Lesson 8 – Christian baptism
Perhaps you are thinking about being baptized.
Perhaps you’ve never participated in the ritual or, if you have, you want to repeat it as a symbol of your new or renewed faith. You know this is an important observance—a milestone of sorts— that has been part of our Christian tradition since John wandered the desert urging people to first repent and then be baptized. The practice seems to represent a beginning, a clean slate, a commitment to start over, live obediently, and follow Christ’s teachings. It’s a way to stand up and be counted.
You also know that baptism has God’s blessing. You’ve read in Mark that after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, “he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ “ (Mark 1:10–11, niv).
First Comes Repentance
As important as the ritual of baptism is, salvation is dependent upon an internal relationship with God, not an external act of the church. If no relationship exists, the baptism ceremony is little more than a familiar text that climaxes with a dramatic action. Only when a “rebirth” precedes baptism does the ritual have true meaning. It is a way that believers can testify before a body of witnesses that Christ has come into their hearts, they have repented of their sins, and they are committed to the church’s ministry. This public act doesn’t automatically make them a part of the church, but it symbolizes their membership in the larger body of believers—the Church. (See chapter 6.)
Jesus emphasizes the importance of baptism when he says in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (niv). Notice the order that he specifies: First you believe, then you are baptized. Only those who believe are assured of salvation.
Baptism takes on even more significance when Christ includes it as part of the Great Commission that he gives his disciples at the end of his ministry on earth. The last words in the Book of Matthew tell his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20, niv).
The Book of Acts contains many examples of how the disciples obeyed Christ’s order. Consider:
√ Peter telling the crowd to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).
√ Philip baptizing the Ethiopian by the side of the road (Acts 8:30–38).
√ Ananias healing Saul’s eyes and then baptizing him (Acts 9:18).
What Happens On Monday Morning?
If baptism is a milestone, believers can anticipate many more milestones as they continue their Christian journey. We’re told to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self- control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5–7, rsv). As you look beyond baptism and ahead to your heightened commitment to Christ, you might consider three opportunities to pursue:
√ Get involved more fully in the life of the church. Make a list of the ways you now participate; make a list of ways you might expand that participation.
√ Revisit the Book of Acts and note how the followers of Christ took advantage of every opportunity to share the gospel. How often do you witness? Perhaps it’s time to offer your testimony more frequently.
√ Step up your study of the Bible. To grow spiritually, you must increase your knowledge of the scriptures. Growing Christians are Bible Christians.