When you study the Bible with someone who intentionally or unintentionally leaves some sin unconfessed, does that mean that the baptism is invalid? Some have told me it does, but the Bible doesn't say people confessed all their sins before being baptized. I thought the confession is that of Jesus as Lord. -- Wendy Notto (Fayetteville, North Carolina)

I believe you are right: the confession (or profession) is that "Jesus is Lord." John the Baptist had people confess sins before baptism, but the scriptures never say they confessed every sin (exhaustively, that is--and probably exhaustingly too!). Here are a few thoughts for your to consider:

Some of our sins will not be clear to us--or to those trying to help us--until we have been in the kingdom for some years. Perspectives change over time. This does not require us to receive "serial baptisms," getting dunked again every few years as the Spirit shows us more and more deeply our need for God.

Some matters--especially where various forms of abuse may be concerned--are too embarrassing that many Christians will not come out with them till years after baptism. Things like this take time. When hurt is so deep, and trust is so damaged, and familial dysfunction so endemic, it is not reasonable to expect everything to be processed in a period of only weeks or months--the timespan during which a future Christian studies the scriptures with his or her friend. At times, only professional counseling can get everything out. (No, I do not believe "competent to counsel" in Romans 15 means all of us disciples are qualified psychologists!)

Many people rely on 1 Peter 3:21 in the NIV to reinforce the doctrine that any nagging doubt or unconfessed sin invalidates a baptism. While I suppose this is possible, isn't the "good conscience" only available once one has been baptized? See the RSV and NAS and other translations. (The NIV is an evangelical translation, and most of its translators believed that one is saved--receiving the good conscience--before baptism.) So 1 Peter 3:21 has little to say about your question.

If we are not careful, we may end up putting our confidence in our own insight--having the right understanding during baptism--rather than in Jesus Christ. When I was baptized, I understood little. My Bible knowledge was extremely limited, and I had a number of misconceptions. I was not "fully" in touch with my sinful nature. (Am I now?) Our faith is to be in the Lord, not in our "correct understanding" of baptism. Having said all this, I think we will do ourselves and our friends a big favor if we are as thorough as we can be during the sin study, the repentance study, and counting the cost. Play your hunches, be open yourself and expect others to respond in kind.

Studying with others should never be rushed. People need time. This does not diminish the urgency of the mission; it only increases the necessity of true concern for others, manifested in patient instruction and much love.

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