One of the most brilliant components of God's plan is to give His human offspring freedom of choice. God the Father and Jesus Christ aren't going to force anyone to be in Their eternal family.
It is only when a human being—made in the image and likeness of God, imbued with the spirit in mankind and completely free to choose—comes to the stark realization that he or she is helpless, flawed, wrong and utterly incomplete without a deep, meaningful spiritual relationship with the Creator of all life that the path to real living begins.
There can be no more important decision in the life of a human being than to choose to be baptized into the Body of Christ. There are many critical questions we should ask ourselves before being baptized, such as: "How do I know when I am ready for baptism?" "What do I need to know before counseling for baptism?" "What do I have to do before counseling?" "What sins do I have to overcome before being baptized?" "How long should the process take?"
The answers to these questions will be somewhat different for every beautifully unique person, but there are some consistent principles we can mine from the rich veins of truth in the Bible.
Are You Ready to Counsel for Baptism?
Do you believe with your whole heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Do you believe with every fiber of your being that the Messiah—the Savior of humanity—divested Himself of glory, became a human embryo, lived a perfect life, was tortured to death for our sins, was resurrected by the Almighty God and now lives as a supremely glorious God sitting at the right hand of the Father?
Do you recognize that you have done things that are wrong in God's sight and feel sorry for it? Do you deeply desire to do better and be like Jesus?
Are you willing to commit to Christ's way of life? Are you ready to live your life for God and Christ?
If you can answer "YES!" to all these questions without the slightest hint of doubt in the back of your mind, then you are ready to counsel for baptism. These are not superficial questions. These are not questions that should be answered when you are on an emotional high. These questions take intellectual commitment after intensive soul-searching, prayer and fasting.
That is why we don't practice altar calls. It is also the reason children cannot be held responsible for answering these questions. Children can and do answer yes to these questions, but they have not lived long enough to understand the depth of commitment necessary to keep one's hand to the plow for a lifetime. God will not bind children to agreements they cannot completely understand.
Let's briefly refer to a few biblical examples. If you are interested, you will feel impelled to dig deeper on your own.
Acts 2: After the Holy Spirit was visibly showered on Jesus' disciples, Peter preached a powerful Pentecost sermon urging people to repent and be baptized. About 3,000 responded and were baptized that day.
Acts 8: Philip was instructed by an angel to meet the chariot of a highly successful Ethiopian government official whom he found reading the book of Isaiah. The Ethiopian, though powerful, was humble enough to ask Philip for help with understanding the scripture.
Philip preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and the official asked to be baptized. "Do you believe with all your heart?" asked Philip. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," replied the man. Philip baptized him right then and there in a river along the road.
Acts 16: Paul and Silas were whipped and then bound in a Philippi prison. Their midnight songs of praise were interrupted by a miraculous earthquake that freed the captives and opened the doors. The jailer raised his sword to kill himself, knowing that escaped prisoners meant a death sentence anyway.
Paul shouted for him to stop because the prisoners were all still there. The jailer, shaking from head to toe, fell at the Christians' feet and cried, "What must I do to be saved?" They tenderly replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Later that same night, now early morning, Paul and Silas preached the true Word to the jailer and his household, and they were all baptized.
What Common Conceptions Are Missing From These Biblical Histories?
There is no requirement that people become perfect, sin-free, totally righteous and holy before somehow measuring up for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our God is gracious, tenderhearted and only wants the best for His children.
The order of the Spring Holy Day season is telling. We do not put leavened bread (sin) out of our houses (lives) for seven days and then celebrate the Passover to commemorate the gift of being made righteous through Christ. It is the other way around. First we accept Christ's sacrifice and are forgiven. Then true love, fueled by the Spirit of God, drives us to redouble our efforts to become holy.
Without a doubt, the 3,000 people baptized on Pentecost (the birth of the Christian Church) were all, every one of them, sinners. It is no doubt that every Christian I know, including me, is still a sinner. However, it is only when people rise up out of the watery baptismal grave as a new, spiritual creation that the real, lifelong struggle to crucify innate humanness, with all its passions and desires, begins.
The only perfect Christian is Christ. We all continue to struggle. Why do you want to struggle on your own? Baptism is not the end of a Christian's walk; it is only the beginning.
Secondly, there is no requirement to become a biblical scholar before baptism. The Ethiopian struggled with Isaiah's writings. The jailer and his family could not have memorized whole passages in one night. You don't have to have complete understanding of the Bible and Church doctrines before counseling for baptism.
On the other hand, you are not excused to be lazy or less than diligent. Once made, you have one shot at this choice. All great decision makers become good friends with the facts and truth. So should you.
What Do All Baptized People Share in Common?
In spite of our varied and colorful uniqueness, there is one absolute common thread that binds all baptized human beings: All are called by God the Father. We praise God that eventually all humans who have ever been alive will be granted the call. For now, it is a matter of timing. Christ's apostles, the disciples, the 3,000, the Ethiopian, the jailer and his family and all who are Christ's in this age were first called by the Father.
How do you know if you are being called? Don't worry, you'll know. Likely if you've read this far, you are. If you feel "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37 Acts 2:37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do?
American King James Version×)—convicted, convinced that this is God's way and that He wants you to change to become like Him—you are.
It's up to you whether you answer. I plead with you to not let the answering machine take a message. This is one call you need to get now!
My heartfelt suggestion is that if you are old enough to make important decisions on your own and you can answer yes to the above questions, you need to immediately contact a minister to begin counseling for baptism. Don't wait another minute. Claim the free gift of the power of God's Holy Spirit to begin the steps toward your ultimate destiny today! UN
Steve McNeely attends the East Texas congregation.