Last Sunday, March 12th, we celebrated the baptism of a member of our church. It was a time of joy, but more than anything, it was a time of connectedness.
Baptism is not to be trivialized to a mere symbol: something that represents death, burial, and new life in Christ. Baptism, like communion, is sacramental. It is a visible expression of an invisible reality – much like a kiss.
Nobody would degrade a kiss to the place of mere symbolism. A good kiss – one of proper ethic and passion, without frivolity or coercion – should be an expression of inward love. (Although the expression itself is also enjoyable.) The experience has meaning. It tends to add something to the relationship that was not prevalent before; it establishes a greater closeness, and, in that sense, accentuates and adds to the love that was already there.
In the same vein, baptism is far more than just a symbol. It is representative in nature, but the act of baptism itself (immersion in water) adds something to our relationship with the Lord that was not prevalent before.
We receive baptism “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” (Romans 6:4). Now, we know that we have indeed been saved by grace, “and this is not [our] own doing” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we would try for even a second to be justified by the law, we will have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4). Therefore, baptism cannot be distorted into becoming a law. Baptism does not save us. Therefore, “newness of life” comes not through baptism, but through Christ.
Baptism, like a kiss, can become empty. It can, from the corporate perspective of the church body, become monotonous – a repetitious act, free from all excitement. Or it can be a time for rejoicing – a time of passion, tears and smiles; a time to take pictures and celebrate; a time to be remembered, and also a time of remembrance. It can also be a time to recall the unity in which we were brought into by the death of Christ: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3).
He died the death that we should have died. Before we were ever born, He died in our place. Baptism, through faith, declares the reality of substitutionary atonement – the idea that it was only Him being in my place that could have given me a place with Him in eternity.
And this eternity doesn’t mean simple existence on a plane of endless time. Eternal life is an all-fulfilling relationship. It is family. The transient family-system we were born into here on earth is representative of the family-system we will relate with for all eternity, as well as with the family-system we are a part of now.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
We have one Father, and are all His children, relating together as brothers and sisters. Just as there is one Lord and one faith, so too there is one baptism – in other words, not that our baptism is a physical expression of our personal death to sin, but that in our baptism, we become partakers of the baptism of Jesus. He died the death we should have died so that we all might funnel into His death, and therefore share His body, and live the abundant life that He is living now and forever. Christ became all so that all might become one – and in this oneness, there is life.
Baptism, therefore, is an assault on the loneliness, abandonment, and divorce. Baptism is the remembrance of our oneness, an expression of our oneness, and a means of oneness, as well.
So we do celebrate baptism. We celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection in Christ. But more importantly than that, we celebrate Christ Himself, the One by whom we find and experience our oneness. He is the reason for our existence. We are one in Him, as well as one with Him. As the Apostle Paul said, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
All of us who have received Christ have thus received the Christ in all others, becoming one with them, and are now one with all, and all of us, as one, are one with Christ, created as His eternal bride. This is what baptism represents – a new birth into the reality of this oneness; of this family.
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church