Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
To me, this ranks right up there among the top promises in the whole Bible. In English we tend to read “repent and be baptized” as though it were one thing, but the Japanese makes it a little clearer: “Repent. Then be baptized.” That is the biggest problem with infant baptism: they aren’t repenting of anything. From the time of John the Baptist, baptism in water had been a public statement of repentance. (Mark 1:4) The difference between that and what Peter proclaimed here was the factor of the Name of Jesus Christ. That was of course missing from John’s baptism, and it was why Peter could proclaim the gift of the Holy Spirit to go with it. (Acts 19:4-6) We get so many “wet sinners” in churches today because first of all, we fail to be clear on the matter of repentance, and second, we don’t stress the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who is the One who pours out His Spirit. If we were more clear in our thinking and our practice when it comes to baptism, I think churches would be far healthier, with far less “dead wood.”
As a pastor, this is of course of vital importance to me. Personally, I remember my own commitment to baptism at age 7 very clearly, though I don’t remember the baptism itself all that well. I think it was real and valid, but I was not mentored as I might have been, and I got pretty far from God in spiritual pride. When He brought me back, the experience was so dramatic that I asked for, and received, baptism a second time. I don’t think that hurt anything, but I don’t know that it changed anything either. It was over a year after that that I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As a pastor, I have baptized some people too soon, not confirming their repentance, but ultimately I have to take people at their word as to what has gone on internally, since it is between them and God. When ministering in Japan, one difficulty is that few people if any have any idea what baptism is all about. They tend to see it as a “rite of passage” into church membership, which it is, but the twin concepts that Peter presents of repentance and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ are often not really grasped. The longer I have been in ministry the more careful I have tried to be that they understand what repentance is all about, and that Jesus brooks no rivals when it comes to Lordship. There is a young man right now who may well be baptized before the end of the year, and this is where I am trying to be careful. I don’t want to place unnecessary barriers in anyone’s way of coming to Christ, but I have seen the shipwrecked lives that come from a lack of repentance, and I want to avoid that as much as possible.
Father, You know better than I do that I don’t have the wisdom to get this right on my own. I ask You to guide me step by step, so that each person may be grounded in Your Word and Your Spirit, pressing forward to keep growing in Christ, so that You may have a healthy Church indeed, accomplishing Your will and bringing Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!