Baptism is the washing of person with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It washes away sin, infuses us with grace, and makes us members of Jesus’ body, His Church. But before discussing baptism, we must understand Original Sin and the biblical support for this Catholic teaching/historical event.
In the beginning, God created man (Adam and Eve) in a state of holiness, called Original Justice, but man lost this grace upon disobeying God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequences of their personal sin, physical death and loss of supernatural life, were passed on to future generations (read Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15:20-22).
Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were inclined to God’s will. After the Fall, they were, and we as their descendants are, inclined to sin. This inclination is called concupiscence. To remedy this problem, God sent His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, into the world, and He willingly sacrificed Himself for mankind. This was and is a free gift we certainly do not deserve. We enter into this free gift by way of God’s grace and our response to His grace, which is faith. But this isn’t the end of the story.
Original Sin is the primary reason for baptism. What Adam and Eve lost (unity with God through Original Justice), Christ, who is Justice, restored, though we continue to suffer the consequences of their sin in this life. Through baptism, we join Christ’s body so that we can be restored to unity with God (Rom 6:3-5). Jesus said we are born anew (or born again) by “water and Spirit,” which is baptism (Jn 3:3-7) and Paul adds in Titus 3, “…by the washing of regeneration” (regeneration meaning born again).
Baptism washes away Original Sin and personal sin and restores grace (supernatural life) to the soul. The effects of Original Sin, natural death and concupiscence, are still present. But the gift of sanctifying grace through baptism works within the soul, so that we are able to cooperate with God’s will.
Although we are still inclined to evil deeds, we are now capable of engaging in spiritual battle and turning away from our personal sins. By cooperating with grace, we can build habits of rejecting sin and doing good works. In other words, grace helps us become virtuous.
If you’re wondering why God went to all the trouble to save us rather than simply waving a magic wand to forgive us our sins, we need to simply look at human nature.
When people do something wrong and are forgiven but never corrected, they continue in the same behavior. We have an entire legal system built upon this very premise. We need only to look ourselves, and the Jews in the Old Testament for that matter. Although God could simply forgive us every time we sin, we would never learn to repent and turn away from our sins.
Jesus, Our Supreme Example of Love
Jesus was tortured and died on the cross as an example of supreme and perfect love, which we are called to imitate (1 Thes 1:6, 1 Cor 11:1). Besides being an example of perfect love, Jesus died as a sacrifice for all mankind. Adam, a finite man, transgressed against an infinite God; the dividing wall between man and God was built. To repair the damage caused by Adam, Jesus, who is both God and man sacrificed himself; the dividing wall was torn down.
In other words, “Jesus had to be human so that he could make atonement for the sins of the human race. He had to be God so that the atonement would have infinite value, and thus make reparation to the infinite God.” Paragraphs 396 to 412 of the Catechism and Romans chapter 5 give a detailed treatment of Original Sin. Read Romans 6:1-14 on the importance of baptism.
A Protestant Objection
A Protestant interlocutor might object to the Catholic teaching on baptism by saying it’s a work and, therefore, not necessary for salvation. But let’s briefly examine Titus 3:5-8, which states, “[Jesus] saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”
First, the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit is baptism. Second, notice that Paul states Jesus saved us “not because of deeds done in righteousness” but by his mercy in the “washing of regeneration.” Therefore, baptism is not a deed done in righteousness, but “an appeal to God for a clear conscience” (1 Pet 3:21). Since we are not righteous before baptism, then baptism cannot be a deed you do in righteousness.
Third, Paul explains that through the washing of regeneration, we are justified by God’s grace. Therefore, baptism justifies by appealing to God and washing away our sins. Baptism is not a good deed done in righteousness, but an appeal to God, who then does the work of washing away our sins. Faith without baptism does not save except in extraordinary circumstances. Now, we are left with one more question. What happens when we commit mortal sin after baptism? The next article will cover the Sacrament of Confession.
 Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, Beginning Apologetics 2, Farmington, NM: San Juan Catholic Seminars, Pg. 7.
2 Replies to “6-Part Series on the Process of Salvation (Part 5: The Role of Baptism)”
Why did God wait for so long to send Jesus to humans to atone for the original sin?
What year approx. did Adam and eve exist on earth?
Thank You I love your site
Thank you for your questions! I’ll answer your second question first, but you probably won’t be satisfied with the answer. The reason you won’t be satisfied is that there is not a consensus on when Adam and Eve walked the earth. There are differing opinions among Catholics, among the varying sects of Protestantism and among those in the scientific community. If one used the Bible alone and interpreted it literally, one would opine Adam and Eve lived about 6000 years ago. Conversely, evolutionists calculate the human race to be about 300,000 years old, but there are even disagreements among them. Population experts say there were five million people on the earth 10,000 years, etc. Also, don’t forget the great flood in Noah’s time effectively reset the human population. Regardless of how old the human race is we know from Scripture and from the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that God created mankind directly and endowed them with the gifts of reason and an eternal, spiritual soul. The Church also teaches that all mankind descends from a common set of parents. Those parents sinned and set salvation history into motion. This sets us up for your second question.
Thankfully, St. Thomas Aquinas answered this question 800 years ago. In his Summa Theologiae, Part III, Q.1, A.5, (https://www.newadvent.org/summa/4001.htm#article5), Aquinas says, “Since the work of Incarnation is principally ordained to the restoration of the human race by blotting out sin, … it was not fitting for God to become incarnate at the beginning of the human race before sin. For medicine is given only to the sick.” “Nor was it fitting that God should become incarnate immediately after sin. First, on account of the manner of man’s sin, which had come from pride; hence man was to be liberated in such a manner that he might be humbled, and see how he stood in need of a deliverer.” Mankind was indeed prideful and needed to be humbled. Man needed to understand that he needed a savior and seek divine intervention. The Law was given to help man see how to live, but man failed at following it. After the Law prepared man for his Savior, the Word assumed a human nature, died for our sins, resurrected and ascended.
“Secondly, on account of the order of furtherance in good, whereby we proceed from imperfection to perfection.” From Adam to Christ, God allowed the most egregious of sins to occur. He subsequently carved out a nation (Israel) for Himself. He raised them as His children and prepared them through the Law and the prophets for the coming of his Son. Though mankind continues to sin egregiously, Jesus is the example of perfection to whom he can turn; One who can forgive man his sins, help him to live an upright life and, eventually, bring him into heaven. The short answer to your question is that mankind was not ready for a savior until the Savior came. He had to sink into spiritual darkness, be gradually trained by the Law, and made ready to receive his Savior.