I love Baptism—this Sunday people of all ages, all walks of life, every sordid past imaginable, will walk into that pool wearing jeans, in dresses, not letting anything get in their way of publicly identifying with Jesus! Such a beautiful picture of spiritual cleansing. But why baptism?
I’ve noticed over the years that it makes a BIG difference if I help those thinking about following Christ or who have never been baptized understand why baptism is so important. So I want to ask you who are at Gateway Church to think of those who are close to faith or have come to faith, and have these conversations this week. If you’re still considering baptism, here’s why it matters so much.
1. Jesus did it and commanded it
I’m going to confess something to you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone—okay? When I was young, my parents took me to a fairly ritualistic church, I was baptized, or Christened, as a baby (which really was my parents’ decision, not my own), and as a kid I went through the motions. But I didn’t find faith, and as a result, I always disdained meaningless church rituals. In some ways, I put baptism into that camp. So I had been a Christian for 7 years when I learned this.
One night, I was reading the scriptures, and I read about Jesus’ baptism. Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” Matthew 3:13-15
“All that God requires…all that God requires?” I had never really thought about it as something God would require—I had just thought about baptism as a church ritual. Yet here Jesus gets baptized—out of obedience to God. So I decided to really study what the scriptures say about baptism. I realized—this is not just some ritual—this is important to God. It’s a command for all Christ-followers. It really should have been my first act of willingness to follow God’s will.
One of the last things Jesus said to those who would choose to follow him: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:18-19 Jesus commands every person who decides to follow Christ—to identify with the One true God, Creator and Father of all, who revealed himself in the Son, and lives in us by his Spirit. So I decided late is better than never…I got baptized. But why does it matter?
2. Baptism is Public Identification with Christ
Baptism is going public with our unseen faith. Jesus publicly identified with you and me. He hung on a cross, died, and was buried because of Identification with us. He identified with us to pay for all our treasons against God (doing our will instead of God’s will). Jesus wasn’t baptized as a symbol of cleansing, he’d done no wrong. Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit…water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from [as an appeal to God for] a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:18, 21
As this says, the water is a picture of baptism. The water is a physical picture, or symbol, of a faith transaction between you and God that no one can see. It’s not physical water washing or cleaning your physical body that saves you, but baptism is a picture of God cleansing your Spirit and conscience, so that you are made right with God spiritually (saved means brought into right relationship with the One who created you). All he needs to do this is your permission—your faith. When the thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus admitted his wrongs and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He didn’t have time to get baptized physically, yet Jesus said “Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.”
What God did through Jesus is provide a way to know that we know that we know—he won’t condemn us, no one can condemn us—we belong to God. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins…Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you…. Colossians 2:12-16
When you go down into the water, you are publicly identifying with Jesus death and burial on your behalf. Saying, “Jesus was buried for my sins, it should have been me.” And when you come up out of the water, it’s a symbol of your Trust in the power of God that not only raised Jesus to life, but that cleanses you and gives you life with God, now and forever. If he wasn’t ashamed to hang on a bloody cross to publicly identify with us, will we be ashamed to publicly identify with him?
3. Baptism has Cosmic Significance to God
Did you notice that last verse? “He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” When a person gets baptized, it’s like God says, “Look—love wins again,” to all the powers of heaven and earth. God’s love publicly shames evil with every baptism. What God is doing in you is of Cosmic Significance! Jesus said all the angels in heaven celebrate when one person turns back to God! That’s why we hoot and holler and celebrate every baptism. God wants to show you off to the unseen and seen world as “His Beloved Son or Daughter” publicly. That’s pretty inspiring, if you grasp it.
To God, baptism is a lot like a wedding ceremony or a ring. It’s a public symbol of a covenant relationship of faith. What keeps me and Kathy married is not our rings, or our wedding ceremony, it’s our covenant we made to each other. But what if after I proposed to Kathy, she said, “Okay, I’ll live with you, but…I don’t really want a public wedding—can we just keep it between us? And the ring—wow—it’s really beautiful, but…you know if I wear it in public, like…people are going to stare and know I’m taken, I just don’t know.” To which I’d say, “I just don’t know either—I mean, if you’re ashamed to Identify yourself publicly as mine—how much do you really love me?” Baptism is this declaring to the Cosmos—I belong to God.
What About Infant Baptism?
Many times people feel that adult baptism will negate their baptism as an infant. I ask them, “Why do you think your parents decided to baptize you? Wasn’t it in hopes that you would one day decide for yourself to follow Christ? That was their decision, but now you are fulfilling their decision by deciding for yourself to publicly identify with Christ.”
Get Wet with Them
Think and pray about who is exploring faith or has made a decision of faith but still has not gone public. Make a few phone calls this week and explain why baptism matters to God (suggest our baptism study and check out the awesome baptisms pics at www.gatewaychurch.com/baptism), and tell them you’ll be in the water celebrating with them. There’s no greater privilege than celebrating baptism with a friend.