As I sheepishly stood in the crowd of 900 or more, my heart was pounding with something between excitement and fear as a young lady named Carrie courageously declared her allegiance to Jesus through baptism. The church was called “College Hour” at the University of Arkansas and it was one of the first life-giving places of faith that I had encountered.
Something was different that morning. Something was arresting my heart in an usual way so that it was irregular and beating fast. Why was my heart racing and my breath shortening? I felt a strange attention to the moment. A laser focus that can only be described as when a man and a woman look at each other and recite their vows concluding with “I do.” It was like all the world had stopped spinning and I was left at center stage with a decision to make; as if I were watching a future episode of my own life and the young lady in the front represented an alternate picture of my future. Jonathan, the pastor of the service, spoke to her about the wonder of her decision and the beauty of the sacrament known as baptism. I knew in that moment, without anyone ever guiding me or pushing me, that to truly follow Christ I would need to make a public confession of His ownership over my life.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. 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. 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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again, death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. -Romans 6:1-11 (ESV)
Baptism means to be immersed or totally swallowed up by some surrounding reality. If repentance is the proposal, baptism is the wedding day. It’s the act of making a public confession before friends, family, and even foes, that, “Today I belong to Jesus.” I am His and He is mine. However many fail to obey the sacrament of baptism and I think I know why. The answer is found in the word “death” in the verse above. Just as men are portrayed in comedies as having a fear of commitment so they “fail to launch,” so it is with people following Jesus in baptism. Baptism certainly is a death in a sense, but that’s not the point. The point is life, love and liberty. We sense innately that to be “united” in death might hurt, and in all honesty, it might. Death is one of those ideas we like to ignore and deny as long as possible. However, death comes to all of us. I believe what Jesus is offering here is a chance to choose your death date. Choose the day that the world and its system no longer holds you in its grips or rules. Choose the day that you become a citizen of another age, where death is mute and sin has been dethroned.
Salvation means to come into the completeness that God intended for humanity through the finished and complete work of the Son. In His completed work, we are complete! We are included in the reference of completion. We are not saved through our obedience, we are saved through the obedience of the ONE. When we unite ourselves to Him, what he earned is credited towards us. Living from this new reference repositions us. We are repositioned in three major ways: 1) From guilt to grace, 2) From shame to righteousness, 3) From pain to authority.
For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one;
they which receive abundance of grace
and of the gift of righteousness
shall reign in life
by one, Jesus Christ.” -Rom 5:17
For years we believed that our activity preceded our identity.
We are qualified by only one reference: the obedience of Jesus Christ. In his obedience, we discover how to live. The reason I live in obedience is not to try to win His favor. It’s because I have His favor. When I believe that He has proposed marriage to me, but I refuse to publicly proclaim our love before men, I am being illogical. When the good news hits my heart that I’ve been accepted and he was condemned in my place, I am glad to obey His command to be baptized into his death, burial, and resurrection. For if we die with him, we shall also live with him.
In gladness and obedience, as a response to the good news, be baptized!