Remember your baptism

At one level baptism is quite simple to get your head around. While the precise mechanics varies from church to church, the basic idea is the same throughout the world and throughout history. It involves water and words.

But when you get down to what this beautifully simple symbol means, things get a bit more interesting. I thought I knew what baptism was all about. Until about 3 years ago when I decided to look into what the Bible actually says about baptism.

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21-09-14 Remember Your Baptism.mp4 from Barneys Broadway on Vimeo.

Tonight we baptised four people. So I wanted to take this opportunity to spend a bit of time thinking about what baptism is and what it does.

At one level baptism is quite simple to get your head around. While the precise mechanics varies from church to church, the basic idea is the same throughout the world and throughout history. It involves water and words.

But when you get down to what this beautifully simple symbol means, things get a bit more interesting. I thought I knew what baptism was all about. Until about 3 years ago when I decided to look into what the Bible actually says about baptism. I was shocked to learn that I’d almost completely misunderstood what it means. I came to realise that almost everything I’d ever thought about baptism was, maybe not wrong, but so far from the full picture that I had to rethink what I thought baptism was about. It turns out that the true Biblical meaning of Baptism is more profound, more beautiful, more helpful than I ever realised.

So today I have a very simple task, I want to show you what this simple and beautiful practice of baptism is all about according to the Bible.

We’ll start by looking at what it is, then what it does.

1. What it is

Baptism is something done to us involving water and words.
One of the most moving accounts of a baptism in the Book of Acts involves a powerful Ethiopian eunuch, a royal official. God sends Philip to talk to him and explain the meaning of the passage in Isaiah that he is reading – showing how Jesus is the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about. The man is convinced; it seems he becomes a Christian then and there, and as they’re walking along an opportunity comes up:

Acts 8:36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Some obvious things to point out here. 1. Baptism involves water. The amount of water varies – earlier this year our overseas Mandarin congregation went down to the beach and baptised someone in the surf at Bondi. (This time of year the cold water and big swell can really make you feel closer to Jesus – like you’re literally minutes away from heaven.) Here we just use a small amount of water. It doesn’t matter either way ¬– the Bible doesn’t specify how much water just that water is involved.

Baptism involves water … and 2. it also involves words.

Matt. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

So we baptise in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This separates baptism from other types of religious practices, such as Jewish ceremonial washing.

3. It’s obvious but do you notice that baptism is something done to you. Philip baptises the eunuch. The disciples are commanded to go baptising all nations. You cannot baptise yourself. It is something that is done to you.

4. The final thing to notice is that it only ever happens once. This makes sense because, as Paul points out in Ephesians 4:5, there is one Lord, one faith, and so there is only one baptism: the Lord’s baptism, baptism in the name of Jesus. Once you’ve received that baptism there’s no double dipping.

So baptism is something involving water and words that someone does to you once.

But it’s what baptism does – it’s what we can’t see – that makes Baptism truly life changing.

2.What baptism does

Baptism points towards something you can’t see
Baptism is something visible whose job is to point to something invisible. In other words, it’s a sign, a signpost, it is a visible symbol of something important but invisible.

So before we get to baptism, I want to talk a little bit about signs in general. We have all sorts of signs. We have traffic signs to warn us of things ahead we might not be able to see. We have street signs to direct us towards roads or places which are hard to find. We have a sign for our church, to tell people on the street what is going on in this building.

I’m actually wearing a sign. My wedding ring. A wedding ring is a type of sign, a visual aid. A visible symbol. If I ever forget that I’m married, I look down and – “oh yeah, that’s right, I am married”. My marriage is real, and important but it also can’t be seen, so we have a sign which points towards it.

It’s worth pointing out some obvious things about a wedding ring which are true of many signs.

Firstly, the wedding ring doesn’t make you married. If I give you my wedding ring you don’t suddenly become married to Steph.

Secondly, losing the wedding ring doesn’t make you unmarried. A few years ago I had my ring resized because in the surf it would sometimes come loose and get dangerously close to falling off. If that happened, if I lost my wedding ring, I would be very sad. But I wouldn’t be divorced. (At least, not automatically.)

The sign ring points to a reality, but that reality exists independently of the sign.

A ring is just a ring – it’s the thing it points to that makes it so special. So what does Baptism point to, and why is it so precious?

If you ask people what baptism means they tend to say one of two things. Neither of them are really the heart of it.

Some people will tell you it symbolises washing from sin. A bit like Jewish ceremonial washing. But strangely the New Testament hardly ever talks about baptism in this way – I can maybe find two places where washing is even mentioned in the same sentence (Acts 22:16, Titus 3:5). Washing away of sins is part of the picture but it’s not the whole or even most important part of it.

Other people will tell you it is about standing up and declaring your faith in Jesus publicly. I see what they’re getting at, but it’s misleading. Sure, most of the baptisms recorded in the New Testament follow closely after someone deciding to follow Jesus:

  • The first followers in John 4:1
  • The people who accepted Peter’s message in Acts 2:38-41
  • Simon the Sorcerer, the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip’s other converts in Acts 8.
  • Saul in Acts 9:18.
  • Lydia and her household in Acts 16:15
  • The prison guard and his whole family in Acts 16:33-34
  • A bunch of Corinthians including Crispus, his whole family, (Acts 18:8) and Gaius (1 Cor 1:14)
  • Some followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:4)

In all these cases baptism follows a decision. And unlike a changed heart, baptism is external and therefore potentially public. I know from talking to some of our International Students here that for them the decision to be baptised is a big deal, a point of no return with their family and friends and government. They will be asked “have you been baptised?”, and if they have it may exclude them from certain jobs. If the wrong people find out there is (in certain circumstances) the real prospect of death. In these circumstances you want to be very sure about your decision to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

But baptism does not point to that decision. Remember baptism is something done to you. And the reason for that, I take it, is that it points to something done to you. baptism is not about your decision. It’s about something that has happened to you.

Rom6:3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Here it is! Baptism points to something which happened when you became a Christian. When you were baptized into Christ Jesus. Baptism at its heart is about our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, and all the benefits which flow from that.

Into Christ, with Christ – what does that mean? To be in Christ or to be buried with him means that we are tied together with him. Our destiny is linked to his. When you climb in an aeroplane you are putting your life into the hands of the pilot. If the plane reaches the destination so will you. If it is going to London so are you.

When you became a Christian you were united with Christ. Again and again the Bible talks about being a Christian as being “in Christ”. There is no condemnation for those “in Christ”. “In Christ we form one body”. “In Christ” those who were far away have been brought near. So whatever happened to Christ will happen to you. If he died because of sin so did you. If he rose from the dead so will you. Your future is determined by him.

In a slightly morbid way, Baptism is a symbol of death as well as hope. It symbolises this union with Christ in his death, and resurrection. And through that death we receive all the promises of the Christian life:
What has God promised you?
In Christ we are guaranteed the forgiveness of sins
In Christ, we are guaranteed the gift of the Holy Spirit
In Christ, we are guaranteed inclusion in the church
In Christ, we are guaranteed the hope of future resurrection.

This is why Baptism is even more amazing that you might have thought. It points visibly to something we can’t see, it is a sign. Not pointing to my decision. But pointing to something better my union with Christ in his death and resurrection and all the amazing benefits that come from that personal relationship with him.

So you see, to say that Baptism is about me declaring that I’ve decided to become a Christian is sort of true but also completely misses the point. It’s like saying a wedding ring is a reminder of my decision to ask Steph to marry me. It’s certainly important. We probably wouldn’t be married if one of us hadn’t asked the question. But the ring points to the marriage itself, not just the decision to get married.

Baptism points towards our union with Christ in his death and resurrection

That’s why this sign belongs to all Christians (even little ones)

We have many people at Barneys from different backgrounds and that’s a strength. Some come from Anglican churches, but many come from another type of church or indeed no church background. We’re used to different things, and I’m okay with that if you are.

The Bible doesn’t say when to baptise children of Christian parents. So different churches have different practices. In Anglican churches we don’t specify when someone must be baptised, but we invite people to baptise their children if the parents are Christian and are going to raise their children as Christians.

If you come from a Baptist church background this will strike you as a little odd. After all an infant can’t speak, they can’t decide to become a Christian, they can’t email the church office and line up a date for baptism, they can’t invite their friends… so it is inappropriate for them to be baptised.

If you think baptism is about the declaration of the individual about their decision to follow Jesus then – absolutely – baptising infants makes no sense. But we’ve just seen that my decision to follow Jesus is not the main thing. Baptism is something done to you. It points to what God has done for you, in uniting you with Christ. And so the sign belongs to anyone who belongs to Jesus.

This is very important for our understanding of children and God. The whole question about baptism is pretty clear, the sign belongs to anyone who belongs to Christ. So the real question behind whether to baptise infants is what you think about children. Is there room in the kingdom for little people?

The question to ask when you decide to baptise your children is simply this: do you trust that your children are Christian? If they are, then the sign of baptism belongs to them.

It doesn’t matter that their faith is dependent on yours. Christian faith is not about being independent. Quite the opposite:

Matt. 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

In other words, Jesus did not put a height restriction on the kingdom of God and so neither should we.

Yes, it’s true that we don’t know what they’ll decide to do when they grow up. As they grow in independence they may decide to continue with the faith they were taught by their parents, or they may decide to walk away. But that’s just it isn’t it – tragically, they’ll be walking away from something. They’ll be leaving behind something precious: the simple trust of childhood faith. Until and unless that happens, we take on faith that our prayers for that children have been answered, the the promises belong to them as much as us. And whatever happens, the meaning of baptism is not diminished, because it was never about them anyway; it was always about what Jesus has done for them.

To finish: remember your Baptism

1. Remember… when battling with sin.

In Romans 6 Paul is considering what the Christian’s motivation for getting rid of sin is. If we’re saved by grace, if we’re guaranteed forgiveness, can’t we go on living however we like?

2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [And here he refers them back to their baptism…] 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Our baptism is a constant reminder of who we are, where we now stand. We are those who died to sin, we are no longer under its power, its authority, its penalty… so how can we live in it any longer?

When did we die to Sin? 33AD, when Jesus died for you. When he died, we died. As we saw last week from the book of Zechariah, this means two things: we are worse sinners than we dared imagine, and more loved than we ever hope. And it’s on this basis we battle with sin.

2. Remember… the promise is yours

Gal. 3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christa have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, if you are a Christian then remember your baptism. Remember what it stands for. That you are united with Christ. And so you are heirs of promises which include but also go beyond the promises given to Abraham.

What has God promised you? Health? Success? Good children? Not necessarily. But he has promised you this: in uniting you with Christ you get all the benefits we spoke about before: the gift of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, inclusion in the church and the hope of future resurrection.
Remember your baptism, because it is something you can see to remind you of these promises.

And if you haven’t yet embraced a life of personal relationship with God, if you haven’t yet embraced these promises, perhaps today should be the day?

3. Remember … when coming to church

1Cor. 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

If this is a real church, then the only thing we will have in common is that we are sinners who have been baptised into the body of Christ. I shouldn’t expect to look around and see people just like me. I shouldn’t expect to find people who like the same music as me. I shouldn’t expect to find people who I find particularly easy to get along with.

And that’s brilliant. Because this isn’t a club, it’s a Spiritual gymnasium. You don’t go to the gym to find things which are easy. No you go to the gym to do work. To grow disused muscles.

This is a spiritual gymnasium, because in it God is bringing together people who are not like each other and daring them to learn how to love each other. Loving people who are the same as me is easy. It’s in learning to love people who are different … from different cultures, from different political backgrounds, from different parts of Australia, from different generations … that’s the gymnasium of the Spirit.

4. Haven’t been baptised then do it.

If you are a Christian then you should be baptised. Shortly after Saul saw the risen Jesus and repented, changed his mind and direction, Ananias says this to him: “what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16)