Many years ago, as I was getting ready to do some studying at the Marriott Library, I took a moment to read in the Book of Mormon and received through the Holy Ghost an incredible insight into what the Book of Mormon is. I kept that insight to myself thinking I might use it in a future talk. Several years later I listened to a talk in which the speaker explained the same concept I had received. I had mixed emotions over that experience for quite awhile.

Several years after that I had a similar experience where something I had received by the Spirit in my personal study was being shared by someone else over the pulpit.

It eventually occurred to me that these experiences were confirmations to me that what I had received in my private study were truths, and that they had been revealed to others, who then were given the opportunity to speak publicly about them.

For years I’ve known through my study of the scriptures that the baptismal waters do not cleanse us from sin. So I was relieved yesterday, when in his Conference address, Elder Dale G. Runland said the following:

“As an eight year old I had mistakenly presumed that the water of baptism washed away sins. Not so. In the years since my baptism, I’ve learned that sins are cleansed by the power of Jesus Christ through His atoning sacrifice, as we make and keep the baptismal covenant.” (Oct 2023, Sunday afternoon; emphasis added)

Let me repeat, the water of baptism does not cleanse us from sin. It is the atoning blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin!

Now I have a bunch of scriptural references for this, but I’m not going to list them. I will point out three examples, and according to the “law of witnesses”, that should suffice. Before I do that, I want to point out where I think the misunderstanding lies.

In the third Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it says, “…baptism by immersion for the remission of sins…”. The word “for” I believe is the culprit. I think many people understand this to believe that baptism itself cleanses us from sin. As Elder Renlund states, “Not so.” Baptism is a requirement that allows us access to the atoning blood of Christ. That is how the “for” should be looked at. But unless a person studies and ponders the scriptures, they will miss that interpretation and accept the third Article of Faith at face value and miss, as Elder Renlund pointed out, “….the power of Jesus Christ through His atoning sacrifice…”.

Here now are my examples of why baptism doesn’t of itself cleanse sin.

First is the example of Jesus Himself. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was without sin. If He was without sin, then why was He baptized? He gave the answer Himself in His reply to John the Baptist:

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt 3:15)

His comment is better explained, again by Christ Himself, in His teaching to the people of the Book of Mormon upon His appearance to them. In expounding His doctrine to the people He explains:

“And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (3Ne 11:33 [32-36])

For me the crowning scripture on this subject comes from the Book of Moses. Again the words come from the Lord, in His pre-mortal state, as He teaches Adam:

“…ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water (baptism), and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin… For by the water ye keep the commandment (fulfill all righteousness); by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified…” (Moses 6:59-60; emphasis added)

To me (and I’m certain there are many others), these verses, and others not quoted, plainly teach that baptism does not wash away our sins. It is an essential ordinance that opens the door for us to receive the cleansing of our sins through the Atonement of Christ.

I’m grateful for Elder Renlund’s comments in General Conference, but I don’t think they will be sufficient enough to rid the Church of the pernicious false doctrine that baptism cleanses us from sin.

Additional scriptures

Revelation 1:5 – “…washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

Mosiah 4:2-3 – people received a remission of their sins (v3), after asking for the blood of Christ to be applied to them (v2).

2 Ne 31:17 – baptism by water is a witness of willingness to keep commandments.