EMAILED QUESTION: “What is the best way to handle a situation in which a person wants to be baptized but he/she lives with a boyfriend or girlfriend? We have a woman in our church that is in a situation like this and I want to know your thoughts on how to be graceful in handling it. Thanks.”
ANSWER: More and more churches are struggling with what to do about couples that come to accept Christ but are living together without marriage. Many are going ahead and baptizing them hoping they will come under conviction and change sometime later. Church leaders reason that people can’t change without the power of the Holy Spirit in them and since we don’t confront people about other sins prior to baptism why single out this one issue? “Give them an opportunity to grow in Christ”, they suggest.
I am of the opinion that it’s wiser to communicate upfront the need for repentance prior to baptism. Peter commanded his audience on the day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized”. (Acts 2:38) The Holy Spirit works prior to baptism to convict of sin and motivate a desire to change if we communicate the whole counsel of God.
It’s vital that the truth be communicated with grace and compassion. We can say, “We’re thrilled that you desire to commit your life to Christ. You are making the most important decision of your life and it’s the right and wise thing to do. I couldn’t be happier for you! The Scriptures, however, speak of a prerequisite to baptism and that is repentance – which means a turning from past sins. What do you think the Lord is asking of you regarding your present relationship?”
Admittedly, regardless of how gentle the question is asked, some get angry and defensive, insisting that it’s not anyone’s business. They may even march out and never return. That indicates they are not ready. Some people refused to follow Jesus because he communicated early the need for dramatic transformation. (See Mt. 19:21-22 and Jn. 6:60-66) Jesus didn’t chase after the rich young ruler and apologize for offending him. Sometimes these same people return later with a humble, submissive spirit and are grateful for a church that stands for Biblical values.
It’s been my experience that the vast majority of people immediately admit they are wrong and they know they should get married or leave their partner. They are submissive and willing to do anything the Lord asks of them and they appreciate any guidance that is given.
It’s true that we don’t confront most other sins in people’s lives when they express a desire to accept Christ but it’s because there are some sins that are more public than others. We can’t tell if people turn from their private sins but the world and the church both watch to see if people turn from those that are obvious.
If a known pedophile or abortionist expressed a desire to be baptized I think almost all church leaders would see the need to speak with them about the need for repentance. That takes courage but the Bible repeatedly urges Godly leaders to be strong and courageous. Otherwise the standards of the church gradually erode away and eventually the world sees little distinction.
That’s why I think it’s wise to ask cohabitating couples coming for baptism to either get married or begin living separately. That action not only gets them off to a right start in the Christian life, it gives them a positive testimony to the world and enhances the possibility of a right relationship between the two of them. Most importantly, it communicates to the rest of the church that being a part of the body of Christ is important. We are called out from the world and are commissioned to live distinctive lives.
Romans 12:2 challenges believers, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
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