Sunday, March 5, 2023

Before You Are Baptized...

…it’s important that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s a bit more involved than simply getting dunked under water. In the waters of baptism, you are entering into a story, taking on a new identity, dying to self that you might live to God. In this space, God transforms you, recreates you, fills you with His Spirit. And as you rise up out of the waters, you will find yourself surrounded by a new family bound together by the love of Christ.

In going through the ceremony of baptism, we re-enact a story centered on two themes: death and resurrection. This is an act that has found the stage a number of times throughout history—in the waters of Noah’s flood, in the crossing of the Red Sea, and ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these rites we enter into the death of our Messiah that we might share in His resurrection.

There are three main actors in this play. You, God, and the church. Let us consider this drama in three acts.

Act 1 - I Confess, I Believe

When you approach the waters of baptism, you will be asked a series of questions (these may vary depending on your tradition—the version below is copied from a Baptist liturgy; other liturgies are linked at the bottom of this page). In looking across liturgies from several denominations, I noticed three common themes—three “confessions”, if you will: a renouncement of sin and evil, a trust in and allegiance to Yeshua, and an acceptance of the yolk of discipleship. This is typically followed by an affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed.

Do you forsake Satan and all his works and all his ways?

Going under the water means dying to self, leaving behind the old way of life. It is an admission that I am a sinner, unworthy to be called a child of God, and a turning toward the mercy of God. To be sure, this does not mean you have to have your act together before accepting baptism (as the song says, “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all”). It is not in our own power that we are changed; rather it is the work of God’s Spirit. Baptism is merely the first step, an annulment of our covenant with death.

How is it that such a covenant can be annulled? Through our own death. A covenant only has legal binding so long as a person is alive. But, through the waters of baptism, we enter into the death of Messiah, spiritually dying to self and sin so that we might serve a new master—Yeshua, our King.

Do you trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins and the fulfillment of all God's promises to you, even eternal life?

When we go under the water, we are giving up control and trusting our lives wholly to another. We are letting go of ourselves and placing our faith in our Messiah. We have no other help, no other hope, no other savior. It is by Yeshua’s blood that we are cleansed from all unrighteousness and through His work on the cross that the promises are fulfilled. In His work on the cross, Yeshua identified with us and our suffering that He might be the savior of humankind. In our acceptance of baptism, we identify with Him that we might share in His life.

Baptism is a declaration of our faith in Yeshua. Our trust in Him as Savior. Our allegiance to Him as King.

Do you intend with God’s help to obey Jesus’ teaching and follow him as your Lord?

As we are raised up to new life, we find that are given a new identity in Messiah. No longer are we servants to sin, but now servants to Yeshua. This rebirth is the beginning of a path of being remade into the image of Messiah—learning at His feet, practicing His commands, and following in His footsteps.

Baptism is not a do it and forget it act. Nor is it something you do over and over again like taking a bath. It is a definite turning point in one’s life, a beginning of a new story. From this point forward, you are not your own. You have died to self and given your life over to the King who created you and redeemed you. Now, you are called to listen for His voice and follow. Wherever He leads, follow.

Do you believe…?

After these three questions, you will be invited to affirm the Apostle’s creed. With these historic words we confess our heart’s belief in the story of God, the story of His people, the story of the Gospel. This is the story into which we are entering as we step into the waters of the baptismal. Created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, sanctified by the Spirit—this becomes our story.

Some may object to the use of a creedal formula, claiming it puts God in a box. I can’t claim the creed is perfect. But, it has stood the test of time. It has historical roots back to the first few centuries of the church. It is near universal—the beliefs expressed therein are held as core beliefs by nearly every Christian denomination. And it is foundational, focusing squarely on the Gospel story.

In our current cultural climate, the creeds are needed more than ever. Fuzzy spirituality has gained popularity and threatens to encroach upon the Christian faith. People want the sense of morality, the feeling of transcendence, the comfort of hope that religion brings, but they continue to stumble at the cross. This faith is not something we create for ourselves. We are entering into something much bigger, much older than ourselves and we don’t get to define it. The atoning death of our Savior, the victorious resurrection of our King, and the worship of a triune God—this is the center of our faith. The creeds anchor us in this truth.

Space does not afford to go into a full treatment of this historic creed, but I would encourage you to read it for yourself if you are not familiar with it and discuss these words with a pastor. Know the faith into which you are being baptized.

Act 2 - God Transforms, God Indwells

Throughout the previous section, I have tried to emphasize even while talking about our personal role in baptism that it is God doing the work. God initiates, God performs, and God completes. Our confessions simply signify our answer to God’s call and our submission to His plan.

God transforms us. From sinner to son, broken to beautiful. The old has passed, we are made new, recreated in the image of Yeshua. This is not of ourselves, but God working in us by His Spirit. His burden is light for we do not have to bear it in our own strength. The sins that weigh us down, God removes from us and buries deep in the sea. Up from the grave we arise clean, alive, and free thanks to the never-ending mercies of our God.

God indwells us. As we are incorporated into the household of God, we are made into a dwelling place for His Spirit. And it is His Spirit that enables us to walk this new journey that we are embarking upon. His Spirit gives us strength when we cannot go on. The Spirit gives us peace when the waves around us rage. He gives us hope when we feel like we’re sinking. And He imparts to us His love that we might know Him and make Him known to those around us.

Act 3- The Church Embraces

Baptism is not a private affair. As in a wedding, there are witnesses. More than that, there is a family into which the one being baptized is welcomed into. The family of God. The journey before you is not one you will walk alone. It has been walked by thousands before you, and is being walked by hundreds coming alongside you.

Another common theme between many of the baptismal traditions is the prayer of the congregation for the one being baptized. Everyone gathers around or extends a hand to pray that God would help the newly baptized in their walk, delivering him from temptation, filling him with God’s spirit, teaching him to love others, and bringing him into the fullness of God’s peace and glory. I read into this a responsibility, too, on the part of the congregation to walk alongside their new brother or sister in Messiah, to be present in his life, and to help him along this path.

Finally, the newly baptized is welcomed into the family of God. One body and one Spirit. One hope. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all (Eph. 4:4-6). This is our faith that reaches across the globe, across traditions and cultures, across denominations, and across time. This is our new identity in Messiah. This is us forgiven, accepted, reborn, and remade.

As I said before, baptism is the first step in a long journey. You may not understand it all now. That’s ok. Throughout the liturgical year and as you watch others come to be baptized, you will be reminded of your own encounter with God through the waters. And as you grow in Messiah, the meaning and significance of this page in your story will grow as well. Welcome to the family of God.

A few baptismal liturgies:

What questions do you have about baptism? How is your baptism meaningful to you?

 (This article can also be found on the HFF blog)

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