“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for out father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10, NASB).
This declaration was made by John the Baptist when the religious leaders came to be baptized by him. John warned them that they weren’t repenting and looking for a Savior as he was preaching. They didn’t think they needed saving and so they were just being baptized because it was the religious thing to do!
What they failed to realize was that when repentance accompanies baptism, there is redemption; otherwise it’s only religion; it’s self-righteousness!
But John saw through their religiosity and warned them about their self-righteousness. To be right with God, it wasn’t good enough just to be children of Abraham. God wanted them to repent of their self-righteousness and replace it with His righteousness. And without God’s righteousness, there’s no redemption!
But God’s righteousness can’t be acquired by birthright or by being religious; it can only be imputed by God. And God can only impute His righteousness when there is a penitent heart to receive it, when you acknowledge that you are wrong and God is right.
Baptism signifies a change of heart, a life transformation. The old life, the old ways, have been buried; a new life has been raised up. Baptism A transformation has taken place and the old way has died and the new way has come alive!
But baptism is only an outward act that attests that inward liberation has occurred; it is repentance that incites liberation of the soul! With repentance God can release you from the bondage of sin and give you new life, eternal life.
So, religious acts should only be the consequences of a changed heart that has received God’s righteousness. Because, without God’s righteousness, our religion becomes self-righteousness. And then our good works have no eternal value.