Baptism, A Believer's


by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (June 25, 1997)

A Believerís Baptism

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Rom. 6:4).

One who responds to the gospel of Christ to request baptism is confessing faith in what God has done to save humankind. He is saying he believes that Jesus died for him on the cross. He is also expressing the sincere desire to follow Jesus in a new life that imitates his.

Baptism both confesses and claims what God has done to save us. It says that we want to turn away from everything that is sinful and opposed to God. We want, instead, to embrace everything that is holy and God-honoring. We want to obey him as a trusting child who can always trust a loving Fatherís counsel.

The essence of what heaven has done to save us is summed up in the events of Jesusí death, burial, and resurrection. We were under a death sentence because of sin (i.e., our transgressions of Godís law and failure to be the people he meant us to be), but Jesus volunteered to die in our place and to take the punishment we deserved. After he had been buried, the power of Godís Holy Spirit raised him from the grave to signify that his death had been accepted as full payment for our sin debt. Now, in his resurrected state, Jesus shares in the glory of his Father in heaven.

Our immersion in water is a symbolic reenactment of those crucial events. Because sin has put us in a state of spiritual death, God has provided that we should be buried in a watery grave. Baptism into Jesusí own death says that we acknowledge our hopelessness apart from Christ and accept heavenís judgment against the wrong things we have done.

Rising from the water, we begin to celebrate new life in Christ. We no longer owe any allegiance to Satan, and we rejoice that we can live under Godís sovereignty. The real point of baptism, after all, is not death but life. It is heavenís gift that affirms cleansing from the past and hope for the future.

The cleansing from sin that comes with baptism is conferred by the blood of Christ. Water cannot revive someone from the dead. Pardon comes through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; water is simply the external element in which one takes a symbolic bath. Awakening to new life is an internal work of the Holy Spirit in a human heart; water is only the external refreshment by which God attests that work to us.

Baptism is also a rite of initiation. We are baptized "into Christ" ó not a denomination, social movement, or political group. There is great diversity in the body of Christ, and God deals with each of his children individually. One does not have to "act churchy," talk with a "holy whine," or otherwise be someone other than the person God calls any one of us to be in Christ.

Baptism is only a first step in our spiritual journey. It tells God and the world whose side we have chosen. It puts our feet on the path that leads to heaven. And it may also put oneís feet on a path that leads to suffering for the sake of Christ, for Satan will never be pleased to surrender anyone from his grasp.

There will still be discouragements to face. Being a Christian will not exempt us from sickness and heartaches. We still are, after all, human beings living in a world filled with challenge. With Christ, however, you will never face any of those challenges alone. He will be a daily friend and encourager. The presence of the Holy Spirit will empower a life for joy, hope, and security as one continues to grow into Christís own likeness.

If you have not shared this experience of grace, could we talk?

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