Since the gospel was first preached, hearing was the first primary step of salvation. After all, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). However, one can read or hear the Word preached their whole life through, but until one fully understands what they have read or heard, what does it profit them?
Before Phillip taught the Ethiopian eunuch, the lack of understanding was a hindrance to his salvation. The eunuch could read the scripture, but he did not understand the content of what he was reading. To this end was Phillip sent to the eunuch. When Phillip explained that the man Isaiah was speaking of was Jesus Christ, his understanding was opened. Phillip then preached to him Jesus, that is, the gospel of Christ, and the eunuch was baptized subsequent to his confessed belief that Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 8:29-39).
The reason why the church is not to baptize little children or babies is that neither of them has a full understanding of the Word of God. A baby being baptized is like baptizing a faithless adult: one can’t believe, and the other refuses. The truth is, baptizing either one of these is pure futility, and only accomplishes in getting them wet. Before we are baptized, we must have a good understanding of why we go down into the water, and what to expect once we are raised to walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3,4).
Many are baptized much too quickly, and too suddenly, not being taught the full gospel. Way too often many are taught to believe and be baptized but are not taught to repent of their sins (Mk 16:16 f; Acts 2:38). Therefore, many so-called Christians today are still in their sins, because they have never departed from their sins. This occurs to many who are living in adultery, and once baptized continue in their adulterous marriage. Baptism can’t wash away our sins until we first repent of them (Lk 13:3).
Many think that ignorance of God’s Word is an excuse which God will pardon come the day of judgment. However, God made it clear that He no longer winks at ignorance, but demands repentance of us all (Acts 17:30). This is why God demands each one who becomes a Christian to study the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15). God wants us to increase and grow in the knowledge of the scriptures (Col 1:9,10 f; 2 Pet 3:18). Christians are to study and learn for multiple reasons: To be able to save ourselves; (Acts 2:40) To be able to save others; (1 Tim 4:16) To be able to defend and contend for the faith against false doctrine; (Philip 1:15-18f ; Jude 3) To be able to stand against the trickery of the devil; (Eph 6:11-17) And to endure temptation and suffering for the cause of Christ (1 Pet 2:21 ff; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 4:16).
We don’t learn the Word of God in one day, one week, one month, one year, and not all in one lifetime. We begin learning from the time we are baptized into Christ from a variety of sources. We can learn from Christian parents, seasoned elders, and mature brethren. We learn from a personal study, and we learn from those who are highly educated in the faith. We have to be careful of the sources we learn and to remember that not everyone is of the faith of Jesus Christ, and can lead us astray (1 Jn 4:1). To this end we must be like the Bereans and search the scriptures to be assured that what we are being taught is from God, and not from the opinions of mankind (Acts 17:11). Be careful what you hear, and be careful how you hear (Mk 12:24 f; Lk 8:18).
Understanding is often a forgotten step of salvation because it demands most of our time and energy. Understanding is a lifetime occupation and never ends as long as we are alive. It’s something we must do every day and night. (Ps 1:2). Phillip may have only asked the eunuch, but his question still resonates with us today. “Understand what you read”?