A Good Burial
By David B. Smith
It’s one of the most common questions in a courtroom: “Do you know the defendant? What’s your relationship to him?” So much can depend on the answer to that question! Some witnesses perjure themselves in order to deny any connection, but the man or woman who wants to become a Christian makes a bold statement of allegiance to their new Leader. This moment of testimony and commitment is called baptism.
The rite of baptism is rich in symbolism — especially as the believer considers it to be a burial and then resurrection. Paul uses this very imagery in Romans 6: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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 (v. 4). We not only identify with Jesus’ own death and resurrection, but acknowledge our deep need to die to an old, sinful way of life (v. 6) and begin a brand new identity as an innocent child and disciple of our Lord. Obviously, then, repentance is a necessary prerequisite to baptism; we must acknowledge that our life journey up till now has been on a wrong path, marked by inappropriate loyalties.
The stark and compelling imagery of burial may well be why the practice of baptismal immersion is sweeping the globe. In Bible times, baptism always involved a full dipping beneath the waves, signifying a complete break with old, rebellious loyalties . . . and then a joyful coming forth to begin a fresh life of acceptance by God and fruit-bearing service to His kingdom.
It’s important to note that Protestant Christianity holds baptism to be a significant faith experience, not an opus operatum — an act carrying its own grace-imparting power. “An outward representation of an inward reality” is how some put it. We are saved by the shed blood of Jesus, not the water in a baptismal pool. However, it’s equally true that the Word of God strenuously points to water baptism as a necessary step; it is a public acknowledgment of our choice to have Christ as our Redeemer and Master, and also marks a man or woman’s official entry into the Church. Jesus Himself commanded His disciples to travel the world, making disciples and baptizing them. At the end of the book of Mark, He also declares: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (16:16). In all the Bible, only the repentant thief on the cross is portrayed as receiving salvation without the opportunity of being baptized.
Borrowing again from the courtroom metaphor, baptism is a public, solemn-oath type of statement offering fealty to a chosen Lord. We declare ourselves to be obedient subjects of Jesus; baptism announces our intention to live a life pleasing to Him and as a part of a Bible-believing church that uplifts His name to the world. In Bible times, no one was simply baptized “generically” — the rite always involved thinking men and women who were immediately made an active part of a local church community.
Bearing this in mind, a growing number of churches today reserve baptism for people old enough and with sufficient spiritual maturity to carefully study the Bible and believe the gospel message. Baptism is like a marriage in that both parties seriously evaluate the commitment and enter into it with a full grasp of their weighty promise. Only after embracing the core teachings of the Christian faith is a person ready for this important step.
David B. Smith writes from California. (15 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay