There aren’t many people who don’t appreciate a good holiday. And in today’s world, the best holidays are the ones that combine celebration of an event or an ideal with an extra layer of symbolism and participation. These are the holidays that encourage people to commemorate important moments from the past, rather than simply remember what happened many years ago.
Think about Thanksgiving, for example. This holiday was originally observed as a way to remember the struggles and triumphs of the earliest American settlers. In 1863— right in the middle of the American Civil War—President Abraham Lincoln delivered a proclamation that established what we currently observe as the national day of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.
The wonderful thing about Thanksgiving, however, is that we get to participate in the holiday. We don’t simply remember those settlers intellectually, nor do we stop at contemplating the value of being thankful on a philosophical level. We get to eat turkey! We get mashed potatoes and green beans and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie! We also gather together with the people we love most so that we can feel the warmth of giving thanks on an emotional level—so that we actually become thankful even as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
Something similar happens within the church when we celebrate the baptism of a new disciple of Jesus. No, disciples don’t get baptized every year. But the rite of baptism itself is very much a participation and a commemoration of something, rather than a simple ritual—specifically, it’s a commemoration of a person’s salvation.
What’s one of your favorite holidays? Why?
How would you summarize your earliest impressions of baptism within the church?
As we take a deeper look at the practice of baptism within the Scriptures, we’ll see that it’s much more than a celebration or even a commemoration. Indeed, baptism is our first act of obedience as disciples of Christ.
Ritual washings and other forms of baptism were a common practice for the Jewish people before the launch of the early church. In fact, Jesus Himself was baptized by John the Baptist at the beginning of His public ministry (see Matt. 3:13-17). For that reason, the authors of the New Testament epistles included a number of instructions for incorporating the ordinance of baptism as a core practice of the church. (Note: an “ordinance” is a spiritual practice that demonstrates a person’s faith in Christ.)
One of the most important of those instructions came from the apostle Paul in Romans 6:1-11:
1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was cruci ed with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
What do you like best about these verses?
How do these verses contribute to your understanding of baptism?