Christianity 201

October 8, 2019

The Baptism of Repentance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

What is the difference between the baptism of John and that of Christ? The difference is quite important.

Israel used baptism for expiating a special transgression in relation to the so-called Levitical laws of purity but also to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of closer communion with God. They also used baptism in ritual cleansing ceremonies of Gentile proselytes. (Jewish Encyclopedia: Baptism, K. Kohler, S Krauss) The ritual would not have been foreign to the Jews of John’s day and depicted a thorough washing from sin.

John preached the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to prepare the way for the Lord. (Mk 1:4) In preparing for Christ, he made clear the need for repentance and offered baptism as a means of attaining closer communion with God through washing and holy living.

To baptize means “to whelm, i.e. cover wholly with a fluid”, and John’s baptism would have offered purification of the whole body through its whelming or immersion in water. It would have presented the repentant with an opportunity for cleansing and a closer walk with God through holy living. These, of course, are the teachings of the Lord. When Jesus sent out his disciples two by two, they were sent to preach repentance. (Mk 6:12)

John addressed some Pharisees and Sadducees who sought him out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Mt 3:7) And told them to ”produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:8) The quest of these Jewish leaders, according to Paul, was to escape “the coming wrath” so there must have been some recognition of their need and of his efficacy. The value of their baptism would have covered the sins of their repentance and would have directed them to Christ as their redeemer. Although John’s baptism was useful, it did not accomplish their full need because it addressed transgression of covenant law. Even so, his teaching aroused awareness of Christ and the justification that he offered through faith. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24) The purpose of the law was to convict the Jews of their sin and to lead them to repentance and to Christ. Justification following baptism would have been through the fruit of righteousness produced through their deeds. (Jas 2:24) John’s baptism offered a bridge in understanding between that of the rabbis and that of Christ. John prepared the way.

Jesus felt it necessary to be baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15) What did he mean? He had lived a life free of sin, so repentance was not in order. The answer comes in what followed his baptism. Heaven was opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and lighted on him. And God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Jesus, the Son of Man, came into possession of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is needed to sanctify—to enlighten, to lead and to empower for righteousness. Even Christ, the Son of Man, needed the Spirit’s power to carry out his public ministry and to sustain victory over the evil one and the flesh. “[God’s] Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” (Rom 1:3−4) Had he sinned he would not have been resurrected.

Repentance addresses past sin; a person cannot repent for things that have not happened. However, sin needs to be avoided throughout a person’s earthly life. More than forgiveness is needed. Paul summed up his ministry by testifying, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.(Acts 26:20) And to the Romans, he stated, “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) Victory must be gained through the Spirit’s life-giving ministry (Jn 6:63) accompanied by repentance for sin when it is known and has not been deliberately continued by defying the Spirit.

John taught his listeners, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11) To be baptized in the Holy Spirit means to be immersed or whelmed by the Spirit. He is to be in control and the very life of the confessor. He or she will also be baptized with fire. Christ said, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mk 9:49) Salt is a purifier and so is fire. Peter wrote of the griefs through all kinds of trials that may come so that faith may be proved genuine and of more worth than gold refined by fire. (1 Pet 1:6−7). And, Paul wrote that the quality of each man’s work will be tested by fire. (1 Cor 3:13) Fire is meant to burn up and destroy impurities, that which is not suitable for God’s kingdom. Each person will be baptized with fire at points in their earthly experience and at their judgment.

The forgiveness offered by John following repentance was enough to wash those baptized of their confessed sin; however, that offered by Christ provided the means of victory over sin’s practice as well, following a pardon. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) And it speaks of the refining that he provides to purify the body of its unrighteous interests. Those baptized are “raised” with Christ. (Col 2:12) “Raised” means ‘revived in resemblance’ to Christ and as long as they remain “in Christ” they will be refined and will keep that resemblance.

Baptism is still to be practiced. The Great Commission states, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Mt 28:18) Baptism is symbolic and visualizes death to the body and to its misdeeds of the one being baptized with the hope of resurrection that will follow. It is also a pledge to maintain a good conscience. (1 Pet 3:21).


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) and his writing appears here on alternate Tuesdays. Text citations above include italics added. 

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

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