Ready To Be Faithful

How do you know when you’re ready for baptism?

For those in churches that teach baptism is the sign of our covenant with God, this is a weighty question. If you’re just coming into the church, how do you know when you’re ready to go through with this ceremony? If you grew up in the church, how do you know God is really calling you into covenant with Him? What should you look for, and what do you need, before you get baptized?

The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. It has very little to do with how long you council with a minister or how many baptism booklets you read, and everything to do with the state of your heart. Before we get into the body of this post, though, (just so we’re starting out on the same page) here’s a bit of background. I believe baptism by full immersion in water is an outward sign of an adult Christian’s covenant with God. I grew up in a Christian community that taught this, and I was baptized shortly after my 19th birthday.

Repent

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When John the baptist began his ministry, he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).  Those who came to be baptized confessed their sins as part of the baptism (Matt. 3:6). To further emphasize the need for repentance, he told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” if they wanted to be saved (Matt. 3:8).

In the Bible, repentance is “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” (G3340, Zodhitates). To enter covenant with God, the first requirement is that we realize we are sinners, genuinely regret the wrongs we’ve committed, and recognize our need for Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

In general the steps are: 1) repentance, 2) baptism, 3) receive the Holy Spirit (there are exceptions to this order, as in Acts 10). Often, we feel like we need reach perfection, or at least be “good enough” before baptism. Really, though, we need to realize we are not perfect so we can commit and submit to God. Then, after we realize how desperately we need Him and ask Him to be part of our life, He gives us the tools we need to grow toward perfection.

Believe

Looking at another baptism recorded in Acts, we find one more requirement for baptism. Here, Philip is teaching an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus.

 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)

In the New Testament, “believe” is translated from the same words as “faith” — pisteuo (G4100), a mental persuasion, faith, or belief, and pistis (G4102), ” a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths” (Zodniates).

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect before you get baptized, but you should believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that They have a plan for your future. Maybe our faith is young or small, and we’re at a place where we’re saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s okay. God knows we’ll still have work to do after baptism. In fact, He expects us to keep growing after we commit to Him.

Commit

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When you’re counseling for baptism, ministers typically have you read the “count the cost” scriptures in Luke 14:25-33. We learn we can’t cling to anyone or anything other than Christ. We’re told we must be prepared to give up everything we have. Before taking this step in our relationship with God, we must seriously evaluate our commitment level. Christianity isn’t something you can do part-time or half-way. We have to be all-in.

I’m willing to venture a guess that those of us who’ve been baptized didn’t really understand exactly what we were getting into. Our knowledge and understanding deepen so much as we grow, and the commitment I made at baptism means more to me now than it did back in 2008. We don’t need have perfect knowledge before we get baptized — we just need to know we’re willing to follow God no matter what. I’ve heard it compared to marriage. You don’t have to be perfect to get married, or even understand everything about marriage, but you do have to make a commitment that you’ll be faithful.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:19-20)

If our commitment to God is a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), then baptism is when we say our vows. We promise to stay faithful to Him in sickness and in health, to follow His authority, and to work through our problems with Him instead of running away. Baptism is a promise of faithfulness to our faithful Creator. If we’re ready to be faithful, then we’re ready to be baptized.

What Do I Still Lack?

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If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

Several years ago, I heard a speaker say that he thought most of us would ask, “When is Christ returning? How much longer do we have to wait?” That’s not what I’d ask, though. Does it really matter to you whether it’s 10 months, or 10 years, or 10,000 years? We could quite literally die today (though we don’t like to think about it), so we should be working on being ready to meet God at any moment. We should be watchful, yes, but the focus is on growing to be like Him and knowing Him more fully.

With that in mind, I think my question would be more like that of the rich young man in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.

The First Question

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He said to Him, “Which ones?”

Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matt. 19:16-19)

I get the impression that this is the bare minimum required to get into God’s kingdom. We know from Hebrews that the law by itself isn’t enough to save us, so we’ll assume this list implies that we also repent and accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. There’s also a relational aspect implied.

 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

So, to get into God’s kingdom we need to repent and be cleansed of our sins, keep the commandments, and walk in relationship with God. But what if we feel like we’re doing all this, and still there’s something missing?

The Second Question

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:20-22)

That’s the question I would ask — “What’s missing from my Christian walk? What do I still lack?” Honestly, though, the thought of getting an answer is kinda scary. I think Jesus would look into my heart and find the biggest thing that is pulling me toward this life instead of Him, and tell me to give it up. Would I be like the disciples, who could say, “we have left all and followed You” (Matt. 19:27), or would I be like this young man who wasn’t ready to go that far for Jesus?

Paul had a proper perspective on this sort of situation. He didn’t even ask the question, but Jesus answered it anyway. Once Paul realized that faith in Jesus as the Messiah was what his walk with God needed, he gave up his prestige as a pharisee to become a persecuted, itinerant preacher.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ …. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (Phil. 3:7-8, 12)

Both here and in Matthew 19, the word “perfect” is translated from teleios (G5046), which we talked about last week. It is connected with growth as a Christian; becoming more mature as we become more like Christ.

We might be able to get by doing the bare minimum, but that’s not how we reach perfection. We become perfect by learning to think like God (Matt. 5:43-48) and giving up anything that keeps us from fully committing to Christ. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from taking a good, hard look at ourselves and asking God, “What do I still lack?”