Week 11, Day 2: Baptism
READ: ACTS 8:26-40
Baptism is a huge celebration at Christ City Church. We baptize those who have made a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord — it is an outward and public expression of an inward and personal reality, and we do this in obedience to Jesus’ command in the Great Commission, when he told his disciples to make other disciples (other learners of the Way of Jesus), “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19). In the early church, as in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, baptism was always consequent to belief.
The word “baptize” means “to dip or immerse.” It illustrates Christ’s death, burial and resurrection; and when we are baptized, it identifies us with Christ — we are “buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Baptism is a sacrament like communion, a symbolic action that has spiritual consequences; being washed signifies the washing away of a person’s past sins and rebirth and re-emergence into a new life in Christ, binds us to Christ and his resurrection life, and identifies us with a new community — the family of God.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote that baptism is about obedience and hope. It is about obedience in that we choose to follow the command of Jesus to be baptized and to baptize others into this new way of living. As such, baptism serves several functions:
it is a concrete visible act, by which a person’s conversion and commitment to Jesus becomes a matter of public knowledge;
it is a social, communal act, by which a person is welcomed into and identified with the church as the community of Christ, which is the context for transformation and growth;
it is a free, obedient act, by which the true beginning of a human decision is directed to its proper goal — Jesus Christ.
But baptism is also about hope; like communion, baptism looks forward. Baptism with water is symbolic of our baptism with the Holy Spirit, which Jesus brings (Acts 1:5) — God’s presence with us and in us, God’s power equipping us for all the work we are called to, and God’s promise that we are assured of new life in him, beginning now and lasting forever.
While the act of baptism has united the church throughout church history, the method of baptism has not always united churches. Some churches — including Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians — perform infant baptisms, while other churches — including evangelicals, Baptists, charismatics, and Pentecostals — tend to emphasize what is called ‘believer’s baptism,’ where a person is baptized following their profession of faith in Christ.
I get why a person might be reticent or reluctant to get baptized. Getting publicly dunked seems more in line with an awareness-raising campaign on social media than a serious and significant act as a part of one’s faith. But there’s something special about a public affirmation of a personal decision; that’s true spiritually, emotionally, and even relationally. Baptism is often an opportunity to celebrate with friends and family a very important relationship and commitment — weddings perform a similar function.
Some of the most special and honoring experiences in my life as a pastor have been the opportunities where I’ve gotten to walk with someone over an extended period of time, to journey with them as they’ve wrestled with questions of faith, to celebrate with them when they decided to commit their life to follow Jesus, and then to baptize them as they’ve gone public with that choice. Many a tear of joy has accompanied baptism. If you think of yourself as a follower of Jesus but you haven’t yet been baptized, I hope you’ll seriously consider it!
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: If you’ve already been baptized, what happened in your life that brought that about? If you haven’t yet been baptized, what are your thoughts on it?
Heart: Whether you have been baptized or not, what does it mean to you?
Hands: If you haven’t yet been baptized, consider whether you want to be baptized. If you have been baptized, see if you can find a picture of your baptism to share with the group.
Meditate on baptism, either giving thanks for the baptism you’ve received or asking God if it’s time for you to be baptized. (If it is time, let your small group leader know!)
Baptism is about
obedience and hope.