It was Sunday afternoon. The phone rang. The voice on the line was that of a man who had been a member of this church in times past. He now lives in another city, but had returned to Little Rock for a visit.
“I want to talk to you about my baptism,” he said. (I assumed that through the years he had learned more about baptism and thus was beginning to question whether his knowledge had been sufficient at the time he was immersed into Christ). “I suppose you are questioning your baptism because you now know more about the subject than you did when you were baptized?”
“‘No. I’m questioning my repentance. For some time now, I have been making a study of the kingdom of God, and I see that repentance is always linked to entering the kingdom. I don’t think I ever repented. When I was baptized, I didn’t change my life. I kept on doing all of the things I had done before.”
I wonder how many people think that there is something magical in baptism. In truth, baptism— done by rote—is meaningless. Repentance and baptism go together like love and marriage, or a horse and carriage. One without the other isn’t sufficient.
It is the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Peter is addressing those who have crucified the Lord and Christ. What will he tell them? In answer to their cry, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you … ” (Acts 2:38). Repentance and baptism! They go together and must not be separated.
John the Baptist knew that mere washing without repentance would avail nothing. In fact, he even refused baptism to a group of religious leaders who requested it (a rather bold thing for any preacher to do). Instead of baptizing them, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance… ” (Matthew 3:7, 8).
What is baptism but a mere washing away of the filth of the flesh unless it is accompanied by repentance? I will tell you. It is nothing.
– John Gipson via Preacher Stuff, Harding University