Just a handful of water, a baby’s indignant cry, an adult’s grimace as the water drips down their face—what’s the big deal about baptism? Why is it important enough for us to hold a special service of renewal at the beginning of every year?
In the words of the PC(USA): “Baptism is one of two sacraments practiced by Presbyterians; Communion is the other. The act of baptism is deceptively simple—but in a handful of water, there is a deep well of mystery and meaning. In baptism God claims us as beloved children and members of Christ’s body, the church, washing us clean from sin. In baptism, … we renounce the power of evil and seek the will and way of God.”
In baptism God initiates a relationship of caring and guidance; we respond by beginning a lifetime of growth and obedience to God’s will and God’s ways. When we “renew our baptism,” we are remembering God’s gift of love, forgiveness, new life and hope. At the same time we also remember the promises we made to learn God’s ways and to live in accordance with them.
When we “renew our baptism,” we remember God’s gift of love, forgiveness, new life and hope; . . . . we also remember the promises we made.
Of course, God doesn’t require water to give us these gifts. For the Israelites of the Old Testament, the symbol of their relationship with God was circumcision. But Jesus gave us a new symbol to represent a new relationship: now all members of the family can participate. Men, women, children—we can all be baptized.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28
And baptism is a multi-layered symbol:
- We are washed clean, starting fresh.
No matter who we were or how we were before, now we are a brand-new child of God starting over with our past life forgiven.
- Baptism is a new birth, the ultimate new beginning.
It represents dying to the life the world is constantly trying to sell us and being raised to a new life based on God’s plan for us and for all creation, a plan that ultimately leads to the joy, contentment and peace we are all searching for.
- We become part of a new family.
We don’t necessarily replace our old family; we hope they too are part of this new family created by God. But whatever our old family relationships, baptism creates a new people who are brothers and sisters through shared love and commitment.
- We receive the Holy Spirit, opening ourselves to a newer, deeper intimacy with God.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). According to John Stott, “To be “in Christ” does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.”
- We commit (or our parents commit on our behalf) to growing into a new way of life.
As baptized Christians, Christ’s goals are our goals, Christ’s dreams for humanity are our dreams, Christ’s love for his people is our love. For this reason, baptism is not a ceremony to be taken lightly. Our bond with Christ is the deepest commitment we can make as human beings. Deeper even than marriage.
Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.
If baptized as an adult we are making a lifelong commitment to growing in our knowledge of God and in our understanding of what it means to be the representative of God to a wounded world.
If we are baptized as children, we are given the opportunity during Confirmation to accept for ourselves the commitment that our parents made for us and it is important that we understand what we are committing to.
As Max Lucado says, “Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.”
- Baptism is bowing before the Father and letting him do his work.
- The God who made us also can remake us.
- Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
- He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming.