So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace — a new life in a new land!
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country (Romans 6:1-5 Message).
Our church is having a special baptismal service this Sunday.[SERVICE] When I learned about these plans, I remembered my own baptism on a cold winter day in 1942. Surely a nine-year-old boy didn't understand as much about baptism as I came to understand in later years. But I remember feeling the importance of expressing my faith commitment in a tangible way by being baptized.
At a church where I preached almost 60 years ago, a young boy, reminding me of myself, wanted to be baptized. His parents asked me to talk with him. I still remember how small Tommy looked. He was swallowed up in a big chair, his feet not touching the floor. We talked a little about some of his favorite Bible stories before I asked, "Tommy, why do you want to be baptized?" Without hesitation, his eyes never breaking contact with mine, Tommy said, "Because Jesus wants me to." His answer could have been longer, but it couldn't have been better. I baptized Tommy.
When I led a group of pastors and other church leaders on a Holy Land tour, I asked a woman who pastored two small inner-city churches to give the devotional on the Sea of Galilee. With the boat rocking gently on the waves, she gave a wonderful devotional on "The First Breakfast," the one Jesus had ready for his disciples after his resurrection (John 21:1-19). When I thanked her for the excellent message, she thanked me for the invitation and said, "When we get to the Jordan River, I'd like you to do me one more favor: I'd like you to immerse me in the Jordan."
She told me about being in seminary years earlier and being engaged to marry another ministerial student. He believed strongly in the necessity of immersion, and she didn't. He used all his powers of persuasion, finally saying, "If you won't do it for God, then do it for me."
She replied, "Darling, that's the wrong reason!"
That discussion revealed some other conflicts in their relationship, and they agreed not to proceed with plans for marriage. The woman, about my age, concluded her sad story with, "I never married, but I came to feel the need to be immersed."
I just had to give her a hug and say, "Oh, yes you did! You have been the bride of Christ, and no bride has served her beloved with greater love and loyalty. I'm honored that you asked, and, of course, I'll be happy to immerse you in the Jordan River."
As news of her plans spread through our group, another woman pastor asked if I would baptize her as well, explaining, "I'm not re-enacting anything; I need to have my sins washed away!" When I reminded her that she was a pastor, she said, "I am also a sinner, and I need to wash away my sins!"
With another minister helping me, we baptized seven people, six of them pastors, in the Jordan River that day.
Before baptizing them, I explained that I had to be true to my own conscience and understanding of scripture. I summarized my position like this:
- I believe that baptism is, by definition, immersion;
- That it is for believers;
- That it is preceded by repentance and confession of Jesus as Lord;
- That it is for the forgiveness or remission of sins as we place our trust in Jesus' saving death, burial, and resurrection.
(Passages you can consult for this understanding include, but are not limited to, the following passages: Mark 16:16; Acts 8:37; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16).
I'm not sure they all shared my understanding of those scriptures, just as the 3,000 baptized on Pentecost Sunday after hearing the message for the first time didn't all have the same understanding. Both we and they did understand that baptism is an important biblical teaching and it is something God wants us to do.
If you are considering baptism and you live in the Austin area, you may contact The Lakeway Church at 512-261-6331. If you are a Heartlight.org and "Encouraging Words" reader who lives a long way off, even outside the United States, contact Phillip Morrison and I'll work to put you in touch with someone near who can assist you.
In 65 years of ministry, I've never found a better answer: "Because Jesus wants you to."
[Service] The Lakeway Church in Lakeway, Texas, where Mary Margaret and I are members, will have a special baptismal service on Sunday, April 17. Following our usual four Sunday morning services, we will meet at Lakeway City Park a little after noon for a church-wide picnic, then baptizing in Lake Austin those prepared to make that commitment. We are pleased to be part of a non-denominational church that takes baptism seriously, not because it is an institutional requirement, but because it is a response to God's will.