(Photo: Dan Delzell)
Each one of us is a sinner. There is no getting around it. So what is the difference between a sinner who has been saved by God's grace, and a sinner who is still lost in his sins?
Well, one of the biggest differences is your attitude. Before your conversion and subsequent baptism, you ran toward sin. After conversion and baptism, you started running away from sin. You still sin, but you don't want to....and you try hard not to....and you definitely have a bad feeling in your heart anytime you are entertaining some sin which you plan to commit.
So imagine that "Alan the attender" has been coming to your church with his friend, "Sarah the seeker." They tell you they have both now accepted Christ as their Savior and both of them want to be baptized. You are not going to run through a checklist of sins with them. If they have been listening to the messages and reading God's Word, they are likely well aware of those things which are sinful in God's eyes.
So now Alan says, "You know....I really struggle with something. I work in construction and I have this bad habit of taking the Lord's name in vain when I am with my buddies. Can I be forgiven?"
"Of course you can Alan," you tell him. "You are sorry about it right? Have you talked to the Lord about it?" Alan responds, "Yes, I try to talk to him about it....but I have to be honest. I'm not sure I can stop doing it."
"I see," you tell him. "Well let me ask you this Alan. You know it's sin. It's even one of the 10 Commandments. Do you want to stop doing it with God's help, and are you willing to work hard to stop offending God in this way?"
"Do you want my honest answer?" Alan asks. "In all honesty, I don't plan to stop doing it. When I get mad, it just seems to come out of my mouth. Does that make me a bad person? I can still be baptized, right?"
Then Sarah jumps into the conversation. "You know....I can relate. I too have something I don't plan to give up. For years I have had a hatred in my heart for people of certain races. I can't seem to change it. And honestly, I don't plan to change it. There are just certain people that I will never be able to fully accept. So I know what you mean Alan. Can both of us still be baptized? We are being very honest about our faults."
What would you tell Alan and Sarah? Do you believe they are ready for baptism?
Think of it this way. Imagine a man telling his fiancee, "You know I love you honey. I know I often make fun of you in private and in public, but I am sorry. I will try hard not to do it in public anymore, but you know me....I will probably always do it in private. That's just who I am. I grew up in a home where my parents always put me down, and so I guess that is why I always try to tear you down. We all have our weaknesses, right?" Is that man ready to marry that woman? No, obviously not. That is not love, but only selfishness.
How do think the Lord views a person who plans to continue deliberately sinning against Him? The Psalmist answers this question for us. "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." (Psalm 66:18) That is how God responds when a person intends to keep doing those things which God forbids. He pays no attention to that kind of double-mindedness. You are telling God that you love your sin more than Him.
The word "repent" literally means "change of mind." Repentance involves a new attitude toward my sin. I no longer intend to keep doing it because I now want to please the Lord in everything I do. By God's grace, I now am committed to trying with all of my heart to stop doing it. There is no double-mindedness in that approach.
The man who plans to continue making fun of his wife is not ready for marriage....not by a long shot. Likewise, Alan and Sally are certainly not ready for baptism. They intend to continue sinning deliberately. That is not the attitude of a born again person, but rather, a person who is still lost in sin and running toward sin with premeditation and deliberate intent. God loves them, but they are obviously not ready to love Him in sincerity and truth.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) The person who comes to Christ through faith and is weary of sinning and burdened by his guilt....that person is ready for baptism. The person who plans to continue sinning is not ready to come to Jesus because man cannot come to God on man's terms, but only on God's terms.
If men and women are able to make smart decisions about who they decide to marry, do you honestly think that Almighty God makes foolish decisions about those He welcomes into His family? You are either ready to "keep it real" with God, or you're not.
If you are not at that point yet by God's grace, then you are not yet ready to publicly declare your faith in Christ through baptism. Don't give up. Don't lose heart. Just repent of your sin....and believe the good news....and then you'll be ready for baptism, church membership, and a life of Christian discipleship in God's family.