In part one of this article, we called attention to two important facts: (1) that immersion in water is essential if one wants the blood of Jesus to wash his sins away (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5); (2) that in their haste to get sinners into the water, some well-meaning Christians have not sufficiently focused on the teaching that must precede baptism. Let us conclude with the following:
When is a Sinner Ready for Baptism?
The best place to start is here: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). There is no pathway to being saved from our sins without a belief in the God who has been offended and dishonored by those sins.
One must also understand who Jesus is and trust in what he has done to make salvation possible (John 8:24). Paul affirmed that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The same apostle described the gospel that must be believed as the good news that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that
he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Salvation is about Jesus and the cross, a fact that is clear in the sermons preached in the book of Acts. What was Peter’s main subject on Pentecost? Jesus (Acts 2:22-36). What was his main subject in Acts 3:13-26? Jesus. When Philip went to Samaria, “He proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:5). When Philip began teaching the Ethiopian treasurer, what did he preach? Jesus (Acts 8:35). What was the subject of Peter’s initial instruction to Cornelius? Jesus (Acts 10:34-43). When the jailor in Philippi inquired of Paul about salvation, the apostle directed him first to Jesus (Acts 16:30-31). In Thessalonica, Luke identifies the subject of Paul’s teaching as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:2-3). Are you seeing the consistent pattern?
When one understands that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth as a man to suffer the penalty for sins he didn’t commit, the sensitive heart will want to know what he needs to do to respond properly to that indescribable gift (Acts 2:36-37; 2 Cor. 9:15).
That response includes turning away from sinful living. Paul calls this part of the process “godly grief” that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). To embrace the gospel is to embrace a life change. One cannot continue to live for oneself after becoming a Christian (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
When one has come to believe in Jesus and truly wants to turn from sin, he will not be ashamed of the one who died to save his soul. This lack of shame can be shown in many ways, including verbal proclamation (Matt. 16:16; Rom. 10:10; 1 Tim. 6:12).
Finally, one must understand the necessity of and purpose of being immersed into the body of Christ – that it is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul affirms that there must be “faith in the powerful working of God” when one is baptized (Col. 2:12). One cannot trust in what God is doing in baptism if he doesn’t understand what God is doing in baptism.
Becoming a Christian is so important and so urgent that we dare not rush someone into the water before they understand what they are doing and why. Becoming a Christian is not just about what a sinner must do. It is first about what has been done for the sinner. Only then does the focus turn to the sinner’s response.