June 23, 1992
One day last May we took a ten-hour drive to Alberta to watch our oldest son get dunked in a swimming pool. It was not an ordinary dunking.
Standing outside on the lawn in front of the building, he explained to family and friends why he was doing this. He related how his own abilities to wisely govern his life had failed him. He said God called him to commit himself to a relationship with Him, one in which God governed and he obeyed. He believed God had a valid claim on his life and wanted to publicly acknowledge that claim in the manner God commands — so he was baptized.
People understand baptism in various ways. For some it is the entrance requirement into a particular religious system or church denomination. Other consider it a necessary work or action for salvation; no one can go to heaven without it. Yet biblically, it is neither of those.
True, some religious organizations can make it an initiation rite or say baptism is necessary to get to heaven, but the Bible says those who have saving faith already have eternal life — because of it they are automatically members of the family of God. Furthermore, Jesus was baptized and He had no need for either. So why be baptized?
First, Jesus was baptized as a demonstration of His willingness to fully obey the righteous demands of God. Therefore, for Christians, it is a step of obedience because God says that is what we should do: “Repent and be baptized...” By it, we follow Jesus.
Second, baptism involves identifying oneself with Christ. Just as Christ died and was buried for our sins, so those who believe are immersed in a symbolic grave. Then, just as Christ rose from the dead to new life, so the Christian rises out of the water to signify the new life he has already received.
Notice, new life does not come by baptism. Baptism is only a symbol of it. The Bible teaches clearly that new life comes only from Jesus Christ. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5). It does not say he who is “baptized” is given life.
Third, baptism is a renunciation of the world and its influence, a declaration that the new Resident Manager is the Lord. Our son made this plain in his explanation of why he was going to be dunked. He said that his old life was out of control and filled with things that he didn’t want. So he offered it to Christ, was placed in the Kingdom of God, and now renounced the old kingdom and its dominion over him.
Finally, baptism is an affirmation of what God has done. The person participating, in effect, says: God has done an act of grace in my heart. I once rejected Him and was lost, separate from Him and in sin. But now I belong to God and by this act of obedience, I am showing my intention to live in such a way that I will bring Him glory.
Baptism does not insure against making mistakes or sinning again; neither does new life. However, God works to conquer old habits and their power. We have seen that in our son and rejoice in what God has done and is doing in his life.