was converted and saved on that Damascus road when Jesus talked to him and he “saw the light.”  However, a further examination of both Luke and Paul’s account of the event shows that not to be true.  When one reads further into the biblical text, we see that Saul, blinded after the conversation with Jesus, was led by his companions into Damascus where he fasted for the next three days (Acts 9:8-9).  Meanwhile, a disciple of Jesus in Damascus named Ananias had a vision in which the Lord told him to visit Saul, lay his hands on him, and miraculously restore his sight (Acts 9:10-12).  Despite his misgivings, Ananias obeyed the Lord and restored Saul’s sight (Acts 9:13-18a). 

Notice what happened next.  After Saul’s sight was given back to him, what did he do?  The Bible says, “Then he rose and was baptized…” (Acts 9:18b).  Why?

This brings us to chapter 22 of Acts where Paul tells a mob of Jews while under Roman guard about how he became a follower of Jesus Christ.  While recounting the events which we just read in chapter 9 of Acts, Paul tells us why he was baptized.  It was because Ananias told him, “And now why do you wait?  Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).  There are several items worthy of note in this verse.

First, Jesus had told Saul on the Damascus road that he would “be told what you are to do” once he had gone into the city.  Ananias then told him what to do: be baptized (Acts 22:16).

Second, it is obvious that Saul believed in Jesus as Lord.  He called him “Lord” during their conversation on the Damascus road.  His fasting for the next three days indicated that he repented of his sins.  However, his sins were still not forgiven.  If they had been forgiven, why would Ananias talk of them being washed away by his baptism (Acts 22:16)?  It was only after he was baptized that his sins were washed away.  This is noteworthy because it shows that faith, by itself, does not save, and neither does repentance.  Baptism is also necessary.

Third, recall that earlier in Acts the apostle Peter had quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel as saying, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32).  What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord?  It certainly means more than simply calling him “Lord.”  I say that because Jesus himself said that simply calling him “Lord” would not be enough (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46).  Ananias tells us what calling on the name of the Lord means in Acts 22:16: being baptized.  It becomes even more evident when one compares Acts 2:21 (“everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”) with Mark 16:16 (“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved”), 1 Peter 3:21 (“Baptism now saves you…”), and Acts 22:16 (“Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name”).

Paul would also write that it is through baptism that one dies to one’s sins, is buried, and is spiritually resurrected to newness of life (Romans 6:1-5).  He would also join baptism with faith while speaking of what it takes to be sons of God and clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). 

Friend, have you called upon the name of the Lord the way the New Testament says to do it?  Have you been baptized into Christ?  Have your sins been washed away through baptism?  Contact me in the comments if you would like to study more about this.

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