I gather from Romans 10 (and by piecing together instances in Acts) that hearing the message, believing (and audibly confessing) Jesus as Lord, repenting of sins, and being baptized are necessary for salvation. But why do people have to confess their sins before being baptized? I realize it's not wrong, but why insist on it? I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament mandating this practice. In Matthew 3:6, people were confessing their sins, since this was a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4), but Paul differentiates the two baptisms at Acts 19:4. The sorcerers in Ephesus also confessed their sins (Acts 19:19), but they were already believers. I just want to make sure we're not adding a tradition of men to God's requirements for baptism. -- Moses Ramirez (Denton, Texas)

You make a good case. I myself see no passage in the New Testament requiring people to confess all their sins to another human being. James 5:16 is for those who are already believers. The passages on John's baptism establish the precedent of confession before baptism, yet they do not establish a command for us. And while I consistently try to get the men I am studying the scriptures with to "come clean," acknowledging their sins with some degree of specificity, this custom is more for their benefit--to create a spirit of openness and facilitate future help when needed--than for the sake of obedience to a biblical command.

Sometimes it is taught that repentance is defective if all sins are not confessed. I for one (speaking personally, not for others) have several problems with this teaching:
* As the years go by, we become aware of more and more sins in our lives. To some extent, sensitivity to sin is a function of spiritual maturity--as opposed to repentance. Some people, in fact, are "re-baptized" every few years, as their awareness of sin increases. As a good friend put it, "It is always easier to doubt your baptism than to trust in the grace of God."
* The lack of crystal-clear biblical teaching, such as we have in the case of the requirement of faith, repentance, and baptism, should make us wary of amplifying God's requirements--even though our intentions are good.
* We do not see this custom in practice in the book of Acts, which records how the early church understood apostolic teaching.
* Some people have been so deeply traumatized (sexual abuse, psychological torment, etc.) that they seem incapable of total "openness" until they have been disciples for a few years. It takes time to build trust, and deep, intimate secrets do not readily give themselves up to persons who are still relatively new acquaintances. This is not to say we must stop preaching the need to be open and honest, only that we must be careful not to require more of a penitent person than God himself requires.

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