I was baptized shortly after my dad’s example in 1980 (Has it really been that long ago?!). I remember it vividly, even though I was just eight years old. Some of the words I shared to the congregation seem somewhat trivial now… I spoke about the Iran/Iraq war and how our world was a mess – But some of the words also seem discerning… I spoke about making sure I’d be with Jesus when I died or when the world’s mess ever hit me. I spoke about Jesus being my Savior and forgiving my sins – In my head, at least, I remember being quite confident and articulate in my faith for a 3rd grader.
Our pastor at that time was a biblically-named silver-maned man, David Jeremiah. He had planted this little congregation (now Blackhawk Ministries) in Ft. Wayne, IN. He, along with many others, helped my family grasp deep hold of the Bible and a life of faith. After I shared my story, he made some comments about my words, my faith and my family’s faith. Then he placed one hand on my back, and another on my folded arms (while my fingers pinched my nose shut). He stated, “In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I still remember leaning backwards and having the water flood over me, but just for a moment. Almost immediately I was being pulled out of the water back to my feet dripping with evidence of baptism.
I cherish this marker in my life. It is a definition point for me, an identity shaping act. I had already accepted Jesus into my life… a few weeks earlier… but the act of baptism helped me tangibly understand and identify what I had decided and what God had decided to do in my life. I’ve held on to this ever since, whether in times blessings, times of suffering, or times of struggle.
It is not the rite of baptism that has saved me, but the act of God. And God’s practical work in us is demonstrated through the act of baptism. Going under the water symbolizes death – a burial to a life ruled by sin, dead to sin, identifying with the death of Jesus. Coming out of the water symbolizes resurrection – a raising to a new life ruled by Christ, alive in Jesus, identifying with the resurrected Lord. It’s really that simple.
So it is not the mode of baptism so much that concerns Paul as he writes in Romans 6 (though it is important that the elements of the mode should communicate the work that God has-done/is-doing in the believer’s life through Jesus’ death and resurrection). Paul’s concern in this passage is that believers embrace the fact that sin no longer rules our life, Jesus does. Everett Harrison suggests that “what is being described is a spiritual reality of the deepest import – not a ceremony, not even a sacrament” (Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol 10, Zondervan, 68).
So no, we should not go on sinning (6:1-2). How could/can we? By no means! We died to it. Don’t we remember our baptism?
Maybe that’s one of the problems with many Christians today – we have forgotten our baptism. We have failed to take our baptism seriously. Perhaps we treat it more like a hoop that we jumped through (or that our parents tossed us through). Or perhaps for many of us baptism was nothing more than a cultural experience. Or perhaps we have considered baptism not as an on-going reality but more of a desire… or a temporary fix… or like a confessional booth absolution. I know some people who have been baptized multiple times because they felt like the first 2 or 3 times “didn’t take”.
I’ve wondered also if perhaps we emphasize the individualism of the baptism event more than we should. In the New Testament it is often a corporate excercise, where a community or a family identify in Christ together. There is strength in accountability and encouragement when people do this together. Paul says we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism. We joined Christ in his death. We died and were buried with Christ. We may live new lives just as Christ was raised from the dead.
Baptism is not a ceremony. Baptism is an identity and reality and embrace of a community of people marked by Jesus. That’s profound.
Final note here: notice that is it “by the glorious power of the Father” that “we” may live new lives. It is not our strength that enables us to die to sin and live for Christ. It is the gracious strength of God that equips us.
Romans 6:3-4 ~ 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (NLT)