Faith, Repentance, and Baptism

Naaman Gets Baptized

There once was a Syrian general named Naaman who got a skin disease. He ended up finding out about the Israelite prophet, Elisha—a man through whom God had performed many amazing signs.

Upon visiting the prophet, Naaman was disappointed. Instead of waving his hands over the general or saying some sort of magical incantation, Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan river seven times. Naaman almost didn’t do it—his own country had better rivers than the Jordan, after all. But his servant convinced him, and when he did, he was completely healed from his affliction. (You can read this story in 2 Kings 5.)

Baptism is Powerful—But it’s Not Magic

There is a lot of confusion about Christian baptism. Some people say that if any good thing gets connected to baptism, that implies a magical view of the baptismal water, or at least a magical view of the action.

But Naaman’s healing in the Jordan was not due to magical powers either in the dirty Jordan or in his actions. Rather, his healing was due to the fact that through Elisha, God had made a promise, and that promise would come into effect by way of this baptism in the Jordan.

Nor can it be said that Naaman’s healing was due to baptizing in the Jordan instead of by faith, or instead of by God’s promise. None of those things were in competition. God made the promise, and the response of faith was to submit to the way He had mandated that the promise would be realized. Neither faith nor promise are abstract things to be kept in the invisible mind; God brings them into the open in the way he himself chooses.

Where God Offers Forgiveness and a New Relationship to Himself

The New Testament says similar things regarding Christian baptism. Jesus commanded his own followers to make followers of all the nations, and this was to be done by baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as well as by further teaching (Matthew 28:18–20).

Jesus’ language there implies that by way of baptism a new relationship between God and the person being baptized will come into being. This again is not magic; it is simply due to the fact that just as God was faithful to act in accordance with his promise to Naaman by way of the Jordan baptism, so too he has made the promise to be joined to us in baptism. Rather than seeing baptism in competition with God’s promise or our faith, we rather should recognize that faith meets God where he tells us to meet him.

God demonstrated that Jesus really was the promised Messiah by pouring out the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. After proclaiming the rule and vindication of Jesus that day by confirming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and rule upon God’s throne, Peter was asked by his hearers—some of whom had clamoured for Jesus’ conviction and death by crucifixion—what they should do.

His answer? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In other words, turn from your sin and your rebellion against God’s Messiah, His King, and receive baptism. In that turning and by way of that baptism, you will find forgiveness and will become participants in this Holy Spirit whom God has now poured out upon His Church.

All of which sounds a lot like what Jesus himself said in the “great commission” of Matthew 28. Baptism brings one into a relationship of forgiveness and participation in the blessings of the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit.

Now What?

Perhaps you’ve become convinced that Jesus really is the way of true life; that he is the rightful King of all things, including your life. That’s exactly where Peter’s hearers were at on that day recorded in Acts 2. And so that question, “What should we do?” is your own question.

And the same answer Peter gave them is the answer today, as well. Turn from your sin and face Jesus, receiving baptism according to his instruction. And just as Naaman was healed in the plain old Jordan river because God was acting, so too when you are baptized you will be forgiven your sins and be brought into a new relationship to God the Father, to Jesus your King and rescuer, and to the Holy Spirit, your new life.

— Tim Gallant

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