FOLLOWING JESUS IN BAPTISM
I was saved when I was fifteen years old. It was the first week of August, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, and I was at a youth camp with our church. The best way I can describe what happened is that God in his grace showed himself to me. Listening to the preacher that night I was overcome by my need for God, how lost I was and would be without him, and how the truth of the gospel gave meaning to life itself, to my life. God opened my eyes to see the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf. I was able to see how his resurrection had conquered death and would allow me to conquer death and gain eternal life. I look back at that as the time I consciously and purposely put my faith and trust in Jesus as my Savior and decided to follow him.
My first major act in following Jesus was baptism. When I got home from youth camp I met with my pastor, told him about my salvation experience, and listened as he explained baptism to me. I remember how he told that baptism doesn’t save us (only the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ saves us), but it is of the utmost importance to who we are as believers. Baptism is not an optional take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing, but the God-ordained way we confess our faith in Jesus Christ before others. So the very next Sunday I went in front of the church, confessed my faith in Jesus, and was baptized.
Baptism is an act of identification. It is so important because it’s how we identify ourselves with Jesus and all other followers of Jesus. When we get baptized, we publicly proclaim that we are sinners, but that we have died to sin in Christ. That is why we go under the water but we don’t stay there! We also publicly proclaim that we have experienced the newness of life in Christ, the resurrection power of eternal life.
The reason that baptism is a public act before the church is because we don’t only identify with Jesus in baptism, but we also identify ourselves with our fellow believers. In baptism, we say “I’m with you Jesus, so now I am with all who follow you.” Baptism identifies us with everyone else who has experienced the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is why baptism is necessary for joining a church.
Jesus shows us all of this when he gets baptized early on in his public ministry. He comes with the crowds of people streaming to the Jordan River, identifying with all those in need of repentance. He stands before John the Baptist and proclaims he is fulfilling all righteousness in identifying with us, doing what we need to do so we can benefit from his obedience. As Jesus identifies with us, God the Father makes sure to identify with Jesus. The heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Father declares that Jesus is his beloved Son, in whom he is well-pleased.
In his baptism, Jesus says, “I am with you so you can be with me.” To be with Jesus is to be with God, to experience salvation. When we get saved we receive Jesus’ righteousness, are brought into the blessed presence of God, receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and we know that our Father loves us as a beloved daughter or son. He is well-pleased with us because of Jesus Christ. Baptism proclaims all of this; it acknowledges that all of these spiritual blessings are now ours in Christ.
It might be that we need to decide to follow Jesus. It might be that we have decided to follow Jesus and we need to identify with him in baptism. Or maybe we just need to remember that our Father loves us with a holy, divine love, and therefore he is pleased with us. Jesus was baptized for all of this, for us.