In answer to the question, “What must I do?”, we have pieced together God’s answer from the terms of the New Testament. We must:
Believe that Jesus died for our sins, and that God raised Him from the Dead.
Confess with our mouths Jesus as Lord.
Be baptized to wash away our sins.
GOD’S TEACHING ABOUT REPENTANCE
Some different ideas
Ask five different people what repent means and you’ll probably get five different answers. For example, I’ve heard of a church somewhere whose definition of repentance is such that every year at “Easter time,” the members of the congregation climb 2000 concrete stairs to repent for the sins they have committed during the last year.
In contrast, I know people who get smashing drunk on Saturday night, then on Sunday cry a few crocodile tears, and say, “I’m sorry, God.” And next Saturday night they go out and do the same thing. And that’s their definition of repentance.
What’s God’s definition of repentance? Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). If repentance is that important, we had better know what God means by it.
God gives an excellent example of repentance through the city of Nineveh. The Lord told Jonah the prophet, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up to Me” (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah jumped aboard a ship headed in the opposite direction instead and was eventually thrown overboard, and swallowed by the great fish.
When the fish spit Jonah up on land, he “hightailed it” for Nineveh. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.’” (Jonah 3:1-3). So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.
“Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, ‘yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown’” (Jonah 3:4).
The result of Jonah’s preaching was that the people of Nineveh believed God, and took His warning seriously. The king issued a proclamation: “... and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:8,9).
“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).
Notice that God did not change His mind until He saw their deeds!
Jesus said of the people of Nineveh, “The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41). This is Jesus’ definition of repentance - a change in behavior.
Many people have the concept that repentance is sorrow for past mistakes. Paul makes it clear that this is not the case: “For sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance with regret; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (II Corinthians 7:10).
Judas Iscariot was sorry for what he had done, but did not repent - he went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5). Peter denied the Lord, but repented and lived.
Sorrow produces repentance. Mere sorrow is not repentance.
From the Bible we conclude that repentance is a change in attitude that must result in a change in behavior. If there is no change, there is no repentance.
GOD’S TEACHING ABOUT BAPTISM
If there is any subject in the Bible that is full of controversy and confusion, baptism is it. Every denominational group in the world even remotely connected with Christianity practices some variation of baptism. But they all have different forms and different reasons.
Why so much controversy? I think the old farm pond that was near my parents’ house holds the answer. In the bottom of this pond - which was dug in the ground to supply gravel for a road built in the 1930’s - was a six-inch accumulation of mud. You could play games in this mud - games like “hide the penny.” If someone started getting too close to finding the penny, you could always stir up the mud. It would form a cloud so thick that nobody could find anything, and everybody would give up trying to find the penny.
That’s what has happened with baptism. Because in baptism an individual’s sins are washed away - because baptism unites a person with Christ - the devil is doing his very best to muddy the water so that you don’t find the truth, and you just plain give up trying.
I have seen tracts with the title, “What the ________ church teaches about baptism.” It doesn’t really matter what any group teaches about baptism. The only thing that really counts is what God teaches about baptism.
The New Testament was written in Greek, because that was the common language of the time, much as English is a somewhat universal language today. There are three Greek words we need to discuss in connection with baptism: baptizo, rantizo, and cheo.
Baptizomeans to immerse, to dip into, to plunge into, to submerge.
Rantizomeans to sprinkle.
Cheomeans to pour.
Over the years “baptize” has come to mean “to sprinkle, to pour, or to immerse.” This is a result of man’s tradition, and not God’s revelation. When God wrote the New Testament, He always used baptizo to describe what we call baptism, never rantizo or cheo. It was not until 1311 A.D, - nearly 1300 years after the beginning of Christ’s Church - that the Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Ravenna, Italy, declared sprinkling and pouring to be of equal standing with immersion. And many Protestant churches, such as the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Presbyterian Churches, simply adopted the Catholic practice of sprinkling without checking further into the scriptures.
Since that time Bible translators have always ducked the question of what baptizo means. Instead of translating it, they transliterate it - baptizo in Greek becomes baptize in English, and you figure out for yourself what it means.
God said immerse as clearly as He could say it in the Greek language. He said baptizo. Another way to find out the meaning of a word is the way it is used in context. For example, if I ask you to go to the barn, and bring me my saddle, my bridle, and my horse, you know that I am asking you to bring my saddle horse. But if I ask you to go to the shop, and bring me my hammer, my saw, and my horse, don’t bring me my saddle-horse. Bring me my sawhorse. The context dictates what kind of “horse” I am talking about.
Similarly, the context will dictate the meaning of baptize. John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, “because there was much water there” (John 3:23). You don’t need much water if you’re sprinkling or pouring, but you need much water - two or three feet deep at least - to immerse.
After Jesus was baptized, He “went up immediately from the water” (Matthew 3:16). You don’t need to go up from the water unless you’ve been down in it, as in immersion. In Acts 8:38, Philip and the Ethiopian both went down into the water - for sprinkling or pouring, you both can stand on the edge of the pool and get the job done without either of you having to go down into the water. The context of the scripture dictates immersion.
It is clear from the Bible that God speaks of baptism as being immersion; and from this point on, immersion is what we mean if we say baptism.