The Lord teaches with great clarity what a person must do to receive the benefits of His grace. Repeatedly, the New Testament makes clear that belief in essential for being made right (Rom. 10:10a), to come to God (Heb. 11:6), and to be saved (Ac. 16:31). Yet, faith or belief is not possible without the Word first being taught (Rom. 10:13-14, 17). One must be accurately taught, and an honest heart will be open to God’s conditions. We cannot begrudge God for setting conditions for us to receive what all of us needs but what none of us deserves nor what any of us can earn.
The New Testament reveals conditions other than faith. The Bible ties repentance to forgiveness of sins (Ac. 2:38; 5:31), life (Ac. 11:18), faith (Ac. 20:21), salvation (2 Cor. 7:10), and not perishing (2 Pe. 3:9). These are all inescapably essential. Further, Scripture shows a connection between confessing faith with Christ and salvation (Rom. 10:10). The Ethiopian eunuch gives us an example of this (Ac. 8:37). Added to these conditions is one other, clearly revealed condition strangely disputed by much of Christendom. Baptism is inseparably tied to the following: forgiveness of sins (Ac. 2:38), sins being washed away (Ac. 22:16), being in Christ (Gal. 3:27), being in the “one body” (1 Cor. 12:13), the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4), and salvation (1 Pe. 3:21).
Despite the unfathomable controversy in the religious world over the role of baptism in salvation, it is not, in my estimation, the hardest “step” in God’s saving plan. While getting people to hear is hard, getting them to believer is harder, and getting them to submit to baptism is harder still, could anything be more difficult than repentance? Repentance literally means to “change one’s mind” and “feel remorse, be converted” (BDAG, 640). Friberg and Miller add that its strict meaning is to “perceive afterward, with the implication of being too late to avoid consequences” with “a religious and ethical change in the way one thinks about acts” (260).
What a wrestling match! It’s difficult to change our minds, which implies admission of wrong. When we see only too late that we are sinners lost in sin, to both feel sorrow and resolve to make it right requires exceptional humility and tenderheartedness. To change our ways, to turn away from sin and to God, is exceptionally difficult. Repentance is involved in receiving salvation, but it is necessary for one after receiving it. It is a lifelong process, requiring honesty, self-examination, self-denial, and sacrifice. Yet, however difficult it is, in view of what God is offering it is worth the strain and effort! How true are E.M. Bartlett’s words: “Just a little while to stay here, just a little while to wait, just a little while to labor in the path that’s always straight. Just a little more of trouble in this low and sinful state, then we’ll enter Heaven’s portals, sweeping through the pearly gates.”