Faith, repentance and baptism are all indispensable elements in a special covenant relationship God wants to have with you.
[Gary Petty] Accepting God's forgiveness without a corresponding change in life is Christianity lived in the shadows. It is Christianity without God's power and, in all honesty, it is disrespectful to the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.
Many years ago I visited a man in prison who had committed a terrible crime. He told me he was hoping that they would actually give him the death penalty. I explained to him that God sent Jesus Christ to pay the eternal death penalty for our sins, and maybe it was actually God's will that he should live to tell people about God. I told him that through repentance, God gives people a second chance.
You ever carry a heavy burden because of mistakes you've made in the past, thinking that even God can't forgive you? Are you struggling with a divorce or an ongoing problem with alcohol or actions you've done that are so terrible you don't tell anybody? They just sort of haunt your memories. Maybe you've reached a stage in life where you wish, "I could start over again. I could be a new person."
Well you know, you can change jobs. You can change husbands. You can change schools. You can change locations. But in the end wherever you go the common denominator is still there because wherever you go, who's there? You. You're still there. Well here's the good news. God can and will wash away the guilt, pain and burdens of your past and help you become a new person no matter what you've done. But the question is what is it I must do to receive God's forgiveness and become a new person?
Now to answer that question we're going to explore three simple biblical teachings today. One is what it means to repent. Two is the importance of biblical baptism and God's power to actually transform you into a new person.
I recently received an email from someone who watches "Beyond Today" and he was struggling with forgiveness from God and how to have a closer relationship with God. And many of you may be asking the same question. I mean you believe in God, you believe in Jesus, but God seems to be very distant. And you want God's forgiveness, and you want to have a relationship with Him. But how do you experience that? Well today we're going to cover the questions that this man asked me, but in much more detail than I was able to send to him. And that brings us to our first point.
Our first point is God leads you to repentance. And I say God leads you to repentance. There is no cell phone strong enough for you to call God. There's no ladder big enough to get you to heaven to interact with God. We must seek Him, but God is the one who initiates a relationship with us. Understand it is God who initiates all relationships. It is God who reaches across the chasm between us and Him and draws us to Him. You can't go to God and draw Him to you. He has to draw us to Him. And when God touches your life something happens. It's not what you think at first.
You know what happens when God really touches your life? You begin to experience hopelessness because you're hopeless without Him and you begin to seek Him. When you begin to seek God He convicts you and leads you into what the Bible calls repentance. So what is repentance? Repentance as taught by the Bible, by Jesus Christ, is a lot more than what many people actually think it means because it's a lot more than just simply believing God. Repentance is heartfelt recognition of your wrongdoing along with a desire to be forgiven and changed. Let's read that again. Repentance is a heartfelt recognition of your wrongdoing along with the desire to be forgiven and changed. You want to be forgiven and you want to be changed.
You've heard me say this many times if you watch this program, all human beings are designed in the image of God but we've become very deformed images of God. Our human nature is corrupted by evil and the result is suffering and death. You see we've all broken the laws of God that define our relationship with Him and that defines, they define our relationship with other people. And before the law of God, before the judgment seat of God, and this is hard for us to accept, before the law of God every one of us is a criminal. Every one of us to the law of God has been declared guilty before the Creator and judge of all mankind. And you can never experience an intimate relationship with God until you accept your hopelessness without Him.
Now Christ died for each of us because each of us deserves that death penalty of the law. And that's set by the standards of a good and just and perfect God. And the truth is that you will never understand why God sent Jesus Christ to die for you until you understand the depths of who you are and your need for God. And then you'll begin to understand God's love and God's justice and how both of those things work together. If you want to be washed from your failures and wrongdoing and become a new person, if you want a second chance, "Because this life is I've messed it up. I really want another chance at this," you must first acknowledge your sins, that's everything you've ever done against God's ways, and be willing to give up the old person. You see God just doesn't want to forgive your sins.
This message, the gospel message is a whole lot bigger than that. He wants to free you from the slavery and ugly horrible results of your sins. And what this means, now listen to this, it is meaningless to ask God to forgive you of your sins and then decide to remain the same person because that's not repentance. It's only when we're willing to look into the ugliness of who we are before the righteous God and our corrupt human nature and acknowledge our condemnation before the law of God that we can truly respond to God's forgiveness. And then something amazing happens. You see, you can experience forgiveness and you can experience freedom from the past.
Now today we're discussing is baptism necessary to be a Christian. So why am I talking about repentance? Because repentance and baptism are elements of a special covenant relationship God wants to make with you. Now before we explore the importance of baptism I want to tell you about what we're giving away today. Now all of you here have our free study guide and this free study guide will help you understand repentance and the meaning of Christian baptism. I want you to turn to page number five. And for those of you who are watching the program, you need to read this if you want to understand what repentance is.
On page five the heading of this whole chapter is, "Repentance: Your First Step." This is your first step. It's not like, "Oh, I just need to be baptized." No you have to repent first. If you feel that God is calling you or if you wonder, "Was my past baptism or repentance even real? I mean was it authentic?" you need to get your free copy of ''The Road to Eternal Life.'' Now you can get your free study guide, ''The Road to Eternal Life,'' by calling the toll free number that's on your screen or going to beyondtoday.tv where you can download a copy or read it online or just order a copy to be sent directly to you.
We've seen that God initiates all relationships with Him and then we respond in faith and He leads us to repentance. And remember, repentance is heartfelt recognition of your wrongdoing along with the desire to be forgiven and changed. Now let's look at an important example given to us by Jesus Himself. In the New Testament John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan river and people came from miles around to confess their sins and go through this symbolic washing that symbolize God's forgiveness of their sins. And one day Jesus came to the Jordan. Of course John the Baptist knew who He was and he said, he couldn't believe it. I mean why are you here? In fact he even said to Him, "I need to be baptized by you. Why are you coming to me?" You can imagine how shocked he was. And he must have even been more amazed when Christ answered, "Permitted to be so now for it is fitting that we fulfill all righteousness." And John baptized Him, fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus had no sin. He had no need to undergo water baptism. He needed no symbolic washing. So why was He baptized? Jesus said that He was fulfilling all righteousness. Righteousness means to be right with God. He said, "This is what it means to be right with God."
You know the followers of Jesus in the Bible are called His disciples. Disciples are imitators of their teacher. That means Christian disciples imitate Christ's teachings, His way of living. They follow His example. And the early Christians, if you read your Bible, were famous for baptizing people. And they weren't just baptizing them because John the Baptist baptized people or that it was just a nice ritual. Jesus told them, He commanded His disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them." It's a command. Why would He make that a command?
And this brings us to our second point. To seek and receive God's forgiveness, you must go into water. You must be baptized. Earlier I mentioned a Beyond Today viewer who emailed us about, you know, this need for forgiveness and a deeper relationship with God. And I encouraged him to seek repentance and baptism. Now the moment I say that a person who is seeking God should desire baptism, someone's going to fire back to me an email and I'll get it, that, "Boy, on your program, you're trying to teach salvation by works." If you think that baptism is the attempt to earn salvation by works I want you to listen to what we're going to read here, okay? In Romans 4 Paul talks about how Abraham was justified by faith. He was brought into a right relationship with God by his faith. And he says, not by his works but by his faith.
So let's pick this up in verse 9. "For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised but while uncircumcised." So God allowed Abraham, brought Abraham into a relationship with Him before he was circumcised because he had faith. And so this is used to say see, we don't have to do anything but have faith. I want you to think about that a minute. Does faith mean, does Abraham's faith mean that when he was circumcised, because he did become circumcised that that was sort of unimportant? I mean why would he do it? Why would he? "I had faith," so why was he circumcised then?
The point is the circumcision didn't justify. It was because he believed God. So we read in Genesis that God called Abraham and Abraham believed what God told him. He believed in the promises. He left his country to go where God told him to go. Abraham had faith. He trusted God and God declared him righteous. He said, "Good, you can have a relationship with me." And there's no doubt that Abraham's right standing with God was because of his faith. Now later God said that he was going to make a covenant with Abraham. This is real important. An agreement initiated by the great God, the almighty God, with the lowly human being.
Well let's continue with what Paul says here and he's speaking of Abraham. ''Receive the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe." Think about the importance of what he just said here. He says he received the sign. Where'd the sign come from? From God. And the seal of righteousness. The seal. What that means is the outward sign of authenticity. The outward sign of his faith, that his faith was authentic, was he was circumcised. So that he becomes then the father of the faith. I mean let's just break this down.
Okay. We all agreed Abraham was justified by his faith but what if Abraham had said to God, "I believe you. Oh, I believe in your promises. I want this covenant with you but you know, I've thought about this painful thing, the seal of circumcision. It's not really necessary so I'm going to skip it." If Abraham would have said that do you think he'd be called the father of the faith? He was justified. He was in a right relationship with God so God's talking to him. God's interacting with him. And God said, "Now I want to make a covenant with you and I'm going to give you a sign and these are the terms of the covenant." Abraham did not initiate the covenant with God. He didn't initiate the covenant with God. God initiated the covenant with him and it is God who determined the terms of the covenant. And Abraham believed, and because he believed he did what? He fulfilled the terms, right? God set the terms. Abraham believed and fulfilled the terms.
Now I want to read something else that Paul wrote. This is in Colossians. Okay, we're going to stick with Paul here. And I'm going to read this from the New International Version. He says, "In Him," speaking about Jesus Christ and he's talking to Christians here so this was written to Christians and Colossi, it says, "In Him you were also circumcised in the putting off of the sinful nature." Okay so Christians actually go through a type of circumcision. "Not with a circumcision done by the hands of men, but with a circumcision done by Christ." Done by Christ. There is not, we don't go to a physical circumcision but a spiritual circumcision. What the Bible talks about is the circumcision of the heart and it's done by Christ. "Having being buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God." And I want to compare something here.
Abraham believed God and then God brought him into a right relationship, right? Abraham didn't create a right relation with God. He believed God and God created the relationship. Christians are in the right relationship with God because we believe, it says here, in the power of God. That's what Paul just said. God made a covenant with Abraham. God is making a covenant with those He calls to be Christians. The side of the covenant between Abraham and God was physical circumcision. Who made that up? Not Abraham. It was God. The side of the covenant between God and Christians is circumcision of the heart and it is illustrated, according to Paul, by burial with Jesus Christ. How? In baptism. So then let's ask this. Is it possible for a Christian to say to God, "I believe in you. I believe in Jesus Christ as your son. I accept His sacrifice for my sins. I want this new covenant with you. But you know this baptism thing, that's just a lot of work. I think I'll just skip that?"
See you and I don't initiate a new covenant with God any more than Abraham initiated his covenant with the Father, with God. God sets the terms with the covenant, not us. And when a person has faith in God and Jesus Christ, he or she wants to be a participant in the new covenant and fulfill the terms of the covenant. To refuse the sign of baptism means you do not believe or have faith in the covenant of God. If it's the side of the covenant, you refuse it, then you don't believe it, you don't have any faith in that covenant.
God through Jesus Christ wants to make an eternal covenant with you. And baptism is God washing away your sins. That's what it symbolizes. It also fulfills righteousness because it is the authentic sign of the new covenant. The old person is dying with Christ and a new person, being resurrected with Him. It's part of water baptism represents. So what does it mean to become a new person? Well let me mention our study guide again because I really encourage you, the viewers, to get your copy. Did you know the Bible talks about three types of baptism? Yeah. Water baptism, baptism of the Holy Spirit, baptism in the fire. You want to know what that is? We need to get “The Road To Eternal Life.” To help you understand, you can call the number on our screen or you can go to beyondtoday.tv and you can download a copy. You can read it right online if you want to.
So we've seen that a true believer in Jesus Christ wants more than forgiveness from God. He or she wants to follow Christ, imitate Him. And the new covenant contains the promise of circumcision of the heart made without hands, okay, and that means our third point, God begins to create a new person. Earlier we discussed John the Baptist. John told those who came to him, and this is very interesting because they come to him and John says to them, this is in the Matthew, "I indeed baptize you with water into repentance, but He who's coming after me is mightier than I whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." He's talking about Jesus Christ. He's talking about the Messiah. He knew he was preparing the way for the Messiah and he says, "When He comes, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Let's review the process we've talked about. God initiates a relationship with you and you respond in faith. He leads you to repentance and you respond in humble repentance. He forgives you which is symbolized by this water baptism which you do as an act of faith because He's making a covenant with you. And so, He washes away your sins. But what about the Holy Spirit? Because that's where we have the power to become a new person. You can't become a new person just because you've been forgiven of your sins.
Let me give you an example. We think of the Apostle Paul we think this is a great man of God, right? In the scriptures he's introduced as a man who was persecuting the followers of Jesus. And he has a vision from God. And in the presence of the resurrected Christ he is blinded. And if you read in Acts 9 he's blinded, he's in a house waiting for some answer from God. And God sends Ananias. And Ananias shows up and he says, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road has come to you and has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And he says he laid hands on him. He laid hands on him.
The next verse says that Paul suddenly could see and then it says he did something. It says he arose and he was baptized. We get two things going on here. He arose and he didn't say, "Oh, good. I don't even have to do any works now. I've been forgiven." He was baptized. He was entering into a covenant with God but his hands had been laid on him. So you see the common practice in the New Testament was that when a person underwent water baptism they also afterwards had hands laid on usually, not always afterwards, so that they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now did Paul do that? You know, it's very interesting. Years later, Paul goes to Ephesus and he comes across a group of people who have been baptized that had not received the Holy Spirit. And he sits down with him and he talks to him and he says, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were baptized?" And they said, "We don't know what that means. We don't know what that means."
He says okay. He said, "Who baptized?" They said, "Well, it was some disciples of John the Baptist." He says, "You must be baptized in the name of Jesus." And if you read what he did, he baptizes them again in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins. And then it says, "He lays hands upon them and they receive the Holy Spirit." They didn't receive the Holy Spirit at their first baptism. They were baptized in water but they did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Why is it that so few churches practice the laying on of hands as part of baptism? Because it's not very common. It is because there's so little understanding of the importance of baptism and laying on of hands as a faith response to the new covenant that God is initiating with someone. Paul said that through God's spirit we receive power, love, and a sound mind. Everybody, well maybe you're different than me, everybody, I need more spiritual power in my life. Do you? More love of God so that we can share with others. I need that. I need more sound mindedness in a world that's going insane, don't you? Where's that come from? It comes from the power of God's spirit and only through the power of God can you be changed into a child of God.
Now in today's booklet there's an interesting section in page 30. I'm not going to go there but it talks about how we are baptized into the body of Christ or into the church. If you have any questions, if you're watching this program and you have any questions about baptism please email us, contact us and we will get you in touch with a minister of the United Church of God because it's the United Church of God that sponsors this program. And we will find the nearest minister to you and we will get you in contact with that person. Let us know if you have questions about the laying on of hands. You say, "Well, I was baptized years ago, but no one laid hands on me." Let us know and we will have someone come talk to you and teach you about the laying on of hands and what the baptism of the Holy Spirit is. We have ministers that can help you with your questions. And we'd also want to remind you, be sure and order your free copy of "The Road to Eternal Life." Call the number on the screen or go to beyondtoday.tv.
What have we been able to look at about God's forgiveness? What have we looked at today? Well three things. God leads you to repentance. You must be baptized. God begins to create a new person. All of these require a faith response. Well in fact actually before even God leads you to repentance with a faith response, God contacts you. Bible calls it "being called." You can contact Him, He contacts you. And you say, "Oh, okay. I wish to come into a relationship with you." And He says, "Okay, come here." He then leads you to repentance then you respond. You must be baptized. That's a response. It's a faith response. And God begins then to create a new person.
You see the burdens can be lifted. The ugliness of the past washed away. It doesn't matter what you've done you can become a new person. Not by your power, not by my power, but by the power of the living God through the Holy Spirit. Accepting God's forgiveness without a corresponding change in life is Christianity lived in the shadows. It is Christianity without God's power and in all honesty it is disrespectful to the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. God wants to forgive you. He wants to wash away your sins. He wants to recreate you into a new person of love, power, and a sound mind. God is calling you to seek Him, to have faith in Him and become a new person. Now, what are you going to do?
[Narrator] Call now to receive the free booklet offered on today’s program, “The Road to Eternal Life.” How does someone make it into the Kingdom of God and receive eternal life? What makes a Christian a Christian? This Bible study aid will help you understand much more about salvation. It also reveals what the Bible teaches about repentance, conversion and the importance of baptism. Order now. Call toll free 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. Our free study aid “The Road to Eternal Life” will help you discover what Scripture teaches about the moral crisis in our world and more importantly, how you can steer clear of its affects in your life. This booklet will also help you overcome the magnetic pull of our surroundings, and help you grasp the truth about our amazing Creator. What He’s like, why He wants a relationship with you, and what He’s planned for all of mankind. When you order this free study aid, we’ll also send you a complimentary one-year subscription to Beyond Today magazine. Beyond Today magazine brings you understanding of today’s world and hope for the future! Six times a year, you’ll read about current world events in the light of Bible prophecy, as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family. Call today to receive your free booklet, “The Road to Eternal Life” and your free, one-year subscription to Beyond Today magazine. 1-888-886-8632 or go online to beyondtoday.tv.