There is so much that needs said... so many ways of coming to teach this....
I was 19yrs old when I was baptised. It was at a huge campus church in my university town. I had been invited to church some months before and had found church interesting and engaging. I decided to keep going, strated to read the bible and had all sorts of questions... the Pastor, Vic Klackers, opened his office and home to my searching mind.
I joined their evening Bible School, I studied the Scriptures. I started to change the way I lived and the choices I made by what it was I was discovering in the Bible. Sometimes it worked out better/easier than others...
When Pastor Vic saw that this faith was something I had taken to heart he asked me if I wanted to be baptised... my initial response was “no thanks...it’s a bit embarasing”. Pastor Vic told me to think about it and search the Scriptures to see what they had to say about baptism.
So I went home and looked in a concordance for “baptism” and read all the passages there were on the subject. I learned that baptism means or symbolises three things:
The forgiveness of sins –
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…(Acts 2:38)
In a way here baptism implies
The regeneration –
How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6)
The being made part of the church –
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Co 12)
I wasn’t sure about how it happened but I knew that this was a sign – something outwardly visable – of what God had done invisibly inside me.
I arrived early for the service. There was a huge baptismal font in the church – steps leading in and out of it – I was to go in and be immersed in this watery grave and when I came out the other side I would have been baptised! My sin would be washed away... left like the ring in a bath formed by the muck of our bathwater. I would be made new by God’s Holy Spirit in my life and heart! And I would be part of this amazing thing... the church!
I will never forget that night! We sang! “My Jesus, my saviour!...lalalala....”
Pastor Vic called me to the front I held the radio mike and told the story of my faith journey. I told them all... about how I had found Jesus.
The liturgy went like this ‘Warwick is here today, because Warwick has found faith, Warwick has now chosen to show his faith by being baptised. Warwick will now testify about how he became a Christian and then Warwick will be baptised. This is the outworking of the zeitgeist (spirit of our age) it is the pure spirit of individualism!
See how this baptism is about Warwick’s choice, Warwick’s believing, Warwick’s being baptised.
Compare this to what happened to Abram.
God made a covenant with him. God did the making, Abram did the sleeping. God did the cutting, God did the promising, God did the doing all the while Abram did the sleeping. God was the active agent while Abram was the passive recipient.
So let us look again at these New Testament readings these three things which happen to us at baptism:
Forgiveness of sins – who is the actor in this? Who does the work? Can you forgive your sins?
No! God is the one who is at work here! God is the one who died on a cross for our sins!
Regeneration – can you spark a soul into life? Can you breath eternal life into someone’s spirit? No! Who then is the actor in all this? God! God is the one who gives life and new life! God is the one who does the doing!
Being part of the church – we can’t even do this! You can’t make yourself be part of the body of Christ – he invites – he signs you up – he is the actor in all this.
There are some churches which believe that you must have faith before you can be baptised... you must do the doing... and they have a good pastoral point – people who take their faith seriously can be baptised and find great meaning in this powerful symbol... but they can fall easilty into the trap of making baptism about our own “doing”.
They who claim that faith is needed for baptism would do well to remember that even faith is a gift from God.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Colossians tells us that it is in Christ that we are circumcised through baptism. So surely the same principle would apply. We do the passive receiving while God does the active doing.
They also can’t answer why if circumcision is the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament – why the sign should not be given to children in the New Covenant... and they see this problem... and solve it by inventing dedication (which is just as invented and made up as our confirmation is).
So for those of you here today who are baptised... let us remember that God does the doing and let us thank him once again for all he has done and is at work doing in our lives. Let us live as though we ARE baptised.
In light of this let us remember that we ought to move our focus from our rights as Christians to our duties.
We have no right to wealth or health.
We do however have a duty to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
We have no right to popularity or success.
We do however have a duty to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
We do not have a right to God’s blessing.
We do however have a duty to obey Him.
Rightly then we ought to shift the emphasis in our worship songs back on to God. When we do sing about His work for us we should constantly avoid the crass individualism that is so common today. We should sing instead of ‘My Jesus’ ‘Our Jesus’ and recognise our community.
In summary – when I stood up from that baptismal water on that night – I was saying “I have found Jesus!”... but the truth is this... Jesus was never lost... I was... he was the one who had been out searching... he was the one who had come saving... he was the one who loved me – before I was born – he was the one who did all the doing.
The lesson again is this “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more – there is nothing you can do to make God love you less – there is nothing you can do – full stop!
Just let yourself be found by his grace – he is looking searching, saving and forgiving – right now.