On one occasion when multitudes of people came out to Jesus in order that they might be baptized by him and He said to them: “Brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance … ” (Luke 3:7-8). One would think that Jesus would have been very pleased concerning the fact that multitudes of the people wanted to be baptized, but it was not so. Why didn’t Jesus see the arrival of the multitudes for baptism as something of great joy?
First, the reason was given by Jesus was because people wanted to be baptized without repenting of their sins. Quite simply stated; the multitudes were willing to be baptized, not because they believe in Jesus and had repented of their sins, but because it was simply a ritualistic thing to do. They were among the multitudes. Jesus never preached the message of good news without including repentance as a part of it, and in fact Jesus was already preaching it; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The multitudes were willing to be baptized without repenting as are many willing to go the broad way (Matthew 7:13-14). The multitudes needed to repent and not just change a set of beliefs, but they needed to completely change their thinking and lives. They were willing to go down into the water and be baptized, but they did not want to repent of their sins. The issue is the same when someone comes to the waters of baptism to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ today. The message of Christ says that before being baptized one has to repent of sins (Acts 2:38).
Second, the reason that repentance is essential before baptism is because repentance has to occupy the mind and heart or that is to say the decision to make some changes in life begins in the mind and the heart (Romans 6:17). However, repentance is not just a change of actions such as stopping a bad habit, but it is a change of actions for the sake of repentance based upon the desire to do the will of God from the heart. Paul wrote about true repentance; “For godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:9). Before one can repent biblically one has to have in the heart “the godly sorrow… “, and that will produce or give the visible fruit in the life. After truly repenting from the heart then one may be baptized (Acts 2:38).
Third, Jesus knew that a life without repentance is a life that is not being honest with God. The people came to be baptized, but only in a ritualistic manner and not actually to conform to the will of God from the heart. Just as it is essential to repent before baptism it is also vital to understand the purposes of biblical baptism. Baptism is for salvation (Mark 16:16), to receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), to be added to the church (Acts 2:47), and to be in Christ (Galatians 3:27). Repentance is not sinless perfection, but it is the decision to do the will of God and go forward striving to complete it.
by Wayne Brewer