Taking the spiritual plunge
Baptism. To the uninitiated non-believer it’s just a dunk in the paddling pool, right? As Christians we know what baptism is, but there are differing opinions as to its purpose and significance.
Let’s dispel some myths then. Some think baptism is a step up the ladder to heaven, another gold star in God’s good books if you will. They would argue baptism is essential for salvation. The Bible though is clear that we cannot earn God’s favour – rather we place our trust in Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death for our redemption and conquered death by rising to new life on the third day. In case we are still in the dark, Jesus uttered ‘It is finished’. We cannot add to his work at the cross through our good works or rely on them to save us.
So wait, does that make baptism pointless? No! Just as Paul is emphatic that God’s saving grace does not promote a continuation of our ‘old’, sinful lives, he is equally explicit on the importance of baptism.
In Colossians he explains it like this: when we turn to Christ, we are spiritually circumcised, a sign we belong to God, set apart. We are buried with Christ, die to our old life and are raised with him (Romans 6?). Our being plunged beneath the water and coming up anew can be seen as symbolic of this.
Even though baptism is regarded as a sacrament or rite, as such, sometimes it is seen to confer grace or offer some kind of mysterious communion with the divine. When people say ‘Jesus didn’t need to be baptised’ it suggests that perhaps its purpose is imbue us with some added holiness that he never required.
Which leads me nicely on to a second myth: that baptism by immersion in itself somehow transforms us. Baptism by water is simply a picture of what happens to a believer at salvation, it’s baptism by the Spirit which is transformative. As a sacrament baptism is in itself ‘ordinary’ but has sacred meaning to the one being baptised. For us it demonstrates our allegiance to Christ, for Jesus, it demonstrated his allegiance to the father, that he was indeed the Messiah.
Jesus commanded believers to get baptised. What Jesus says goes. Of course I am being flippant but baptism can therefore be seen as an outward testimony of what has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life. A public declaration of their commitment to Christ. It’s a bit like a marriage. And so what happens with marriages? You go through ups and downs, but you stay married. And sometimes you can renew a marriage: you renew the vows. So a person may be walking with Christ, then walk away, then come back to church and want to be baptized again. In this case it would like renewing the marriage vows. The bottom line is that God offered us life through Jesus death on the cross. Baptism is our acceptance, our way of saying “I do”.