Baptism Gives us Assurance in Our Faith
For us, Jesus instituted two ongoing signs to confirm our confidence in the gospel of his grace, the first of which is baptism. Though simpler and less obviously supernatural than the ten plagues on Egypt or bodily resurrection from the dead, baptism is a strong tool of the Spirit to refashion us in the image of the Son. Baptism was given by Jesus to display and assure believers of the washing away of our sin, our union with Christ in his death, and our new resurrection life.
The feel of the water on our skin and the observance of others being washed in this way remind and assure us that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was for us personally . In it we are promised that “as surely as water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.” Through baptism we are assured that we are washed with Christ’s blood and, therefore, by grace, he has forgiven all our sins (Zech. 13:1; Eph. 1:7–8).
Baptized, but not Converted
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, became a zealous spiritualist later in life. He would often give public lectures on the subject. At one such meeting, he gestured enthusiastically while speaking and accidentally spilled a glass of water on some reporters seated in the front row. I’m “so sorry,” Doyle exclaimed. “I seem to have baptized you, even if I don’t succeed in converting you!”
Stuart R. Strachan Jr.
Baptized into Death
Some time back, a retired missionary dropped by our church. She had served faithfully in Africa, and one day, she happened upon a small baptismal service. A fellow missionary took three new converts to the center of a shallow river, and dug a hole in the sand so there would be enough water for the baptism. Even then, the new believers were forced to sit in the sand so there would be enough water to cover them for the important ceremony.
The missionary telling the story saw what she’d expected. A few friends and family members gathered to watch, and the missionary in the river raised his hand, repeating familiar scriptures before baptizing the converts. When the first convert came up out of the water, he began an excited and joyful time of shouting. The quiet service was silent no more! The second convert did the same. The final convert also came up from the shallow water shouting for joy.
Afterwards, the missionary watching the process asked about the unusual tradition. Why all the shouting? “I haven’t been able to completely communicate in this tribe’s language,” said the younger missionary. “They heard the scripture I gave them, but they didn’t understand the symbolic nature of it. When I told them that they would be “buried with him through baptism into death … and raised to walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4) they actually thought baptism would kill them!
We chuckled as we heard the story, until the missionary froze us with her gaze. “Let me ask you a question,” she said. “If you thought baptism would kill you, would you be willing to get in the river?”
A Different Approach to Baptism
Pastor Bob Beasley recounts this story:
Our three-year-old daughter, Rena, sat with us during the baptismal service last Sunday night, which was a new experience for her. She exclaimed in surprise, “Why he pushed that guy in the water? Why, Dad, why?” My wife tried to explain briefly and quietly, but Rena just wouldn’t be satisfied.
Later that night we tried to provide an answer that a child’s mind could comprehend. We talked about sin and told Rena that when people decide to live for Jesus and “do good” they want everyone to know. We then explained that water symbolizes Jesus’ washing people from sin; when they come out “clean,” they are going to try to be “good.” A moment later, we realized we’d have to work on our explanation a bit. Rena had immediately responded, “Why didn’t Pastor Bob just spank him?”
Bob Beasley, Pastor of Gregory Drive Alliance Church
The Gettysburg Address & Identity Formation
Why is it that countless American school-children memorize the Gettysburg Address each year? Is it a simple civics lesson? An opportunity to learn about the Civil War, a turning point in American history? Yes, it is each of those things, but also much more. The memorization of that short (just two-minute) speech is also an act of identity formation. It is a chance for students to connect to both the ideals and the aspirations of the people who founded this country. This is how Lincoln begins his speech:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The Gettysburg Address provides an opportunity for every American child who remembers its words to internalize the values and aspirations of their country. As they recite the address, it becomes a part of them.
When the church goes through its liturgy each week, whether it be “high” or “low,” its people are engaging in similar identity formation, through a reenactment of the life of Christ and his call to the church. When we perform the sacraments, we also engage in identity formation, from baptism to the Lord’s Supper. We are reminded of our sin, God’s sending of His Son, and the sacrifice that leads to our reconciliation with the Father. All of this done through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Grace from the Beginning
It’s remarkable that when the Father declares at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus hasn’t yet done much of anything that many would find impressive. He hasn’t yet healed anyone or resisted Satan in the wilderness. He hasn’t yet been crucified or resurrected. It would make more sense if the Father’s proud announcement came after something grand and glorious—the triumphant moment after feeding a multitude or the big reveal after Lazarus is raised…
Baptism is the first word of grace spoken over us by the church. In my tradition, Anglicanism, we baptize infants. Before they cognitively understand the story of Christ, before they can affirm a creed, before they can sit up, use the bathroom, or contribute significantly to the work of the church, grace is spoken over them and they are accepted as part of us. They are counted as God’s people before they have anything to show for themselves.
When my daughters were baptized, we had a big celebration with cupcakes and champagne. Together with our community we sang “Jesus Loves Me” over the newly baptized. It was a proclamation: before you know it, before you doubt it, before you confess it, before you can sing it yourself, you are beloved by God, not by your effort but because of what Christ has done on your behalf. We are weak, but he is strong.
The Greatest Knight
In a documentary film on the medieval statesmen William the Marshal, professor Thomas Asbridge shares his experience of the power behind Marshal’s knighting ceremony. It provides an interesting corollary to the Christian sacraments and the transformation that (potentially) takes place in them.:
For me one of the most evocative moments from William’s life is that instance when he is created as a knight. But the most important part of that occasion for him, as it is for all other knights, is the moment when the sword is girded to his side…It’s a moment of transformation when they go from being one type of human being to another.
Here is an act that has no intrinsic magic. It is, in one sense, merely a symbol. But symbolic acts can be hugely significant if and when they are performed in certain contexts. Indeed, they can be transforming.
William would have girded a sword to his side day after day. But on this occasion it was literally life-changing, because it was part of a symbolic ceremony in a particular social and cultural context. It took on a significance that went beyond the bare act itself. As Asbridge says, “It’s a moment of transformation when they go from being one type of human being to another.”
Taken from “The Greatest Knight: William the Marshal”, BBC Two, broadcast on November 1, 2014.
I am Baptized
If you’ve read or watched any of the biographies of Martin Luther, you will already know that he struggled at times with bouts of anxiety, self-loathing, and perhaps even depression. Shortly after his unwillingness to renounce his views in front of an imperial meeting (the famous Diet of Worms), Luther was spirited away to a remote castle, where he would eventually translate the Bible into German.
It had to have been an extremely harrowing time. The Catholic Church had condemned him, labeling him a heretic. Alone for much of the days, Luther fought against his demons, perhaps literal and figurative. At one point he was said to have thrown an inkpot across the room at the devil.
But his response to these attacks was just as interesting. Luther would shout out loud Baptizatus sum, “I am baptized.” As Tim Chester writes, “His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact, and it embodied the promise of God.”
When times were most tough, Luther leaned on the sacraments as a promise that Luther was saved, no matter what his demons might whisper in his ear.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Jesus’ Baptism Institutes the Reign of God
The baptism narrative (of Jesus), therefore, in all the gospels, is not simply about Jesus’s “divine identity” on the one hand, or a particular program of “atonement,” in the sense of a rescue from the world of creation, on the other. Yes, the gospels affirm Jesus’s divine identity. Yes, they affirm his death on the cross as the climax of God’s age-old plan of salvation.
But the purpose of God coming incognito in and as Jesus and the purpose, of this Jesus-dying on the cross was—so the gospels are telling us—in order to establish God’s kingdom, his justice, on earth as in heaven. As in Psalm 2, the point is that in this way the nations are to be called to account. This is how the creator is bringing his creation back into proper shape.
A Naming Ceremony
Your own baptism was a naming ceremony: you were baptized “in[to] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). That naming ceremony no more changed your heart than did the name you were given at birth.
But like the registration of your family name, this new name expresses who you really are as a Christian believer; it is a constant reminder to you of the family to which you belong and what it means to be part of it. Our baptism is meant to be a daily reminder of this—for the rest of our lives.
The Prime Sacrament
Baptism is the prime sacrament, the foundation of them all…There are two things which baptism signifies, namely, death and resurrection…We call this death and resurrection a new creation, a regeneration, a spiritual birth…The sacrament of baptism, even as a sign, is not a momentary action, but something permanent.
While the rite itself is quite transitory, yet the purpose which it signifies lasts until death; indeed, till the Resurrection at the last day. Baptism means something by which evermore you die and live…. All our experience of life should be baptismal in character… to die and live by our faith in Christ.
Why They Were Invited
Peter Storey, the former Methodist bishop and president of the South African Council of Churches, a white man who opposed apartheid, tells a story about a party at which he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were the honored guests. It was hosted by black South Africans who had leadership positions in their post-apartheid society.
They asked Peter and Desmond Tutu if they understood why they were throwing this party for them. They replied: “Because we were with you in the days of struggle against apartheid” Their hosts responded by saying’ “No, because you baptized us; you told us who we were and remembered when no one else did.”
A Wedding & A Reaffirmation of Covenant Love
Baptism is like a wedding. It is a covenant act, a relationship-making agreement, in which commitments are made. A couple may love one another. But feelings can go up and down. That is why marriage is so important. In a wedding two people bind themselves to one another in covenantal commitment. It provides a solid foundation to marriage. God has done the same with us. He has made a covenant. He has bound himself to us. And baptism symbolizes that commitment.
If baptism is like a wedding, then Communion is like an embrace. Communion is the reaffirmation of covenant love. Christ comes close to us to reassure us of his covenant love. He comes close to embrace us. Consider a wife who has had an argument with her husband or has let him down in some way.
What does she want? She wants him to take her in his arms and tell her that he loves her. She wants both the reassuring words and the physical touch of his embrace. Words without touch or touch without words could feel perfunctory, as if he were still withholding his affection. Christ is not withholding his affection for his bride, and so he graciously gives us both words and touch.
Taken from Truth We Can Touch by Tim Chester, © 2020 pp.65-66. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Baptism. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!