The gospel was preached to four people who accepted the Word and wanted to be baptized.
- The first person confessed his drinking habit and asked to be baptized but will gradually stop the drinking later. Can he be baptized to become a Christian? Why or why not?
- The second person hides his sin with no intention to repent and was baptized. Can baptism wash away his sin so that he becomes a Christian? Why or why not? What if he confesses later?
- The third person asks to be baptized before going home to divorce his second wife, asking his girlfriend to leave his room, or asking her boyfriend to give her time to find a place to live. Can this person be baptized? Why or why not?
- The fourth person was baptized but later through Bible study confessed that he has been living in a particular sin before and after baptism because of ignorance. Can his sin be washed away because of ignorance? Or will the sin be forgiven after confession? Why or why not?
There is a natural order to conversion, as presented in the Scriptures.
- Hear: The message of the Gospel cannot save a person if he refuses to listen to the message. Without the message, a person does not know what is expected of him (Romans 10:14-17; II Thessalonians 2:10).
- Faith: The message heard does a person no good if he doesn't believe it (John 8:24; Romans 5:1-2).
- Call on His Name: Faith doesn't do anyone any good if it doesn't motivate a person to want to accept Jesus' authority over his life (Romans 10:12-13).
- Repentance: You can't claim to accept Christ's authority over your life if you don't change your life to conform to His will (Acts 3:19; II Corinthians 7:10-11).
- Confession: A claimed belief is not real if you aren't willing to admit that you have it (Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-10).
- Be Baptized: God selected a simple method by which we demonstrate and declare our acceptance of His offer of salvation -- immersion in water. It is a physical act that symbolically represents what salvation is all about (Romans 6:3-7; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21).
- Hope: If we didn't expect God to save us, why would we bother to do His Will? (Romans 8:24).
- Obedience: It would be meaningless to accept Christ's authority over our life if we refused to do what he commands of us (Hebrews 5:9; Luke 6:46).
- Works: Not man-created works, but doing the works of God. Obedience doesn't exist if no effort is put into doing what God commands of us (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:20-26).
Thus, when the Israelites asked Peter, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37), Peter's response was "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). The people had heard the message that Peter taught. They demonstrated belief in that message when they asked "What shall we do?" But they still were guilty of the crime Peter charged them with: the killing of the Son of God (Acts 2:36). Being baptized while thinking they hadn't done anything wrong in killing the Messiah would have saved them. Baptism is about leaving the man of sin behind. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:6-7). You cannot be freed from sin that you keep holding onto. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).
Therefore, wanting to be baptized but planning to repent of sin later is not repentance. Nor is wanting to be baptized while intending to continue to sin. Nor is it repentance to want to be baptized while planning to sin in the future. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin and a change in behavior. See: What Repentance Is Not and How do I know if I've truly repented? Repentance doesn't mean you will never commit the same sin again. Satan knows our weakness and will continue to try to exploit it (I John 1:8-2:1), but a repentant person will not tolerate remaining in that sin. He will do everything he can to leave it.
That just leaves the last case: a person who becomes a Christian while involved in a sin that he didn't realize was wrong at the time of his baptism. Here we don't expect people to be perfect or know the whole law when they become Christians. Growth is necessary. "Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (I Peter 2:1-3). Just as a Christian may get temporarily pulled into an old sin, but he leaves it because he has repented; the same attitude of repentance comes into play when a Christian learns that something he is doing is wrong -- he immediately leaves the sin because he wants nothing to do with it. The sin doesn't mean he wasn't saved. He had repented to the best of his ability and knowledge at that time. However, continued change is necessary as we grow in the Word of God.