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Joe Johnson


Thanks for a very helpful (and well constructed) overview of baptism. As you might imagine, following the ol' Baptist tradition (though, quite imperfectly), I had a few questions. But rather than go through the point-by-point, I thought it most important to start at the beginning.

In Question #1 you asserted that the purpose of baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. I don't know that the text is as direct as you state it to be. The primary issue is that you selected only to speak on the "...and be baptized" of the imperative. It's very important that you don't divorce the second (passive) imperative from the primary (active): "repent."

This is again emphasized only a few verses later in v. 41. "So those who received the word were baptized...."

In other words, there are two things happening in this passage, and they appear sequential. The first indicative is to actively repent; following that repentance is the passive act of being baptized. These are linked in speaking of the forgiveness of sins. It's improper to divorce these elements, and their sequence (one of the arguments that baptists have against paedobaptism).

Still, I confess that I am just as uncomfortable with the traditional baptist perspective of mere symbolism and you do point out the complete lack of support for that aspect that we tend to emphasize - generally, to the exclusion of what Luke records here, and what Paul speaks elsewhere...

...and baptism as the new circumcision - well, that's for another time.



You may also want to read 1 Peter 3:20-21 where St. Peter writes that Baptism now saves us. Also, Titus 3:5-7 tells us what baptism does for us and to us.

Also consider this, when you read the various verses on what happens at the time of baptism, who is active and who is passive. Read the verbs. You may find that God and Christ are active and we are passive.

Joe Johnson


Of course I think that we are passive in baptism (and to a large extent, even in belief). It is God who does the work through the Word. He pours out His Spirit upon us. But that doesn't eliminate the continued commands telling us we are to believe. I can't explain that, because I tend to be more inline with Luther's teaching on the Will than most of my baptist brethren - only that the command to believe (even if we are dead and cannot believe on our own will or power) exists in the Scriptures. Whether or not we can do it (much like love), we are commanded to do so.

I didn’t intend to get to the efficacy of baptism as much as the sequence and that it is subsequent to repentance (faith) and impotent apart from faith. Of course we’d probably come down on a very different position on the utter efficacy, but my main point was just to point out a problem with the logic of your guide (which, I think is otherwise solid and challenging to those of us who have a lower opinion of the sacraments).

As for the 1 Peter passage, I don’t think this actually clarifies your position. The water in the Noah example is a type of baptism – a lesser symbol of the greater, true baptism. Is baptism described as the water in this passage? Peter actually makes it clear by saying, “not the removal of dirt from the body” – or not the act of ritual purification itself. Peter contrasts this with what is the true essence and efficacy of “baptism”: “but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” If anything, Peter almost redefines baptism away from water to the confession. If this is connected with baptism, in the sense of a ritual of water, it is only so in the inclusion of the “pledge” – or “answer” – perhaps like the most early baptism practices that followed catechism and a creedal profession.
Is it possible to say that the baptism – apart from confession or repentance – is the pledge? I think, only in so much as the ark apart from actually believing God to enter the ark is applicable. Besides, it was the ark, not the water that saved the eight.
(Note: the NASB actually helps clarify analogy here as it translates “antitupon” as “corresponding” rather than the NIV translation “symbolizes”.)

As for the Titus passage, the argument demands that I accept the “washing of rebirth” as the act of baptism exclusive to the confession that normally preceded (or joined) baptism. I don’t think the text or the greater New Testament demands this. It would seem to project something to the quality of baptism that is not otherwise defined. Titus is focused, almost exclusively, on knowledge and proper teaching – the proper knowledge and confession that saves (and rebuking false teaching and action). So also, when John speaks of rebirth and the water and the Spirit, he in no way elevates the water to the exclusion of the confession. Jesus, in John’s gospel, concludes his words with the statement to Nicodemus that belief in the Son of Man is essential. So also, it would be very difficult to attempt to read Titus suggesting that he would ever separate proper teaching from the act of baptism. At the very least, it’s inconclusive.

But going back to my main point: Do you really think it was proper to separate the imperative to repent from the imperative to be baptized? Why did you only concentrate on “Being baptized” for the forgiveness of sins and not the command to repent? Is it possible for baptism to be efficacious apart from repentance or confession by the one being baptized?

Chris Rosebrough


Thank you for your comments. I truly appreciate them.

I think you've touched on my motive behind the document. I wanted to challenge those who merely look at baptism as a symbol and their emphasis on what the believer is doing with no regard or mention for what God's word promises in baptism.

You make a interesting point about separating the imperatives of repentance and baptism in Acts 2:38.

In my study of scripture I’ve come to the conclusion that God is the one who grants faith and forgiveness of sins. When an imperative is spoken like “Repent and believe the gospel” it does not imply that the person hearing the imperative is capable of responding to the imperative.

I know that position seems illogical, however the best example of this is found in the book of Ezekiel 37 when the LORD commands the prophet to tell the dry bones to “hear the word of the LORD”. In the text the verb ‘hear’ (shama) is in the imperative. Truly those bones were dead and incapable of responding to any of the prophet’s imperatives including the imperative ‘hear’.

Preaching the gospel to an unbeliever is very much like telling dry bones to ‘hear’ the word of the LORD. Scripture makes it clear that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and at war with God and incapable of making a decision to repent and serve Him. Yet, we Christians are commanded to preach these imperatives of repent, believe, and be baptized. When we preach these imperatives God is the one who grants the sinner faith and belief just like He was the one who put flesh and breath back on and into the dry bones.

Your interpretation of Acts 2:38 looks at it linearly or sequentially. It is as if you are saying the passage should read ‘Repent for the forgiveness of your sins, THEN be baptized.’

However the text itself has a ‘split’ imperative. You could correctly translate the passage this way, “Repent for the forgiveness of your sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” The single eis clause (eis aphesin ton hamartion umon) of this sentence applies equally to both imperatives.

I emphasize the baptismal imperative because of the thesis of the paper. Even though I omitted discussion regarding the imperative of repentance, it does in no way take away from the fact that the text says that purpose for that baptism was the forgiveness of sins.

Joe Johnson


I understand your perspective. God gives commands that we can't hear (or follow) and demands us to follow. That is where Christ enters and makes the impossible possible.

I do think there is a sequence, though you're right in pointing out the "split imperative." Actually, that was part of my original point: that repentance is joined with baptism, and it is impossible to consider the efficacy of baptism (for the forgiveness of sins) apart from repentance – or the expression of faith.

Perhaps where I'd most disagree with you at this level is that the sign of repentance, even if faith is granted by God, must be as visible as the baptism. The repentance - or confession - is part of this and cannot be separated from baptism.

Unlike many of my Baptist brethren, I do not suppose that faith comes through a powerful argument, a rousing Crusade or even a heartfelt examination of the evidence. I am convinced - as my most recent post attests - to faith as the gift of God. We have as much to do with the reception of faith as we do with Jesus' providing us with salvation (in other words - nothing).

However, I just can't follow the proposition that repentance and confession is unnecessary in the efficacy, and yes, even sequence of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I think I’m supported by Scripture and history in this as the early and biblical practices followed a confession, even a basic statement, of faith. It sometimes took the form of a mere “I do” – at other times, it took the form of a lengthy, creedal affirmation.

Of course, this is an argument primarily against paedobaptism and probably not a strong representative of the Baptist argument against baptismal regeneration. I’m not sure that I’d be the person to give the latter.

You can tell I have a few days off – I never am this consistent in writing. Thanks again for your work.

Here are a couple questions on this thread – or perhaps for future posts. At some level, I think I understand components of the Lutheran position toward baptism, but I’m unsure. So a couple quick questions:
1. Back to earlier questions: is baptism efficacious even apart from an expression of faith by the one being baptized? (i.e. paedobaptism)
2. Is paedobaptism binding such that salvation cannot be lost by those baptized?

Larry - KY

If I may offer:

“Repent for the forgiveness of your sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” This may or may not be helpful. And I just offer this as food for thought, you may disagree with it, but its food for thought.

Part of the difference, if you will, is how one understands “repent”. If I could attempt to ‘spell out’ as a former baptist the way it is often understood versus the other way I’ll try. I’m not trying to be crass but language kind of has its limits so I apologize if in an attempt to clarify it better for ‘analysis’ it “sounds” that way.

Repentance by many, especially baptist, is understood this way, and I’ll limit it to the more “sovereign grace” non-free will baptist understanding if I can to save time :

God commands repentance (and faith) to “be saved”, but grace is free. Herein lies the struggle of understanding. The Gospel is free but you need faith and repentance. So, the solution and it is a solution from reason when all boiled down to make it all logical, is He gives “to the elect” what He requires. Thus, the Gospel is “free” in one sense but it actually costs as the conscience picks up on it this way. Thus, by reason the purchase money is faith and repentance. It is “seen” more as, “You can have the Gospel and assurance, it is for you and it is totally free, (enter the conscience contradiction according to some doctrines) IF you believe and repent so HERE is the money (repentance/faith) for the exchange”.

But that’s a wrong view of faith and repentance, for it sees faith and repentance as “active” rather than suffering or passive. It flips everything upside down.

Faith is by its very nature, if it is true, an utter trusting, it is passive, it suffers. This is why infants along with Lazarus MOST picture faith (…you must be like them (infants) or you can in NO WAY enter into the kingdom of God, Jesus said), all they, infants and the dead can do is RECEIVE the GIFT. God calls into being from nothing (infants/the dead).

Repentance is not that much different. We see in some of the key parables that Jesus explicitly speaks of as repentance as a “passive” thing, NOT proactive and not active action. The parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the very wrongly titled prodigal son all are about this. In the first two parables Jesus explicitly states that they picture repentance, but the coin and the sheep DO absolutely nothing but receive the benefit of the woman and shepherd (Jesus) finding them. Jesus calls this repentance. In the parable of the prodigal most miss the true repentance and say it is when the prodigal son “repents” as he assesses and sees his dire condition and plots to return to his father. This is false repentance and not true repentance, it’s works guised as repentance and robs God of His graciousness and glory of the Cross. It’s nothing but a “works” plot. The true repentance is when the father runs to his shame to meet his son, unbeknown to the son, IN ADVANCE of the sons plot, GIVES him a robe and a ring and calls for a celebration. Then and only then, does the son repent in passion/passively by saying, “I am unworthy to be your son” and NOTHING else is said. He does not unhatch his plot. And we should note well that the son does not try to over do it by working his way back to his father by issuing forth MORE false humility after this by saying, “Father, I cannot except this coat, ring or party you are giving me.” No, he accepts the gifts and does not insult him by being falsely pious about it. These parables picture TRUE biblical repentance and it is much like faith, that is passive and suffering. It passively suffers to receive what it DOES NOT deserve, given in ADVANCE of it. It receives it and eschews ALL works to “get into heaven” or purchase the Gospel. The Gospel comes first in Word and sacrament, it does not matter one wit that a man or child has faith or not to possess it. The parable of the sower shows that the Gospel is broadcast without discretion or caveat and baptism, visible Gospel, is not greater than the Word spoken but a part of it. God suffers His gifts to be rejected, He suffers to show His backside, and this is no where more pictured than the Cross. Thus, how much more baptism which is the Cross in the water.

Repentance is not the purchase money, given by God, given to then have the Gospel. It is not the gift to “get” the real gift. Repentance and faith are the after the fact secondary gifts of the first and foremost gift of the Gospel, that is to say the suffering Christ and Him crucified, naked to be rejected of men. They are an effect of the Gospel as an outcome of the Gospel both in Word and sacrament.

When it is said that “repent for the forgiveness of your sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” in essence means repent first “stop”, then be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, it misses the crucial and ENTIRE understanding of the Gospel for it to actually BE Gospel, namely the all crucial FOR YOU. Paul says in Romans 1:16 clearly that the Gospel is the power for life and no less than the very power of God, that is God’s power, authority and influence. What does this mean? Well, it all hinges on the “Gospel” or “good news” to which God has assigned power and authority, and at that Jesus Christ Himself and Him crucified Who is that power and life. The goodness of the GOOD news is what gives life and has power and authority to live eternally. Wherein does this lay? In the Gospel proclamation of Christ and Him crucified FOR YOU. The Gospel is in the FOR YOU by the work of Christ in His life FOR YOU, His death FOR YOU, His resurrection FOR YOU, and His ascension FOR YOU. In short His dying FOR YOUR sins and His life of righteousness FOR YOU - everything that Jesus did, He did FOR YOU. Therein lay the Good News, in the “for you”, and this is unto eternal life and indeed is the very power of God for that eternal life. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to hear the FOR YOU of what Christ did and THIS is the testimony of the Spirit TO YOU, “that we ARE sons of God”. The Spirit’s testimony, if it is really the Holy Spirit and not a false lying spirit is in the TO/FOR YOU of what Christ did, “The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are sons of God”. The FOR YOU is the crucial element and this FOR YOU gives the faith and the repentance. This point needs to be belabored and over taught to the point of utter redundancy for herein is where the Gospel is MOST obscured within the church broadly speaking today. This is why assurance of salvation is lost, rebaptisms occur and ten thousand forms of seeking assurance. Therein, the “FOR YOU” Christ is crucified is the power of life. Paul explicitly says the Gospel is the power and there it is. Behind this, the negative aspect, is “nothing you do”, indeed in spite of “what you do”, even more “to the contrary of what you do” and ultimately “before you even have faith”, while you were YET enemies of God, Christ died for the ungodly (here is where repentance primarily operates). It is utterly objective and outside of you. The “For You” is against all and every thing “I/we do” – this is the difference between merit and grace, law and Gospel, true Christ and false christs, true Spirit and lying spirits, the true faith and false faiths, all other religions and Christianity.

Now, how is this applied to the sacraments? Does the ink in a pen or the pen itself have power unto eternal life? No. What about the electrons used to form the very text we read at this moment? No again. What about this, “Christ was crucified FOR YOU”? Did that sentence using electrons suddenly have power? Yes, it is Gospel proclamation. The MESSAGE is the miracle not the fact that I typed it out nor the fact that someone read it. It has power and is where the Holy Spirit has promised to be, in message proclaimed by means. What about water? Water is just water unless the Word of Gospel are added to it just as much as; ink is just ink, electrons are just electrons and a human voice is just a sound generator of agitating air molecules by compressing and decompressing them in various modulated ways to produce purposed sound out of chaos. The Gospel uses elements/mediums to communicate this, to proclaim it. When they are formed into the Gospel, visible Gospel, they become power unto life, the means used – in fact here is where the Holy Spirit works like brooding over the creation to operate and work as He pleases. He gives eyes and ears to hear the message proclaimed, but the message CANNOT be altered, nor is the message withheld UNTIL faith exists. Thus, when words formed by ink, electrons or voice proclaim, “Christ crucified FOR YOU”, it is the very power of God, it is uncommon use not common use, sacred use not secular use, it is holy use not profane use of the elements as means. Because the message is real, true and FOR YOU for God cannot lie.

Thus, when water is picked up by the hand of the pastor in order to baptize into the name of God it is taken up unto holy use and is no longer mere water “that a cow drinks” (as Luther says), in which a bird baths or in which a fish swims, but truly holy water for holy use – the writing of God’s name. It is like when Jesus made mud of dirt with His spittle and opened the eyes of the blind man. Normally it was just dirt, but picked up immediately by God it is a holy instrument now and it heals. The blindness being healed pointed to the eyes of faith being opened unto Christ crucified FOR YOU (all the miracles point this way and not unto themselves or signify anything else but Jesus crucified for you). So, the efficacy of the sacraments lay not within themselves or the work being done its self, rather within the visible Gospel proclamation given and attached to them formed into the message. Primarily and most explicitly in the name of “Jesus” into whom one is baptized, the name written upon you, your body, in the waters of baptism, Whose name specifically means, “He will save them from their sins”. It has nothing to do with the faith of the recipient other than it creates, sustains and strengthens that very faith. It has nothing to do with who is doing it but again its power lay within the Gospel alone. It has nothing to do with “how much or if one can intellectually understand it, in fact it is in spite of this”…it is purely within the Gospel and the name of God, otherwise it remains as utterly vain and profane elements and nothing more than water, bread and wine. It has power by the Gospel and it particularly goes “onto you” and thus captures and sets forth the crucial “FOR YOU” that IS the GOOD NEWS. If it, baptism, rests on faith, then it looses everything. If it happens before or after faith it is irrelevant for its power lay in the Gospel it COMMUNICATES and not the faith the Gospel it itself creates. One cannot “get the cart (faith) before the horse (the means of grace/Gospel), one cannot see (faith) before the sight to behold (Christ crucified) pre-exists this seeing, Word or Sacrament. Which is greater, Gospel or faith? Obviously, Gospel for Gospel has the power of life and is the power of God (Rom. 1:16) calling into being faith itself, that is utter trust in Christ alone. Thus, baptism is holy because it is Gospel and not faith. If baptism lay in the work done (Rome) or be based upon the faith of the one receiving it (believers only), it is ultimately nothing and not just lesser but infinitely lesser. The item on display is not “the faith” of one, but Christ and Him crucified FOR YOU. There is absolutely no power or life in another’s faith unto you, another’s faith is nothing FOR YOU. If I believe, so what is that TO YOU? There is no gift or giving TO YOU. But Christ crucified FOR YOU, IS the power of God. If Christ is crucified for you, then it is eternal life. The difference is between eternal life and nothing on display and being given.

Ink is just ink, even more just color yielding elements due to molecular energy levels reflecting back at us certain light frequencies (the specific color of light), primarily metal molecules, in a liquid medium of some kind. The medium is that which is the means of transfer and communication of the color for the purpose of communicating something (e.g. writing in ink). If just sitting around, a colored fluid is nothing but a part of the creation just like raw iron ore. But if Bill Gates takes a quill feather and dips it in the colored liquid and signs his authorizing name to a check that authorizes one billion dollars be paid specifically to Mr. me/you, then that other wise element of creation, that we could have cared less about ten minutes ago, becomes used for something that he is both able to and willing to authorize. And thus becomes, on an earthly level, a form of life or earthly good news to you (money in the world does afford things of life, albeit in the fallen world finite and will fade away). The feather, it too another element of creation otherwise for something else, becomes a pen and an instrument in the authors hand and the ink becomes the medium for sealing and inscription (hence the link of physical baptism with the Holy Spirit promised, the Seal for us). On the grander infinite scale, a pastor, deacon, elder or even laymen in necessary circumstances (because who is not so important here, contra-Rome) who picks up water and baptized anyone in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit unto Christ crucified for them is in reality nothing more than a quill feather pen in the hands of God being dipped into water (the ink), and the name of God is then written upon the forehead or body of the one baptized, adult or child. This is saying, “God’s”, God’s name and all that is IN that name for you is now yours. The authority for this comes from many places but most explicitly in the Great Commission to give the Gospel, and in other areas such as Acts 2 in which children are explicitly mentioned in the context of Holy baptism, the giving of God’s name. When God writes His name on the forehead/body, and in particular the name of “Jesus” which means “He will save them from their sins”, this is both the name of God and the Gospel. The fact that it is specifically written upon a particular person, I am baptized as opposed to another, gives the final FOR YOU crucial to it being Gospel. To push the point home, this “FOR YOU” (the application particularly and specifically to/on you) is in turn the very very essence of the Gospel and thus as Paul says in Romans 1:16 is the POWER unto life, the POWER of God. This is contra Rome and all non-sacramental views.

It is even MORE clearly and explicitly seen in the sacrament of Lord’s Supper to which Jesus immediately and explicitly states, “This (bread) is MY body broken FOR YOU…this is My blood in the New Covenant…for the forgiveness of YOUR SINS”. Bread is just bread and wine is just wine, elements of creation otherwise, but the “this is my body/blood FOR YOU”, what Jesus did FOR YOU, makes it Gospel, and the “TOO YOU/FOR YOU”, you specifically and particularly do “eat and drink it”, is again the very very essence of the Gospel and once again is as Paul explicitly says in Romans 1:16 is the POWER unto life and of God. This, again, even more explicitly, over throws ANY thing taught to the contrary. Nothing more explicitly overthrows the delusional slight of hand of the devil in Rome’s view and non-sacramental views. It should be noted that though Rome uses the term “sacramental”, she is not sacramental for she has redefined the term so as to be in utter error by making it the work of man.

Another thing to remember: In baptism, the signature is still there visible in the eyes of God as a witness well after we are baptized as adults or babies, and though it is not visible to our eyes beyond that first time, it is retained by faith alone. God’s elements (creation) which He creates will openly bear witness in the end when He calls them forth from time and space to do so. We see this in the OT when rocks for example were piled up as a witness. They may not be there today as they were set forth some 1000s of years ago, but on the day of judgment God will call them forward as witnesses to a trial as witnesses. It is like a “I call to the stand this tree, those rocks, that baptism…etc…” Time and space are not a hindrance to the Creator of the same. In essence even a rock and water, bread and wine can be called forward to testify in the Court of God – and they cannot lie. Recall “Abel’s blood crying out from the very ground to God”. For the heathen even the very air they breath and ground upon which they stand will be a witness against them.

The efficacy of the sacraments, is easily proven by Scripture because their power lay in the Gospel which particularly communicates the “FOR YOU” of Christ crucified. The “FOR YOU” is the very very essence of the Gospel.

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