By Foy W. Vinson
I suppose that the subject of baptism is the most highly controverted of all the themes mentioned in the New Testament. Often discussions on this theme are attended with great passion or emotion and from the seemingly endless and fruitless arguments arising therefrom it would appear, at least to the casual observer, that a solution is unobtainable. And yet the teaching of the New Testament on baptism is so simple and clear that it is much more a matter of accepting rather than understanding what is taught. Since there has been such a smokescreen of confusion raised over baptism, and since there have been many false statements made concerning what baptism will do or not do, it seems in order to “search the scriptures” to ascertain the truth. In this article we consider some things baptism won’t do, and in a later article we will discuss what it will do. Now however, let us notice some things according to the New Testament which baptism will not do.
First, baptism will not change one’s heart. There are those who believe and others who are misrepresented as believing that the act of baptism within itself possesses some mystical power capable of effecting a complete change in one’s convictions, affections and purposes. This is commonly referred to as “baptisimal regeneration.” But the Bible teaches no such thing. The heart of man must change before baptism, not at it! The heart of man is composed of (1) his intellect, which believes, reasons and thinks; (2) his emotions, which love, trust and desire; and (3) his will, which intends, purposes and obeys. But before a person can be scripturally baptized his intellect must undergo a change from unbelief to belief; his emotions must change from indifference to love and trust; and his will must cease to be rebellious or insubordinate and become submissive. These changes are all accomplished by faith and repentance. That is why Christ made faith a prerequisite of baptism. (Mk. 16:16.)
This is the reason the inspired apostle on Pentecost required repentance prior to baptism. (Acts 2:38.) So baptism does not change one’s heart. This must precede baptism.
Second, baptism won’t remove temptation. One is playing right into Satan’s hands who thinks that because he’s been baptized there is no danger of temptation. Remember, baptism takes care of the past, but it does’s guarantee the future. In fact the New Testament makes it clear that Christians will be tempted. Paul wrote the following to the brethren at Corinth: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Cor. 10:12-13.) So Christians are tempted, though they are promised a way of escape. Furthermore, we find the following language addressed to baptized believers: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith–” (1 Pet. 5:8-9.) So baptism does not remove temptation.
Third, baptism will not guarantee a sinless life. This point is closely related to the former one. Since temptations occur even after one is baptized, it necessarily follows that the baptized are not immune to sin. In fact, the scriptures teach just the opposite. There was a false doctrine extant a few centuries after the establishment of the church to the effect that there was no forgiveness after baptism and hence many were discouraged from being baptized until the’ had reached an older age where they felt they could live sinlessly. If this doctrine were true, then all would be hopelessly doomed. The apostle John says to Christians, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 Jno. 1:8-10.) So baptism does not guarantee a sinless life.
Finally, baptism will not guarantee eternal life. Many professing Christians live as if they thought it did. If, however, we succumb to temptations and fall into sin after being baptized, and then fail to repent of such sins and confess them, but rather die in them, then we cannot go where our Lord is. (Acts 8:22-23; Jno. 8:21; 1 Jno. 1:9.) This is the reason Christians are warned to “let no man beguile you of your reward;” (Col. 2:18), and are told not to become “weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9); and finally are admonished to “be faithful unto death” that they might receive the “crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10.) Hence we need to realize the limitations of baptism. These are some things it won’t do, and to trust in baptism to this extent will mean your eternal ruin.
Truth Magazine VI: 7, pp. 21-22