We gathered around a swimming pool anticipating the ceremony about to begin. One person stepped into the shallow end of the pool. She walked through the water toward the minister who was about to baptize her.
It was a momentous and memorable day for this young woman, and we all felt some of her excitement. She now understood God’s aim in salvation – to save us from our blighted human condition, to make us at peace with him, to give the Holy Spirit as the promised “down payment” on eternal life – and most importantly, she understood that Jesus had done everything necessary to make God’s gift a reality.
New life in God
Jesus Christ has a profound role in God’s purpose for us. He was sent by God to be the Savior of humanity. By his perfect obedience and his atoning work on the cross, we are saved. Now, the young woman was about to make a public statement that Jesus had saved her. Jesus had made a commitment to her, and she was making one to him. She had accepted Jesus as her Savior, and had accepted his new life. She was saying “I do” to God; she was saying “yes” to his “yes.”
The baptismal ceremony began. “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” the minister asked. “Yes, I have,” the young woman replied. “Since you have repented of your sins, and have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I now baptize you into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” said the minister.
He concluded with an “Amen,” and we all whispered the word in agreement. We watched as the minister briefly immersed the young woman under the water. A second later, he lifted her back up to her feet. It was a dramatic moment. The young woman emerged from the water as if she had been resurrected from death. The baptism symbolized the fact that she had become a new person—a born-again child of God.
The minister welcomed the smiling woman into the family of Jesus Christ, and wrapped a towel around her shoulders to help keep her warm. It was a wonderful experience for the young woman and the other people baptized that day. They will remember their baptism as a special event for the rest of their lives. Some might even think of their baptism as a special birthday. It is a public testimony of our new birth, our new life that was brought into existence by the death and resurrection of our Savior.
Baptism reinforces our decision to accept God’s gracious offer of salvation. It is a statement made to ourselves, to the community and to our Creator that we have accepted Christ’s commitment to us, and we are responding to him. We acknowledge that he is the source of our life and the reason we exist. In that sense, baptism is the most important landmark and turning point in our lives. It has much in common with another ceremony that marks a milestone in many people’s lives—marriage.
We know how important a marriage ceremony is to the couple in love as well as to their families and their friends. But the ceremony is not the beginning of the relationship. The reason the couple is getting married is because they have already agreed to commit to each other. The bonding process began long before the couple actually walked down the aisle. That doesn’t make the marriage ceremony less meaningful. The ceremony is an outward statement of a couple’s intention to make a life together. Marriage is their public commitment to say “I do” to each other.
Symbol of commitment
Baptism pictures the drama of our “I do” decision for Jesus Christ and all that he represents in our salvation. It is a symbol that reminds us he is our Savior, and we are his beloved. People who ask for baptism are saying they want to be associated with Jesus Christ in a personal and intimate way—to belong to Christ. That desire is effective only because Christ already wants to be associated with us! That’s what it means to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Believers share in the life of Christ. As Christ died, so do the believers. The old self is dead; we are acknowledging that our life is not defined by our past – it is defined by our association with Jesus. As we share in Jesus’ death, we also have a share in his resurrection and eternal life. We are stating that we, by God’s grace, have a part in the greatest events of salvation history. This includes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In being baptized, we publicly dramatize that Christ has included us in his life.
Baptism is not magic. It is a ritual, a metaphor that symbolizes that we have been given a new life in Christ. What better metaphor for the individual’s inner change than through the cleansing of water?
Author and pastor William Willimon described it well when he said: “To receive the Spirit through Christ is likened to a birth bath in John 3:3-5 and Titus 3:5-7; to a funeral bath and burial in Romans 6:1-11; and to a bride’s nuptial bath in Ephesians 5:26. These baths were consummated in anointing and arraying the body in clean, or new, clothing (Galatians 3:27)” (Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized, page 58).
Need information about baptism?
Sometimes people don’t want to be baptized because they aren’t interested in joining a church. That’s understandable. We are not baptized into a church or denomination—but into the Body of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you have questions about whether you should be baptized. If you want to contact a minister about baptism or to receive help in spiritual matters, please contact one of our pastors. In the U.S., you may call our toll-free number, 1-800-924-4644, to find out how to contact a pastor near you. In other nations, see https://www.gci.org/our-churches/ for an address near you – or feel free to contact the pastor of another Christian church.