What it Means to Be Baptized

What it Means to Be Baptized

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our holy, triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [1]

You know, there are probably a thousand opinions about what it means to be baptized. Some view baptism as simply a church ordinance, surely commanded by Christ, but a command with no actual or apparent spiritual benefit. In other words; Jesus said to do it, but baptism doesn’t really do anything for you or to you.

Others see baptism in societal or cultural terms, a religious ceremony much like a wedding or a funeral, helping people through certain major events in their lives. Others, when they think of baptism, think of the trappings: the pretty lace gown, the smiling parents and the gurgling, cooing, and—sometimes—screaming, baby. And there is nothing wrong with gowns and smiles, and even screaming babies. Not at all; you’d scream, too, when your favorite, hidden demons are confronted by God’s penetrating glare and face the power of His Word: on the one hand indicting and condemning, on the other hand uplifting and renewing.

But, what does it really mean to be baptized? To answer that question, let’s consider a few important points.

First, to be baptized means becoming and remaining an active member of a Christian community. Our secular culture hammers home every single day of our lives our radical individuality. Our society is bursting at the seams—if not its very fabric torn—by folks all touting their “rights,” their “opinions,” their “desires”.

And technology, which ought to be viewed as God’s gift to give us more time to spend with each other, now further separates us. Each one of us, it seems, is an island, each one of us exists for ourselves.

But to be baptized in the Triune Name means that we have been baptized into a community—a community of believers, a family. When the water is poured over the head of an infant or an adult, and as our Triune God’s Name is invoked, at that very instant that girl or boy, that man or woman, ceases being separated from God, and ceases being separated from the rest of us who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized, too.

To the crowd in Jerusalem, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [2]

The community created at the baptismal font exists as a family of brothers and sisters, just as a human family consists of father, mother, sons and daughters. There must be love and respect in this community, just as there must be love and respect in the family. There must be contact. There must be sharing. There must be cooperation. There must be communication. There must be sitting down at the table together and eating and drinking together. We aren’t intended to exist as Christians independent of other Christians, nor can we exist as spiritually healthy Christians for very long time independent of the Christian congregation.

Do you know what characterized the early Church? Their coming together to worship, to listen and learn, to celebrate Holy Communion, and to mutually support each other.

That’s why Luke tells us in Acts chapter two: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47 ESV). Baptism means being an active member of a Christian community.

Second, to be baptized means living a Christian lifestyle. Each week the Gallup Organization sends out a weekly electronic newsletter. You may remember that Gallup are the folks who poll the nation, getting a finger on the pulse of our opinions. As part of their “Tuesday Morning Briefing” as it’s called, they published the results of a recent poll conducted concerning the topic of morality in America.

Interestingly, 67% of Americans think that “the state of moral values in the country as a whole” is getting worse. Would you agree? Do you think morality is suffering in the US?

Well, the poll also showed that 45% of those surveyed believe that doctor-assisted suicide is morally OK, 44% said that homosexual behavior was morally acceptable and 66% thought that there was nothing wrong with divorce. No wonder those polled think that morality in America is getting worse. All they have to do is look at their own answers!

I am afraid that if American churchgoers were polled, sadly they’d probably give very similar answers. While deploring the general decline of morality in America, even Christians would seek to find justification for their own immoral thoughts, words and deeds. It’s how we rationalize and self-justify our lives, ignoring or hiding from one another what we can never hide from our heavenly Father.

Also interestingly enough, Paul talks about immorality, Christians and baptism in his letter to the Colossians. From chapter two: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” [3]

Do you see what baptism does, then, according to what the Holy Spirit revealed to St. Paul? What Christ accomplished for us by dying on the cross for our sins, and through the power of His resurrection from the dead, God gives us in, with, and under the water of baptism. The sinful, corrupt nature we were conceived and born with, our sinful nature that causes us to deserve to spend an eternity in hell, drowns in baptismal water.

What emerges from the font is a newborn child of God. Perfect. Righteous. Holy. Beloved. Filled with the Holy Spirit, gifted with faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and empowered to do good works by serving others. That’s why it cannot be that we, after baptism, can go back to dwell in the way of sin, the way of death, the way of the world, the way that ultimately leads, as Scripture says…to hell.

Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 7: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [4]

But you might be thinking, “Well, I have certainly sinned. Is there any hope for me? I’ve done many bad things since I was baptized. I can’t even count the times I’ve really messed up…messed up my life, my family’s life, my kids’ lives. I’ve missed church, I’ve gotten drunk, I’ve used drugs, I don’t read my Bible like I should, I haven’t worked or studied as diligently as I could have, I’ve had sex with someone who’s not my spouse, I’ve lied to my employer, I’ve stolen from my classmates or neighbor, I’ve coveted someone else’s situation. My gods have become recreation and pleasure and serving myself. I know these things are wrong. What shall I do?”

The answer is always the same: Repent of your sins, resolve to change with the help of the Lord, and rejoice once again in the promises of your baptism. Just because you have broken the promise you made to God made at your confirmation doesn’t mean that He has broken the promise He made to you at your baptism. Listen to what Paul says to the church in Corinth, after speaking quite bluntly about the congregation’s former life of idolatry, sexual immorality, thievery, fraud, and drunkenness: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. [5]

That promise of new life, forgiveness, the Spirit’s presence, and God’s love is something we can return to again and again and again. He is with us, He is for us, He forgives us through Jesus Christ. Baptism means being grateful for all those things and, with God’s help, living a Christian lifestyle.

Finally, baptism means a Christian outlook for both today and eternity. We’ve got the best news in the world: that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, lived perfectly for us and satisfied God’s demands for perfection. Jesus, on the cross, took our place and absorbed God’s righteous punishment for our sins. And we get off completely free!

So, instead of living our lives in depression or anger, repression or guilt, we can enjoy our lives in the freedom Christ has given us through His cross and empty tomb. Being baptized also means having a different attitude—a Christian attitude. That outlook permeates every part of who we are, and affects every aspect of our lives, in a positive way.

Listen to this glorious baptismal statement made by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” [6]

What a wonderful promise! Resurrected bodies freed from pain, freed from sin, freed from death! And that promise is already yours through your baptism into Christ. By this Sacrament you are part of this Christian community, our parish family and the one, true Christian Church of all time and places.

By water and word, He gives you His Spirit and His power to live a Christian lifestyle. And He gives you not a gloomy, but a glorious Christian outlook. Forgiven, fresh, renewed, like a little baby. But not just in the fleshly sense. Through baptism, you are God’s new child, God’s special child, a child of the heavenly Father, washed clean in His sacred font. That’s what it means to be baptized. Thanks be to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] John 3:4-6 ESV

[2] Acts 2:38-39 ESV

[3] Colossians 2:11-14 ESV

[4] Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

[5] 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV

[6] Romans 6:4-5, 8, 11 ESV