The Truth About Baptism and Repentance
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Do you want to become a Christian? Do you want to be saved from hell, and have God’s own Spirit come and live in you forever? Then say this prayer with me and believe it as true:
“God, I’m a sinner. I believe Jesus died for my sins and I want to be completely forgiven right now. Please forgive me.”
Congratulations! You are now a Christian and no longer a sinner! Yes, it’s really that easy! Honestly, there’s not even a certain sentence or phrase you must say, you simply have to believe you are forgiven by Jesus and you are! (See Galatians 3:2, Romans 10:17).
However, the grace-confused person will be quick to comment, “Yeah right, Matt! They gotta repent and be baptized! The Bible says so in Acts 2:38!”
To that I’d reply, “They did. Repentance and baptism just happened. They repented of unbelief in Jesus’ forgiveness, and when they did so, they were supernaturally baptized into His Spirit.”
The problem is, the self-righteous folk have turned repentance and baptism into laws based on actions and attitudes rather than what it was originally meant to be: two different one-time events which happen simultaneously based on faith and grace.
If we define repentance and baptism according to Scripture you’ll see! If we stop taking the word of angry “representatives” of Christ, and instead look into the Bible for ourselves, freedom will happen! Freedom from fear, and freedom from legalism!
First, let’s unpack baptism. How about we stop fooling ourselves by saying H2O will wash away our sins? There’s no amount of any liquid in all of the universe that can wash away sins. Therefore, true baptism according to the gospel is a supernatural baptism.
All baptize means is “to place inside of.” Paul refers to baptism in Romans 6, and not once does he mention water. Why? Because he’s talking about our spirit being placed into Jesus’ Spirit. This is exactly what Peter was referring to in Acts 2:38. Peter was not creating a law out of being dunked in water, he was being literal. He was talking about their spirits.
Peter was saying, “You must be baptized into the Spirit of God in order to be saved.” This only happens by way of grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8,9).
Again, baptism simply means “to be immersed in.” Paul goes to great length explaining authentic baptism in Romans 6. He tells the Christians in Rome they should stop sinning because they are no longer made to sin (Romans 6:2). But not once does he say their sinful actions will wear out God’s grace. Then he tells them why:
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)
What does that even mean? It means that we too have died with Jesus–that is, our spirits. From the moment we first believe, our spirits are placed inside of Jesus’ Holy Spirit–and vice versa:
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6,7)
The body ruled by sin was our old, sinful spirits. These two verses are not talking about our physical bodies dying, but our spiritual bodies! The one we were born with! This spiritual death, burial, and resurrection happens from the moment we first believe, whether we feel it or not! Salvation is not based on our feelings, but on the truth!
He says the same thing in Galatians 2:20 as he talks about his old I and his new I.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
And again, to the Corinthians:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The self-absorbed person will read that verse and immediately think of their actions and attitudes–as well as the actions and attitudes of others. But Paul is talking about identity! Paul is talking about a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection! Paul is talking about being reborn for a second time, in your spirit! 2 Corinthians 5:17 is about us being placed inside of the Holy Spirit of God after our old spirit is killed off! Paul tells the Colossians the same truth about baptism:
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
But this won’t be enough proof for the behavior-centered person. They will be quick to point out an event which happened in Acts 19. However, if we do a brief exegesis of that passage, the truth of the gospel will burst off the pages. Here it is:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (See Acts 19:1-6)
The legalist’s fleshy senses will start to explode like Pop Rocks at reading this–but hold your horses for a minute. Let’s break this down. These people, whom Paul just encountered, were still believing according to the Old Covenant. John the Baptist’s ministry was built on Mosaic Law and that’s all they had ever heard of.
John preached, “Stop sinning or else!” His entire ministry was based on behavior repentance toward obeying the Jewish law!
Paul explains to them that John the Baptist’s teaching was the opposite of Jesus’ by telling them, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.” He then tells them about the new way, “Believe in Jesus,” right after he corrects them about John’s old way of behavior modification for righteousness (see Acts 19:4). He was saying, “Now we receive baptism into God’s own Spirit by way of grace through faith in Jesus!”
These people had never received information about Jesus and they just did! This is how they finally received the Holy Spirit, which is by hearing with faith!
“Matt, how can you say that John’s ministry was the opposite of Jesus’?”
Friend, I’m not saying it, John the Baptist spoke this from his own mouth:
“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
Many fake-martyr Christians will take this verse out of context and apply it to themselves, “I GOTTA BECOME LESS! YOU GOTTA BECOME MORE, LORD!” when that’s wrong.
This is John saying that his ministry of legalism–of trying to make people obey 613 laws and commandments–must go away so that Jesus’ ministry of grace by faith can enter. His ministry had to cease in order to make room for the Messiah because the Messiah would take away our sins forever through Himself. John said so from the first moment he laid eyes on Jesus:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Remember, John knew that repentance of sinful actions and attitudes was hard to do. Not just 10, but 613 different rules to follow was very burdensome! John also knew that the forgiveness received by animal blood each year at the Day of Atonement was getting old! HE WANTED PERMANENT FORGIVENESS! HE WANTED RELIEF! Jesus would bring both into the picture.
So Paul was telling the people in Acts 19 that there was a new way other than John’s way–Jesus’ way. After hearing this, they believed, then the Holy Spirit joined them just the same as He joins every believer.
I don’t want to get off subject here, but briefly, when these new believers received the Spirit, Paul put his hands on them and they also spoke in tongues. Neither of these things are required to receive the Holy Spirit. When Luke wrote this, he was recording events–he was writing down the acts of the apostles–not creating laws to get the Spirit. The truth of the gospel is no physical act nor supernatural gift causes us to receive God’s Spirit. We get Him for free.
With all of this being said, what’s the use of water baptism? To answer that, let me ask you another question: What’s the use of having a birthday party? TO CELEBRATE YOUR DAY OF BIRTH!
Water baptism is a celebration of your spiritual birth! It is an outward expression of something that has happened inside of you. It’s not something you do to achieve God’s Spirit, but instead, it’s an act that celebrates God’s Spirit being in you. Unless you first believe the instant you go down into that water, you’re already saved.
Just think about it, you can dunk a non-believer in water all day long while chanting, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but still, that would never cause them to receive God’s Spirit. We only get placed into the Spirit by way of believing in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin! So sure, get baptized in water! But do it to celebrate and not for any other reason!
Now to repentance. The very word repent has been infused with demonic steroids by Lucifer himself. For centuries, he’s whispered lies into the ears of the self-righteous and fearful the like. This six-letter word wreaks havoc in the lives of all who don’t understand God’s grace.
According to the gospel, all that is required to be saved is repentance of unbelief in Jesus’ forgiveness–not repentance of incorrect actions and attitudes. That would be Judaism. Remember, repentance of incorrect actions and attitudes was the ministry of John the Baptist as well as Moses and all of Israel.
But still, the self-centered “well behaved” person will attack me over this subject, “It sounds like you are just saying we can sin, sin, sin away! You’re telling people we can sin however we want!”
No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying we have new wants and new desires because we have God’s Spirit infused with our new, perfect spirits. As beings who are now one with God, we actually want what He wants! We don’t even want to sin!
Sure, our old way of thinking might–our mind didn’t get saved, our spirit did–but as soon as we do sin, it’s like stepping on a tack. We always regret it. Even if we continue stepping on that tack and saying it doesn’t hurt–even for a lifetime–we know deep down that sin will never be okay with us.
“You’re just being light on sin! You’re just giving people a license to sin!”
No I’m not. I hate sin. I hate it when I sin. It was my sin–past, present, and future–that killed Jesus. None of us need a license, we’re all sinning just fine without one. However, repentance of incorrect actions and attitudes does not earn us a license either–not even a permit.
Lots of unbelievers have polished lives. But polished, low-sin lives still cannot achieve God’s Spirit. Only repentance of unbelief can. The entire book of Hebrews is written about one main sin, unbelief. The Hebrews–those who were following Mosaic Law–didn’t have the problem of fleshy sin like us Gentiles. So the author didn’t even bother going over all of those sins.
Instead, the writer of this letter had a bullseye on rejecting faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Jews wanted to keep getting forgiven at the temple by way of animal blood even after they had heard about Jesus–but that would no longer work. They needed to believe!
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29)
This passage is not written to Christians! The author is saying to the unbelieving Jews, “You’ve heard about Jesus so you are without excuse! The blood of animals cannot forgive you any longer and the Law of Moses is obsolete!”
He, or she, was saying, “If you think punishment was bad by way of the Old Covenant, how much worse do you think the punishment will be for rejecting the New Covenant of God’s grace through Jesus?”
Friends! All we must do is repent of unbelief! Actions and attitudes ebb and flow and cannot generate righteousness! We have a righteousness which comes by way of faith! (See Romans 3:22, Philippians 3:9, Galatians 5:5). The author even tells the Jews to move forward past the elementary teachings of repentance from dead works! (See Hebrews 6:1).
“But Matt, you gotta repent of all your sins! All of them!”
Yes! We do! From the moment we first believe, we have repented of all of them because our sinful spirit was killed off! If you’re claiming that repentance of actions and attitudes is what gives us our righteousness–or sustains our righteousness–then how do you know you’ve done it properly?! How do you know you’ve repented of all your sins?! How are you even keeping track of them?! How do you know you’ve done enough behavior and attitude repenting?! HOW DO YOU KNOW?!…Friend, you don’t.
The devil sure wants you to think you’re doing a good job at repenting–or a terrible job–but we are fooling ourselves if we think that changing the stuff we do and don’t do is earning us kudos with our Creator. We can repent until our repenter falls off, that still won’t make us right with God. Only through spiritual death and rebirth are we right! And that only happens by way of faith.
I gotta say something that might come across as harsh, but I know this is true because I used to live this way: Repentance of actions and attitudes for righteousness with God might be the most anti-Jesus mindset a person can possibly have. Why? Because it’s saying, “The Cross was not good enough. I have to make it good enough.”
So today, my friends, know this: Repent and be baptized if you haven’t! Do it right now, this very moment! Don’t wait any longer! Today could be your last shot! Believe Jesus has saved you from your sins, and you’ve done both! Afterwards, plan on having a water baptism to celebrate, and allow your new spirit to help you change your incorrect actions and attitudes. After all, you’ve been baptized into Christ and you are now holy!
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me the easiness of your truth. Baptism and repentance are both very simple! In your Word, in 1 Corinthians, even Paul said he didn’t come to baptize but to preach the gospel–he also said he was glad he DIDN’T baptize many. Just as you’ve revealed to him, you’ve revealed to me, that water saves no one and neither does behavior change–only faith in Jesus can! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them have been lied to about the truth of baptism and repentance. Today, I ask that you reveal the authentic relaxation found in the gospel. Help them begin to understand that the Cross was enough, and their faith in that event was too! Teach them anything which begins with “I do” or “I don’t do” in order to “get right” with you is wrong. Jesus already did it all. Our only job is to say, “Thank you!” and to receive His Spirit! In His name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!