Are Sins Forgiven Before Baptism?

Jesus said to His apostles, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  He also said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

A short time later, the apostle Peter preached the gospel in Jerusalem on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost.  After convicting some of his listeners that Jesus is the Christ, they asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37).  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).  He then exhorted his listeners to be saved, and those who heeded his words were baptized (Acts 2:40-41).

It has been increasingly popular in evangelical circles to say that one is saved by simply “asking Jesus into your heart.”  It’s said that if one sincerely prays to Jesus and asks Him to be their Lord while confessing their faith in Him, they are automatically saved.  When my wife and I visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky, we were given a card which had a prayer to Jesus printed as a poem that rhymed on the back.  The front of the card said to pray that printed prayer from the heart and you would be automatically saved.  Every single tract published by Protestant or evangelical churches which I’ve read in my adult life has given similar direction.

Baptism was never mentioned as something one must have done in order to be saved.

Think about that while reading the above passages from Matthew, Mark and Acts again.  Jesus specifically correlated baptism with making disciples (Matthew 28:19).  He specifically said that those who “believe and are baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  When asked the specific question, “What shall we do?”, Peter did not tell his listeners on Pentecost to pray to Jesus and ask Him into their hearts.  He told them, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), before stating that this promise is not only for them and their children but also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).

Some believe sins are forgiven before baptism.  It is claimed that “for forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38) means “because your sins have been forgiven” rather than “in order for your sins to be forgiven.”  Sometimes the Greek word translated “for” in this verse means “because of.”  However, in most cases the term means “in order to.”  To figure out its proper meaning in Acts 2:38, consider this.  Jesus’ thoughts about the cup when He instituted the Lord’s Supper shed light on this conundrum (Matthew 26:28).  He said about the fruit of the vine, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for forgiveness of sins.”  The same Greek words are used in Acts 2:38.  Jesus said this several hours before He died on the cross to provide forgiveness for all our sins.  So did He intend His phrase “for forgiveness of sins” to mean that His blood had ALREADY provided that forgiveness before His death?  Obviously not.  He meant that His blood would be shed IN ORDER TO provide forgiveness of sins.  Since Acts 2:38 contains the same identical phrase, we know Peter told his listeners they needed to repent and be baptized IN ORDER TO have their sins forgiven.               

Do you believe the Bible?  Have you repented and have you been baptized in order to be saved and forgiven?  I’d love to talk more with you about this.  Let me know if you’re interested in the comments.

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