Baptism is the first step of repentance.
But why? If baptism is simply getting wet, then what connection does it have at all to repentance?
The explanation is found in the symbolic meaning of baptism. Baptism is much more than merely getting wet. Consider how the apostle Paul describes it and see if you notice anything that you’ve heard before:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4
Walk in newness of life? Isn’t that the same idea as repentance? Yet here, Paul explains the concept: baptism is associated with repentance and forgiveness because baptism is an enactment of the death and resurrection of Jesus! Hence, when you are baptized, you are meant to go completely down under the water––symbolizing that you have died––and then to come back up out of it––symbolizing that you have been resurrected. After baptism, God sees you as a new person, just as Christ was a new person after his resurrection.
This also explains why baptism is the first step in repentance and not a continual one. We don’t need to be baptized every time we sin. Baptism brings us into the death and resurrection of Christ. After that, once we are in his death and life, we don’t have to enter into it again. Instead, when we sin again after baptism, we simply follow the rest of repentance: walking in newness of life. We recognize that we have sinned, and we turn from that sin.
At the same time, there is an important detail to note about baptism. Indeed, it is dying and rising again with Christ, but it is also something else. Note what took place when John the Baptist baptized people:
“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Matthew 3:5-6
Thus, baptism is also a confession of our sins! That’s not to say that we must confess all of our sins publicly when we are baptized, but rather that baptism itself is a confession of our sinfulness. This connection between baptism and confession is essential, because while we are not baptized each time we sin, we can confess our sins, and after that confession, receive the Father's merciful forgiveness and attempt to walk in newness of life.
This isn’t to say that we have to confess to a priest — Scripture doesn’t give an example of that. Instead, Scripture gives examples of confessing to God in prayer (Nehemiah 1:6; Daniel 9:4) and confessing to one another (James 5:16). This confession is integral to forgiveness and repentance — how can one repent of something they haven’t acknowledged to be sin? Thus the apostle John writes:
,em>“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.” 1 John 1:8-9
And so Scripture gives a number of steps involved in repentance:
Through our repentance, God is willing to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But what exactly does that mean? And what is entailed in forgiveness? Lord willing, that is what we will consider in the next post.
— Jason Hensley