Belief is a fundamental requirement to be pleasing to God. In Heb. 11:6 the scripture says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” During His earthly ministry Jesus said essentially the same thing. In Jn. 8:24 He told the Jews, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Everyone who claims to be a Christian today espouses this important truth and requires it of anyone who wishes to be right with God.
As it is practiced by many today, however, the expression of belief in God and belief in Jesus Christ is only an expression. An individual states that he or she believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and on the basis of this statement alone is deemed to be saved. That person might have to repeat some version of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” or some other formulaic statement to claim salvation, but the point is that his or her acceptance as a believer is solely upon the strength of an oral statement.
When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts, we find a very different presentation of the idea of a believer. The first thing we notice is that nowhere can we find any version of the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Neither do we find believers identified solely on the basis of an oral profession of faith. There is no question that people professed their faith in Jesus Christ, but according to the scriptures, true believers acted on their faith by obeying the gospel.
In Acts 8:12, 13 as Luke recorded the evangelistic work of Philip in the city of Samaria, he made this statement about what happened: “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.” Later, in Acts 11:21, Luke tells of the response of the Gentiles to the preaching of the gospel in Antioch. He says, “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” The same language is used about the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, in Acts 13:12. All of these believers were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to have their sins forgiven, just as the 3,000 were on Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41).
What this demonstrates is that true believers did not simply profess their faith in the Lord, but also obeyed the gospel as the apostles had commanded since the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection. To the believing Jews on Pentecost, Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In every other instance of conversion in the book of Acts baptism was required for salvation. This requirement was emphatically stated by Paul as he recounted his own conversion in Acts 22:16. The preacher Ananias told the penitent, believing Saul of Tarsus, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
In the New Testament true believers did more than simply profess faith in Christ. They obeyed the command to be baptized in His name in order to have their sins washed away. The Lord Himself stipulated this requirement in Mk. 16:16, where He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who disbelieves shall be condemned.” This statement illustrates the fact that in the scriptures belief and obedience go hand in hand. In Jn. 3:36 John the Baptist said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” One who truly believes will obey. The one who disobeys does not truly believe.
No one is called a believer in the New Testament who had not been baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. Those who wish to be true believers today must also obey this essential command.