THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM: SPLISH SPLASH NOT JUST TAKING A BATH
As the church we are by virtue of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection a sacramental people. But what does this really mean and what does this look like as we seek to live lives transformed by the grace of God? To understand this fundamental truth we first need to know how we define a sacrament within our tradition. According to Nazarene theologian Rob Staples a sacrament is defined as “An outward sign of an inward grace.” A sacrament is our response to what God has done and is continuing to do in the life of believers. The two sacraments that we recognize within the Protestant church are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion).
Although what we believe about Baptism differs between denominations concerning the mode of baptism (full immersion, sprinkling, or pouring), whether or not we have to be baptized again, whose name one should be baptized under and the recognition of infant baptism the one thing that unites all Christians is the idea that through the sacrament of baptism the believer has the opportunity to publicly announce their faith in Christ and their commitment to living a life that bears fruit worthy of their repentance. It is a symbol of the new covenant.
Within the Church of the Nazarene “We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.” Baptism is that outward sign (public declaration) of an inward grace (our salvation through the atonement). We also believe that Baptism can be administered through the means of sprinkling, pouring or immersion and that young children may be baptized at the request of their parents who give the assurance for them of the necessary Christian training.
Throughout the New Testament we hear a lot about baptism and the significance of this great sacrament. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we are introduced to John the Baptist, the was his job, it was what he did, he baptized. In Luke 3 John tells the crowd that he baptizing with water for the forgiveness of sins but there is one coming who is greater than he, the Messiah, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. In Acts 2:38 the apostle Peter addresses the crowd after Pentecost and says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As folks were being saved the necessary step for them was a public declaration of the new life they now have in Christ through baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit as it descended upon Jesus as He arose from the waters of His baptism on the shore of the Jordan and the voice from heaven spoke, “This is my son, the beloved, with Him I am well pleased.” Peter also writes in 1 Peter 3:21 that baptism is more than a bath that cleanses the filth from our bodies that must be entered into over and over again, “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”
To me this suggests that one need not be baptized over and over again but that with the sacrament of baptism we are cleansed of the filth of sin that once defiled and defined us and are now under a new King who gives us the good conscience to choose the life of resurrection and not the life of death. So in baptism we quite literally put our old self to death in order that we might rise anew with Christ Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, refined and purified. As the church, my prayer is that we would live into and out of our baptisms, bearing fruit worthy of our repentance.
May Jesus be for you the refiners fire who purifies you and makes you holy as the great praise chorus suggests: “Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver. Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold. Refiner's fire, my heart's one desire is to be... holy; Set apart for You, Lord. I choose to be... holy; Set apart for You, my Master, ready to do Your will. Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within.”