What is baptism?

Baptism: God’s strangely beautiful gift

To any newcomer who walks into a church the day of a baptism, I can’t imagine what they are thinking. Here’s this person (sometimes a baby, other times a fully grown adult) being either sprinkled or dunked into water. It’s a strange scene. At the end of it all everyone in the pews looks so happy. People are talking about what a memorable day this is. But, outwardly, nothing about the person has changed. The baby goes back to the pew and continues their crying. The man or woman, besides for the wet hair, looks the same. So, what happened? What is this strange ritual Christians have continued to practice for 2,000 years?

Baptism is a work of God for sinners

It’s important to remember who does the work of baptism: God. Baptism is not primarily a declaration or decision¬†you make. It’s not a miracle performed by a pastor. This is God’s work. It’s something He does. In all of the passages about baptism (Romans 6, Galatians 3, Acts 2, Acts 22), it is something that is done to you, and the main actor is God. He is the one that does the work. Sure, the pastor might help with the pouring or the dunking, and you might joyously look forward to the day, but God is the one who does the important stuff.

And He does it for everyone and anyone. Because we all have sin. Acts 2:39 reminds us that baptism is for “all who are far off.” By virtue of the sin we are born with – that’s all of us. Each of us, because of original sin, is born separated and disconnected from God. This is a gift we all need, and one that God offers to us all.

If you wait around until you’re not a sinner anymore to be baptized, you’ll be waiting a while. Instead, God comes to broken sinners in baptism with so much to give.

Baptism is a gift of grace

Every passage that talks about baptism talks about it as a gift of grace. In Acts 2, Peter tells his hearers to be baptized “for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In our baptism God gives 1. The gift of forgiveness and 2. His Spirit.

Here’s what’s important to remember: A gift cannot be earned. It’s not a reward for good behavior. It doesn’t follow good deeds. No, gifts, especially God’s gifts, are always free. No requirements and no strings attached. He simply gives His grace away free of charge. The same is true of baptism.

Baptism is a bath

Our sins are like stains that no amount of our scrubbing and washing will wipe away. We can join every self-help seminar and rigorously train our bodies, minds, and spirits, but sin tends to stick around. The only solution is to be bathed by God with forgiveness and grace. And that’s what we get in baptism. In baptism we are washed clean of sin as we are forgiven. That’s what Ananias told Saul after Saul had seen the risen Lord Jesus as he traveled the road to Damascus. Ananias tells Saul in Acts 22:16, “And now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away.” God is able to get us cleaner than we could ever get ourselves. The stain of sin is wiped right off in baptism.

Baptism is a new outfit and new identity

Who doesn’t like a new pair of clothes? Well, that’s also what we get in baptism. Galatians 3:27 tells us that, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” Christ comes so near to us in baptism that it’s like we are clothed with Him. Everything that belongs to Him is ours in baptism: His righteousness, perfection, sinlessness, and holiness are yours as you exit those waters. They clothe you now. When the Father looks at you, He no longer sees a sinner, but the righteousness, perfection, sinlessness, and holiness of Jesus which clothe you.

Baptism is a death and resurrection

Read these words from Romans 6:3-4, “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 the newness of life.”

In baptism, our sins were stuck in the grave where they are powerless against us. Sin can’t condemn us to death any longer. It also can’t accuse us and make us guilty. We’ve died to it. Sin has been crucified in our lives, made lifeless. At the same time, in baptism, we were raised up to new life. Freed from sin we live as God’s beloved children. Life is never the same after baptism. We are people of the resurrection!

Baptism is a one-time occurrence

You see, when God does something, He does it right the first time. Because God is the one who does the work in baptism, we can trust that He won’t mess up. If baptism was something we did, well, then we might need more than one. If it was based on our bold declaration of faith, then we might have to keep getting baptized after every time we falter or doubt. But, God is the one who does the work. You can trust that one is enough.

All of that happens in those few brief moments of a baptism. It’s strange, to be sure. There’s not anything else in the world quite like it. But, it’s also so beautiful. Because it’s not something we deserve, but it’s exactly what we need. And in His amazing love, God gives it all away.

If you like what you read and want more, check out my books on Amazon: Growing Up: In, with, and under Jesus and God’s Story // Your Story

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