When we reach the point of baptism each of us has faced a variety of life experiences. Some have a "record". Others have been "religious since mother's knee". Some were christened, or baptized as an adult. Some have never had any religious training or experience. Some have been associated with other churches And others have never darkened a church door. You then come to believe that change is needed. What do you do?
The Scriptures teach a twin action: "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). The baptism bit is usually easy. But - do we understand what's meant by "repentance"?
A New Beginning
Note first that baptism is "the bottom of the ladder" of the Christian life. It is a new beginning. When you step out of the water and have the laying-on of hands (to receive God's Spirit) you are a new life - a spiritual embryo, if you like. God's Spirit has united with your spirit to form a new creature. You are a "babe in Christ". And you have much to learn! You need to "grow".
So, what God will seek from you as a mature Christian after years of experience is not what He expects from you at baptism! Thankfully. God doesn't reveal the specific trials ahead of a new Christian. But the way He wants us to live as Christians - the evidence that we are truly converted - is clearly explained in Scripture!
We can't be saved by any personal works of righteousness. It is of grace, of God's mercy, out of His love for us. So why echo the question of Acts 2:37: What must I do? The key, as Peter answered. is repent! Christianity is a way of life, and we are expected to "live by every Word of God" (Matthew 4:4) That will mean radical change in our daily walk.
Let's look at some of these changes.
God has called you to offer you His salvation. In His goodness He leads you to repentance. He uses the circumstances of your life to induce a godly sorrow - a deep contrition for your sin and for your sinful nature. Such sorrow can be triggered by ill-health, by loss of someone close, by reverses, simply by a general dissatisfaction with your life. But whatever it is, you begin to seek, and follow, God's way. To seek and to follow is repentance. Repentance is not a "feeling". It is action! It is a turning to God's "narrow way". It is willing obedience.
And you can't postpone obedience till after your baptism!
When God begins to call you, it is His Spirit that is working with you. You are not alone, for the Holy Spirit is with you, prompting you to obedience. It is for YOU to turn those prompts into action! You show your submission to God by a changed lifestyle, by starting to produce good fruit. And you start before baptism.
This article is not meant to be a substitute for counsel with a competent counsellor of the Church. You ought to discuss baptism fully; and indeed baptism, for your sake, shouldn't be carried out unless you do! Here, however, is a "checklist" to summarize key parts of what the counsellor wants you to understand.
Not surprisingly, there are ten areas of your life to make a start on before baptism. Unless you are committed to them God won't give you His Spirit. They are signposts to the life in Christ. God expects you to take your first steps of obedience before giving you His Spirit. Like any parent, He does not look for maturity from a babe - but you have to take those first steps as evidence of commitment! Let s look at them briefly.
I repeat - you must be committed to this outline. But God knows our weakness, and does not expect maturity or perfection of a babe! This outline makes clear what God's standards are for those who would be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
A False Conversion?
All this is a brief summary of how we should begin to live before baptism. Repentance means we voluntarily submit to this way of life. Unless committed to these ten commandments we are not truly repentant. They are "seeds" that we plant before baptism. As we mature in Christ they bring forth an abundance of godly fruit.
If we are not so committed our baptism is a sham.
It will result in a "false conversion" in which we worship Jesus Christ in vain (see Matthew 7:15-28 - especially vv.21- 23). Dangerously, we will be lulled into a false security, assuming we are "saved". Multiple millions follow this path of lawlessness, and led by false shepherds become blinded to the beautiful way of life revealed through God's Law. Such may indeed have sorrow for their sin. They see in Jesus Christ the forgiveness of that sin. But by false teachings they are then led to resist God's holy and perfect and righteous Law! That resistance is carnal, and spells death.
Saved - by Works?
Obedience to God is not "salvation by works". It is an expression of our submission to His lordship and sovereignty. Joyful obedience to God's torah (i.e., instruction) - as expanded in all of Scripture - is one sign that we are truly being converted. No-one can expect to be converted, can expect God to give His Holy Spirit, can be sure of salvation unless they first "bring forth fruit meet for repentance."
Can you be in the Kingdom, some ask, without keeping the Sabbath? Or if you are an adulterer? Or worshipping falsely? The wrong questions! Rather we ought to ask, Will God graciously and freely give His Holy Spirit to someone who refuses to obey His revealed Word? Clearly - no!
Remember: God will give His Holy Spirit - without which we are none of His, without which there is no salvation (Romans 8:9) - only to those who have become so truly sorry for their sin that they are changing their lifestyle according to the way of life revealed in His Word. Only then, and wholly by His grace and mercy. do we enter His Family as new-born babes in Christ.
Recall that Jesus expressed the importance of "counting the cost"! And he also provides a way for us to succeed (II Peter 1:3- 4).
Are you prepared to be baptized?
If you would like to counsel about baptism we will be happy to arrange to discuss this vital step with you. Please contact any of our offices for details.
For a study of other aspects of the way of salvation you are invited to request the leaflet What Do You Mean..."Repent"?
There are many reasons why Christians need - and want - to meet together.
Among these perhaps the following selection are of special importance:
We are told in Scripture "Don't neglect the assembling of yourselves together ... all the more as you see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25). Clearly, that day (spoken of in the Bible as "the great tribulation") of worldwide turbulence is almost upon us! Increasingly we will need one another, and now is the best time to cement those relationships.
Many of our readers find that as they increasingly accept Bible teachings they become somewhat isolated in their beliefs from previous church associates. For it has been observed that much of modern Christianity has more in common with Buddhism than with the faith of the Bible! Well, now there's opportunity for you to fellowship with others with the same Bible interests. And in a non- threatening, non-coercive way.
The Churches of God meet regularly in various locations around the world, and you are welcome to visit with them any time. You are not, of course, under obligation of any kind - apart from normal courtesies - when you come! Contact any of our national addresses for details of times and places.
We are looking forward to seeing you.
To comment on this article or request more information, including the leaflet What Do You Mean..."Repent"?, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 1 Issue 1, January/February 1997. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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