I remember my baptism well. I was 17 years old. It was a typical hot Australian summer's day. I made my way down the river bank and waded into the waist-deep water of the Snowy River. After a short message from the minister, he lowered me under the water and baptized me.
I emerged from the water to a group of family and friends singing one of those all-time favorite hymns. The event indelibly etched itself into my memory.
I'd always been a Christian, having been raised in a devout Christian family. Earlier in my life I'd made the choice to commit my life to God. So why bother with baptism as a 17-year-old?
WRONG REASONS FOR BAPTISM
Pressure. I didn't request baptism under duress from parents or as a result of pressure from friends, peers or our church minister.
My baptism didn't mean I was perfect or had arrived at some plane of spiritual maturity. And it wasn't because I had a full knowledge or understanding of the Bible.
Unfortunately, baptism didn't guarantee that I'd never again fail God or make another mistake in life.
Baptism represented my commitment to God and marked a very special passage in my spiritual journey. It did include the following biblical and personal reasons reasons that have an even deeper meaning to me now than on that day.
REASONS FOR BAPTISM
I was baptized because Christ commanded it. To His followers, His parting words sometimes called the "great commission" (Matthew 28:19, 20, NIV)- were: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
Previously Jesus had also said that a person is unable to enter His kingdom unless they are "born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5). This "water" is understood to symbolize the cleansing of baptism, and the "Spirit" refers to the changing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. It isn't the actual baptism that saves a person; it's simply a witness to the reality of salvation in Christ.
(This doesn't preclude a person from salvation who doesn't have REASONS FOR BAPTISM I was baptized because Christ commanded it. To His followers, His parting words sometimes called the "great commission" (Matthew 28:19, 20, NIV)- were: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, the opportunity for baptism. The thief dying on the cross next to Jesus was assured of his salvation see Luke 23:42, 43.)
• The word "baptize" means to immerse or to dip. Some are christened as a baby; however, the baptisms described in the Bible were all clearly performed by the complete immersion of the body. Those baptized were also "believers," or persons of some maturity who were able to understand its meaning.
So, as a young adult with a knowledge of what I was about to do, I wanted to be baptized just as Jesus had been─completely under water and in a river like the Jordan.
When a person believed in Jesus Christ, the Bible says they repented of their sin, and committed themselves to follow Christ. Baptism is a symbol of that commitment.
In the book of Acts, following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the time of Pentecost, the apostle Peter tells the people who responded to his message, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven" (Acts 2:38, NIV). Repenting involves heartfelt remorse and a change in life's direction.
• The focus of this change of direction was belief in and commitment to Jesus Christ. The Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26-40), while returning home from a visit to Jerusalem, became engaged in conversation with the apostle Philip.
Upon learning about Christ, and seeing a body of water nearby, he asked Philip if he could be baptized. "Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.'" The Ethiopian answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37. NKJV). Following this expression of faith, he was baptized.
• As I'd grown up committed to God, my baptism simply affirmed my recognition of my own need of His grace. It recognized my failure in the light of a Holy God, despite my best efforts, to live as I believed I should. My baptism was also a recognition of my grateful acceptance of the gift of salvation which I found a joyful and releasing experience, for I knew my eternal future didn't depend on my "goodness" and achievements, but on that of Christ.
There is a rich, spiritual meaning attached to the act of baptism. In baptism, a person identifies with Christ's "death, burial and resurrection" (see Romans 6:1-7). When a believer is immersed under the water, the act symbolizes "death" to past sin and a self-centered life, and its "burial." The water symbolizes the cleansing of one's life by Christ's blood (see Titus 3:5).
As baptized believers rise from the water after baptism, they identify with Christ's resurrection from the dead and go on to live in a newness of spiritual life as a Christian.
• Since my baptism I've found that maintaining that special newness of spiritual life is a challenge. To maintain a vibrant daily relationship with Christ requires effort and energy. Sometimes I've found I've missed the mark. Fortunately for me all of us for that matter─God has ways of calling us back.
WHERE DOES THE CHURCH FIT?
Baptism means the entry into and belonging to the church family. The church is described as a "body" of believers, with Christ as its head (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:15). In the time of the apostles, when believers were baptized they immediately became involved in the church family. They were a part of the church family (see Acts 2:41-46).
Some wish to be baptized into Christ without any connection to a "body of Christ"-that is, the church. But to be fully committed to the head of the church that's Christ means that believers must also be a part of the "body." Christianity is foremost a personal relationship with God, but it's also a relationship with the community of believers. Christianity is personal, not individualistic.
Belonging to the body of Christ and being part of a spiritual community enriches and enlivens my spiritual journey. I belong. I have friends to encourage me when I start to lag spiritually.
Baptism is a public witness to one's belief and faith. There's something about baptism that's more significant and binding than just words. A baptism is like a wedding where mutual pledges are given in a public setting─where the special love relationship between myself and God is cemented and sealed. God promises the Holy Spirit as a special wedding gift (see Acts 2:38).
Just as a couple is not married until the wedding, so, in a spiritual sense, one's baptism is the official recognition of a new relationship and status with God. Sharing the act of baptism with my family and friends served to strengthen and reaffirm my resolve and commitment to Christ.
BAPTISM IN A NUTSHELL
My baptism was a deeply spiritual event, certainly much more than symbolism. My baptism was the enactment of a concrete commitment. It was a major marker along side the road of my spiritual journey. It reaffirmed my faith. It helps me stay fixed in my life's direction. It reassures me of God's love for me. It confirms my salvation.
I'd recommend baptism as the best decision, the best action, that any sincere truth-seeker and follower of Christ could make.
Phil Brown writes from Australia.