By Frank Jamerson
Some contend that a person who has been baptized “because of remission of sins” has obeyed God, even though he did not understand the true purpose of baptism. They often ask, “Did you understand everything about baptism before you were baptized?” Their conclusion is that if you did not know everything about it, and yet obeyed God, then they could obey God without knowing the true purpose of it.
Before answering the basic error in this reasoning, let us ask some other questions. (1) Does a person have to understand the true action of baptism in order to obey God? Suppose one loves God and wants to obey Him, but has been taught that sprinkling is baptism. Is that acceptable? (2) Does a person have to be baptized for any purpose? Suppose he believes that baptism is not essential at all! If he does not have to do it for the right purpose, must he do it for some wrong purpose in order to please God? (3) Let’s go one step further. Suppose a person “loves God” and wants to obey him but does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Is there some reason that he must believe John 8:24, but does not have to believe Mark 16:16?
The basic thing wrong with the argument is that it does not distinguish between not knowing everything and obeying error. There is a vast difference between these two things. Must one know everything about the Divinity of Christ in order to believe in Him? If so, who can say that he truly believes in Jesus? The man who has been taught that Jesus was just a “good man, but not the Son of God,” has believed error. He has not believed in Christ! There is a difference between “perfect knowledge” of Christ and believing error about Him. The same is true of any other subject. One can obey the truth without knowing everything about it, but if he has been taught error, and obeys it, he has not obeyed truth.
In the apostolic age people were told the purpose of baptism before they were baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16). There is no record of anyone being told to be sprinkled, or to be baptized because of remission of sins. They did not have to know all the arguments about why immersion was necessary in order to be immersed. They may not have known all the reasons why baptism was essential for salvation, but they were “baptized for the remission of sins.” Yes, one can obey truth without knowing everything about it, but if he has been taught error, and he obeys that, he has not obeyed truth!
We may be able to see the point more clearly by comparing baptism and the Lord’s supper. If a person observes the Lord’s supper because he “loves God,” but he has been taught that water can be used instead of the fruit of the vine (as the Mormons do), has he obeyed God? What if he observes it, using the right elements, but does it for the wrong purpose? (See 1 Cor. 11:23-29!) One who substitutes water for the fruit of the vine is making the same mistake as the one who substitutes sprinkling for immersion. One who observes the Lord’s supper for the wrong purpose is like the one who is baptized for the wrong purpose. Neither is obedience to God.
In the Bible, what did men do who had been baptized for the wrong purpose? In Acts 19:1-7, we read of about twelve men who had been baptized with John’s baptism. When they learned that John’s baptism, which had been in effect at one time, was no longer in effect, they were “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” They did not say, I ‘Well, God knew that we were sincere, so He will credit the right purpose to what we did,” or “you did not know everything about baptism yourself, so the purpose of our baptism is not important. ” They changed, and obeyed the truth!
A person does not have to possess “perfect knowledge” to obey any truth, but there is a vast difference between that and obeying error. You cannot believe error and obey truth!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 12, pp. 355, 366
June 20, 1985