At the age of 8, I was baptized. As I reflect on that night, I remember nearly everyone in that small country church coming to congratulate me. Even at 8 years old, I was aware enough to know that I did not understand what was actually supposed to be taking place. There was a disconnect between my theology of baptism and my understanding of Jesus which left me with a works-based identity towards salvation. It has always been my motivation in ministry to ensure that this misunderstanding does not happen in the lives of those I know.
By the time the New Testament begins, baptism is a regular practice among the Jewish culture. Gentiles (non-Jews) who decided to convert to Judaism would be completely submerged under water to signify that they were completely cleansing their life from following other gods.
Then, John the Baptist begins teaching Jews that they should be baptized too. John’s perspective is that the people must stop sinning and they should use the act of baptism to symbolize to God that they will cleanse their life from sin. Unfortunately, John still only understood the old covenant and therefore was focused on an attempt of behavior modification without having the capability to release transformational power.
Jesus comes to John to be baptized and identify with sinners for the first time. John saw no reason for Jesus, who was without sin, to be baptized, but Jesus instructed John that this must be done. John has identified baptism with repentance according to the law, while Jesus gets baptized to demonstrate the completion of the law. John (representing the law) buries Jesus (in baptism), but Jesus raises from out of the water (grave) and leaves all that he is representing without sin. In this moment, baptism becomes a prophetic act for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
The significance for water baptism today is that we foremost identify ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. We also experience in our lives open heavens, the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit, and a right standing with Father. No longer do we have to do anything to please the Father. He is pleased simply by our relationship.
If you haven’t made the decision to be baptized by emersion in water as a believer, I highly encourage you to do so. Water baptism gives us a moment in our lives that we can always reflect back to and know that our salvation cannot be taken away from us no matter what occurs in our lives. From that understanding, we can constantly be moving forward in our lives without a fear of falling backwards and perform the works we were created to do with an empowerment and joy.
Pastor Zac Breckenridge