Photo by Samara Doole on Unsplash
by Zach Simons
Baptism is one of the greatest privileges of the church to witness. Partaking of this act of worship and obedience is crucial to the mission of the church (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20). It would be impossible to unpack all the significance of this sacrament in a short letter like this, but I want to pause and highlight a few aspects as we prepare for Sunday.
In the Old Testament worldview, water is the realm of chaos. Genesis tells us that, in the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. It wasn’t until he separated the waters from the dry land that creation became habitable. Later, creation was destroyed by flood, yet God preserved Noah and his family in an ark of protection and salvation. Then, as God led his people out of Egypt, he did so by parting the waters of the Red Sea, leading them down into it and safe out of it on the other side; then bringing the waters down to cover and destroy their enemies. In fact, all throughout the Old Testament, the drowning, destroying, chaotic waters become instruments for the deliverance of God’s people.
In the New Testament, we find the practice of baptism by John the Baptist; a going down into the waters and an immersion signifying deliverance and repentance. Baptism always carries with it that element of deliverance from the chaos and destruction of sin, a rebirth through water with all its dangers and possibilities. Beyond this, the gospel infuses this act with rich significance. When Jesus commands the church to baptize disciples, it is because of this significance:
- Baptism unites us to Christ’s death (going down into the water) and resurrection (rising up out of 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 newness of life.” — Romans 6:3-4
- Baptism into Christ involves us in a new society, the church. In scripture, baptism not only defines our personal identity by uniting us with Jesus, it also defines our social identity as a member of the body of Christ.
- Baptism into Christ signifies washing away of our sins. As water washes our bodies clean, so the water of baptism signifies the washing away the stains of sin, regardless of our past.
- Baptism is the sign and seal of our new spiritual life. In Titus 3:5 Paul calls baptism “the water of rebirth,” and in John 3:5 Jesus speaks of being “born again by water and the Spirit.” When we trust Christ as Lord and Savior, our spirits are born anew; taken from darkness to light. Baptism signifies this.
For these reasons and more, we as the church ought to rejoice in witnessing something so rich and wonderful.