I have a few questions concerning baptism and repentance. For baptism my 3 questions are: If someone has repented and has made the decision to be baptized and make Jesus Lord of their life and is on the way to their baptism, and tragically dies in a car accident, is there any way to know this person’s fate? Do they have a chance at biblically receiving God’s grace? Secondly about baptism, I know the word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo which mean to fully submerge and get wet underwater. If a person is baptized and is not fully submerged under the water, yet no one seems to notice this and let the person get up and leave the water, will this person be fine? I just wanted to add a thought about these two questions that I just asked, both of the questions I asked may not have a definitive yes or no answer but do you believe that the intention of a human being is what God will look at–their heart, and where their heart is at when they find themselves in these positions. What if for whatever reason there is no water to be baptized in, how can someone be saved? Is it the intention, or the heart of the person that God looks at? Finally, my last question is on repentance. I understand what repentance means (to turn to God, metanoia) but can one do this an unlimited number of times? Because God sees all sin as bad and if we repent and are baptized yet continue to make the same mistakes and continue to sin in the same ways, can we say we have repented?
Your questions are fairly common ones. In fact, I am sure that if you did a thorough search of my web site, you would find each of these answered already. However, that would require some searching, so I will give a new answer.
If someone were to die on the way to his or her baptism, I will let God decide what happens to that person. I am not the judge of anyone, but God is fully qualified to judge such a situation. This is a highly unlikely scenario, but I am sure that somewhere, sometime, this exact thing has happened. Let me put it this way, I am quite sure I know what the answer to this question is. From what I know about Jesus, the answer is really clear. However, I am going to purposefully not answer this question, because judgment on such issues are in God’s hands. I would be confident, but I will not given an answer in any case.
To be honest, I think that the second question falls pretty close to being a silly question. Is there any person who would actually propose that in an attempt at baptism the left toe remained out of the water, that person would go to hell? Is there any person alive who would actually propose this? I have seen people who had been baptized, but a hand or a foot did not go under, and the people doing the baptism decided to do a second baptism. OK. Sure. Why not. I get it, but to me this is really not a real question. It is obvious, but I still will let God answer such questions for himself.
You ask whether it is not the heart that matters, not the action. Well, I want to be careful against make such a statement. What about someone who chooses not to be baptized at all, but who has a supposedly good heart about it? I know that the Lord looks at the heart, and as a well-qualified judge, I assume that he will take one’s heart and intention into account, but I am not going to make a blanket statement that what matters in such a case is our heart, not our obedience. So, I will not say “it is the person’s heart that matters, not the action. What I will say on all such things that God is the judge and that is my final answer. In some cases (such as the first two you gave me), I believe that the answer to what God will decide in such a case is really rather obvious, but I always want to weigh in on the careful side. For this reason, I will not say “it is the heart that matters, not the action.” Instead, I will say that God has told us what to do, and it is our job to do that thing to the best of our ability, but that there are cases on which I will say, that is for God to judge, not for me to judge.
What if there is no water for a baptism? I have never heard of such a situation. Have you? I think that this is another of those cases for which I will let God decide. I am sure that God is in a perfectly good position to judge such a question. Again, I think that this is an EXTREMELY unlikely situation. I have never heard of a people who have no access to water. Such people would surely die of thirst. What if a person were on a space ship where it would literally be impossible to be immersed? But, again, I will give the same answer. That is for God to decide. It is our job to do our very best to obey him, and to look really hard to find water. If we literally cannot (a very doubtful situation), then I will just trust God’s wisdom to answer the question. I trust God’s mercy and love, but I also know that God expects us to obey. Again, I have an opinion, and I imagine you can guess my opinion, but I am going to refuse to express that opinion on general principle, which is that God is able to judge such questions, and I do not want to pretend to be able to judge for him.
Your last question is a good one. This is not an uncommon area of confusion. 2 Corinthians 7:10 talks about “repentance which leads to salvation.” In Acts 2:36-38, when Peter was asked what people must do in order to be saved, he said that they must repent and then be baptized. The assumption in this situation is that they already believed in Christ and had made him Lord. If we make Jesus Lord and repent of our sins, and are baptized, then we are forgiven of our sins and we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). This is the end of the story. Full stop. Sure, after one has become a Christian—has been forgiven of sins and received the Holy Spirit, there is still need in the daily live of a believer to repent of sins, but this is not the repentance that leads to salvation. This is a different sort of thing. But, if a person is saved, that person is saved. We do not go in and out of being saved. If we have been baptized into Christ, then his blood cleanses us from all sin. I am sure that I have repented of particular sins many dozens of times as an already-saved believer, but my salvation is not dependent on whether I do or do not repent of a particular sin after baptism. I simply need to continue to live faithfully to God and to make every effort to live in obedience to Him, but the blood of Jesus takes care when I fall short.
To summarize, there are two kinds of repentance in Christianity. There is the repentance that leads to salvation, which is a whole-life repentance. This is a one-time event. After salvation, repentance has a different meaning and even a different purpose. So, my answer is no. You cannot repent in the first sense an unlimited number of times. That is a one-time thing. But, yes, you can repent in the second sense many times, but this is not the repentance that determines salvation. You can and you will sin after salvation, but this does not undermine the initial repentance which led to salvation. We simply need to continue to live faithfully, which will include repentance of the second kind at times. I hope this makes sense.