By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Is an individual cleansed of all sins at the time of his baptism, or only the sins of which he is aware and has repented?
Reply: When a person repents and is baptized for the remission of his sins, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses him of all his sins. Forgiveness is complete. One who comes to God with a humble and sincere heart, repenting of all sins of which he is aware and is baptized for the remission of his sins, is assured of forgiveness. The people on the day on Pentecost were baptized for the remission of their sins (plural, Acts 2:38). We are not to believe that their sin of having put the Savior to death by the hands of the Romans was the only sin of which they were forgiven. Nor is it true today, that the only sin that one is to repent of when he is baptized, is the sin of not having obeyed the gospel. We are to repent of each and every sin of which we are aware when we are baptized. When we as Christians pray, we petition our Heavenly Father to forgive us of all of our sins (plural). Whatever God does, He does thoroughly. God completely removes sin when He forgives.
The question arises about one who has been in error on some particular point before he is baptized. An example would be the person who has taught premillennialism and does not yet know that it is a false doctrine, therefore has not repented of believing it or teaching it. Frequently people are baptized who have been in error on some matter of doctrine, and then later learn of their error and repent of it. No one fully understands everything when he becomes a Christian. Even at the time of Christ’s ascension, although the apostles had been taught and carefully trained at the feet of Jesus, they had a misconception of the kingdom. In fact, they had the premillennial concept of it. They, like the modern premillennialists were looking for an earthly kingdom. This is why they asked Jesus, “Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). We cannot believe that the multitude on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) understood all matters of teaching. As a matter of fact, no one before becoming a Christian, knows everything pertaining to the kingdom or the church. No one who is a Christian has a perfect knowledge of God’s word, much less can it be expected that one has it before he is baptized. Honesty demands of every child of God that he acknowledge that he has changed his belief or position on Scripture teaching. God accepts us as far as we have come in our belief and practice. The whole life of a Christian is a learning process. Accountable children know comparatively little before they are baptized. Like all of us, they continue to learn after they become Christians. We can only do what is right upon the basis of what we know.
Truth is absolute, but our understanding of it is relative. This is the reason that Peter admonished his readers: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). By the very fact that all of us have learned more by continuing to study and meditate upon the word of God after we became Christians is prima facie evidence that we were imperfect in our knowledge before we became Christians.
The attitude or disposition of the heart is most important, as we learn of God’s will. Is one willing to repent of his error when he is made aware of it, or will he persist in it? If he learns of his error, but persists in teaching or practicing it, there is no repentance upon his part. Let us observe that the apostle Peter who preached that great gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost was in error. He was not in error on what he preached that day. He preached the truth, and nothing but the truth. But Peter lacked some knowledge and understanding upon another matter. He believed that the gospel was only for the Jews, and that he could not even enter the house of a Gentile, because Gentiles were regarded as unclean. It took a miracle on the housetop to convince Peter of his error. When the Lord taught him the truth, he accepted it. Upon entering the house where Cornelius and those with him had gathered, he said to them, “. . . unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Apollos was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus knowing only the baptism of John. He thought that John’s baptism was still valid. Priscilla and Aquilla “expounded unto him the way of the Lord more accurately” (v. 26). Apollos had believed and taught error, but when he learned the truth, it is evident that he changed his position. The brethren encouraged him, writing to the brethren in Achaia to receive him. He became a great influence for good (vv. 27, 28).
Later, Peter was wrong again. At Antioch, he dissembled and Paul rebuked him. In his own words Paul related the incident, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but. when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:11, 12).
When any one of us learns that he has been in error, he should be willing to abandon that error and accept the truth. We could never grow intellectually or spiritually (2 Pet. 3:18) if we did not continually re-examine our earlier views and attitudes. When we find we are wrong, we should change. All of us as Christians should have a penitent attitude, continually asking God to forgive us of all of our sins. As we learn of any specific sin, which heretofore we were unaware of, it is our responsibility to immediately repent of it and ask God to forgive us. We are thankful for His grace, love and provisions of pardon whereby He makes forgiveness possible.
Some seem to think that they have a “pat” answer for all cases. But circumstances differ, making it impossible to consider every case alike. God is the judge – He is the one who actually decides upon these matters. He is very much interested in our motive and attitude. If we strive to do His will, we will repent of every sin (belief and teaching of error, and practice of error in fife, work and worship) of which we are aware. This means we will cease to commit those errors. To persist in sin when we learn of it, is another matter.
The Lord judges the heart, and may all of us keep our hearts right that we may ever learn the truth and live by it. We do not have all the answers but the principles set forth in this reply, we believe to be right. May they help to serve as guidelines in our efforts to please our Heavenly Father.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 8, pp. 229, 245
April 18, 1985