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In our modernized, "comfort zone Christianity," we do, sad to say, tend to take God's commandments far too lightly. As Chuck Colson points out:
"Most Westerners take baptism for granted, but for many in the world the act requires immense courage. In countries like Nepal it once meant imprisonment. For Soviet or Chinese or Eastern bloc believers, it was like signing their own death warrant."¹A wedding ring is an outward sign that a person is married. A military uniform is an outward sign that a person is involved in that particular branch of service. Similarly, water baptism is a symbol designed by God to identify a person as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
However, I use the word "symbol" here with caution. To say that it is "just a symbol" takes away from the depth and beauty of water baptism. Baptism is a symbol, but it is so much more than that.
When we are saved, we are spiritually baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27,) and into His Body , the church (1 Corinthians 12:13.) Baptism in water is an outward representation of these inward realities. In Biblical symbolism, water represents inner cleansing (Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 10:22,) and spiritual rebirth (John 3:5,) both of which are central themes of baptism.
Water baptism is, in essence, a funeral. It is an act of faith in which we testify, both to God and to the world, that the person we were before is dead and buried, and we are raised as a new creation in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated by these Scriptures:
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."- Romans 6:4Being baptized is a command from God, not an option. It is an act that God requires of every believer. In fact, among Jesus' last recorded words on earth were . "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved...." (Mark 16:16.) Think about that for a moment. Jesus' very call to believe on Him includes a call to be baptized. If He puts it in that category, He must see it as being something very important, wouldn't you say?
"Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead."-Colossians 2:12
You never read of an unbaptized Christian anywhere in the Bible. In fact, baptism immediately followed a person's salvation. They didn't see it as something to be delayed or put off. Let's take a look at some of the conversions described in the Book of Acts.
Christians who do not follow Jesus in water baptism have a much higher rate of backsliding than those who do. After all, if our walk with God didn't begin with the most basic act of obedience, it got off to a faulty foundation in the first place. This will make it more difficult to walk obediently in other areas of our lives.
Baptism is a very special way of God communicating His love to us. When we receive God's saving grace, it is no accident that He calls us to identify with Him in a way that makes it real to us. Are you struggling with guilt over your past? It may be because you haven't yet given the person you once were a proper burial! Water baptism is a very powerful reminder of God's wonderful grace. The person we were before is dead forever, and we are raised with Jesus as a totally new creation:
"Therefore, if any person is (ingrafted) in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old (previous moral and spiritual condition) has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!- (2 Corinthians 5:17 Amplified Bible)As you can see, you have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain by following Jesus in water baptism. Ultimately, it all goes back to Jesus' statement in John 14:15. "If you love me, keep my commandments." Baptism is a simple, but profound act of obedience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. If you have not yet taken this step, I strongly encourage you to do so as soon as possible.
Of course, we cannot take baptism without first embracing the reality that it represents: A living relationship with Jesus Christ. Without this, baptism is simply getting wet. If you have not given your heart to Him, why not do it now?
© 2002 JHB
¹ "The Body: Being Light In Darkness" by Charles Colson and Ellen Santilli Vaughn, 1992, Word Publishing, page 137
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