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A Baptized Life

Well, as churches have taken advantage of online technology during the pandemic a megachurch church in Maryland has taken another step. It is doing online baptisms.

A woman was dressed in a white shirt and pants for her baptism. Her mother stood nearby as an associate minister of First Baptist Church of Glenarden asked the little girl about her Christian beliefs. But the officiant of the Maryland megachurch was states away. The woman was in the bathtub of her Georgia home, becoming the first online campus member of the Maryland megachurch to be baptized virtually. The church has since done 91 baptisms virtually.[1]

Baptisms have certainly been done in all kinds of ways over the centuries. There is a lot to think about when it comes to what this church in Maryland is doing. I won’t critique it here but I am partial to in-person baptisms where the person, a Christian leader, the church, and of course, the Holy Spirit are all present. But that’s just me, and I probably won’t start doing virtual baptisms anytime soon.

Apart from such virtual baptisms, different churches practice baptism in different ways.

Some of us were baptized as infants, some as a youth, some of us as an adult. Some were sprinkled, some were dunked, some were poured on. Some were baptized in a church building, others in a lake or river, some in a swimming pool.

What’s vital is that we are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (This is what Jesus said to do.) And that there is water. And that there is faith.

We are a tradition that baptizes infants and young children as we did this morning. We do this if a parent or parents have an active faith in Christ. We do this as a way of acknowledging the child is part of the covenant community of faith. We do this because the Holy Spirit can work in the life of a child as much as an adult. A child knows to trust his/her parents. Can he/she not trust the Lord? No, not like they might as a mature adult with developed rational faculties and awareness, but we believe faith is more than being fully developed mentally.

Baptizing an infant is not a guarantee of salvation, or of that child growing up to be a professing Christian. It takes nurture, teaching, prayer and modeling. But neither is the baptism of an adult guarantee of salvation or that adult continuing with Christ.

We don’t baptize children according to the belief of the Roman Catholic Church that it is insurance in case something happens to the child. God’s love and mercy extends to any child regardless of whether he or she is baptized. When we baptize a child we are claiming the work of Christ for them.

The limitations of baptism of an infant is that he/she won’t remember it. Experiencing a baptism can be important. They also have no say in the matter. Making a decision for Christ is important.

Some people grow up, realize they don’t remember and had no say, and want to be rebaptized. That’s understandable. I am sure some of you were “rebaptized.”

Presbyterian Christians don’t rebaptize and here’s why – and think about this: Baptism isn’t about what we do but what God does. Can a baptism ever be erased or not effective? Do we want to say what God did in our baptism wasn’t good? Maybe you were baptized as a baby. Well, here you are with faith and a relationship with the Lord. God claimed you as his own. We might say your baptism is good and working.

We do reaffirm or renew baptisms. Yes, we may not have had a say or have a memory of our baptism. Or, maybe we walked away from the Lord for a number of years and have had a renewal in faith. I often lead people who feel this through the water again, with the understanding that their first baptism was and is still good because God’s love and faithfulness has always been with them. But it is appropriate to allow the person to receive the experience of the water, prayer, being surrounded by the church, and affirming their faith on their own.

It’s like a couple who have been married for fifty years who reaffirm their marriage vows. They have always been married. There have been seasons of growth and change. Maybe there were times of extreme struggle where there was separation or failure. And they want to renew the vows they took fifty years ago. They are no less married because of changes and ups and downs since they first took vows fifty years before. But they come to a place where they want to affirm and strengthen their marriage by renewing the vows.

So when we renew someone’s baptism we are saying “You are baptized and have always been baptized. Baptism is bigger than just your decision. It’s about God’s grace. But it is a beautiful part of faith and let’s reaffirm it.”

I was baptized as an infant. Whatever God did in that moment has been a part of my relationship with him all these years. I have a long way to go but I’ve turned out all right. Someday I would like to do a reaffirmation.

Of course, we baptize young people or adults who profess faith, too. And I always counsel young parents thinking about having their child baptized that it is fine to wait and allow the child to grow up and choose the experience of baptism on their own. There is no rush or hurry. Nothing should be forced. There is freedom in all of this. This summer we will celebrate the baptism of Sarah Chambers, and we look forward to that. And we are going to reaffirm the baptism of Derek Spitzer. We look forward to that.

There is no right age to be baptized. It is a matter of faith, maturity, discernment, commitment and each person’s experience.

Whatever age we celebrate a baptism we are acknowledging God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Baptism is our response to that. We are acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ and our intention to live into that.

How we are baptized varies. There are churches that insist on immersion. I get that. I love doing baptisms by immersion. Wherever and however a baptism is done my one conviction is that there be as much water as possible. I am not big on sprinkling. But the mode isn’t as important as faith that is present and what God is doing.

We often don’t think about our baptism. It happens once and then you move on. But Baptism is not just something we do. It is an essential part of our Christian faith. Jesus was baptized. Jesus said to baptize all who follow him.

“Baptism is not an optional ritual, to be delayed or postponed. It signifies your inclusion in God’s family. It publicly announces to the world, ‘I am not ashamed to be part of God’s family.’”[2]

To return to the picture of marriage, think of baptism like marriage. It is our marriage to the Lord. It is a sign of our commitment, our love, and our desire to live for him. When you wear a wedding ring it says I am committed to someone. It speaks of faithfulness. It would be inappropriate to wear a wedding ring and then go around hunting for other lovers. Right? So with our baptism, it is a sign – albeit an invisible one – that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

It comes with commitment. It marks a lifestyle. This has often been lacking in how people approach baptism.

Like marriage, baptism is not an end in itself. Just like a wedding marks the beginning of a lifelong journey in a relationship, so baptism is just the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. We aren’t baptized because we are perfect or have already reached some level of faith. We are baptized because we know God’s grace in our lives and we want to say “yes” to that. With baptism we say “yes” to being part of the church, we say “yes” to following Jesus, we say “yes” to living by the forgiveness of sins. It is a lifelong walk of faith.

But, whenever and however we are baptized, the most important thing is to have a baptized life: a life that shows and reflects the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 2 Paul compares baptism to circumcision. Circumcision is from the Old Testament and was the sign that you were a part of the people of Israel. One of the reasons we baptize children is that we believe they are part of the community of faith just as little children were circumcised in Israel to show they were a part of the people of God. Young infants were circumcised on the basis of the promises that God’s love was for them. We baptize children because Christ shed his blood no less for children than he did for adults.

We might call baptism Christian circumcision. But baptism is a circumcision not done by human hands but by Christ. In baptism we put off our sinful nature. The old self is buried and we rise to a new life in Christ. Just as Christ was dead, buried and raised, so one of the meanings of our baptism is that we are dead, buried and raised as our lives are united with Christ. That is symbolized most clearly in an immersion baptism.

Paul goes on to write in Colossians that “…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves…” And then he begins to name various characteristics of the Christian nature.

When the Apostle Paul said “clothe yourselves” he was using baptismal language. In the first decades of Christianity, people would take off their clothes before being baptized. (Scary for some of us, huh?) Then they would go into the water. When they came out they would put on a new piece of clothing, often white, to symbolize they had put on a new life.

Paul is using this idea when he says “clothe yourselves.” In another letter he writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”[3] Baptism is something we put on like clothing. We are putting on the Christian life. There are certain things a baptized life should wear.

A baptized life is a life that shows the Lord Jesus Christ in how it lives. It wears compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. A baptized life forgives. It forgives because it has been forgiven.

Above all it shows love.

A baptized life lets the peace of Christ rule in its heart.

It is thankful.

The message of Christ lives in it.

And whatever it does in word or deed it does it in the name of the Lord Jesus.

These are all the things Paul mentions in Colossians 3.

A baptized life is clothed with Jesus. When I was a young boy and my mother bought me clothes she would often buy them a little big so I could grow into them. In the same way we grow into our baptism. Growing into the likeness of Jesus is something that will be ongoing all of our lives. Putting on the life of Christ is way bigger than us. We grow into our faith. Sometimes we face times when we are stagnant or we go backwards or we lose our way or we flourish. But God can use it all to grow us.

Miuccia Prada is an Italian billionaire fashion designer and businesswoman. Maybe you have heard the name Prada. If you own Prada or are wearing it today please stand up. We need to see it. Anyway, Ms. Prada said,

“What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language."

Let’s translate that into faith terms. If baptism is being clothed with Christ then what we wear in terms of the characteristics of our lives is how we present ourselves to the world. And if we are putting on Christ then our lives should speak and show him. If fashion is instant language, then how we live should speak volumes.

Maybe you strive to be fashionable in what you wear. Even if you aren’t a fashionista we all want to wear clothes that are comfortable and in which we feel presentable. As Christians our fashion is to be Christ. His love, his compassion, his forgiveness are to be fashionable for us.

These things become visible with how we live and who we live for. Somewhere along the line people should see these things in us.

The book of Ephesians chapter 6 is a well-known part of the New Testament. It speaks of putting on the armor of Christ. We are to put on the armor because faith can be a battle. So it speaks of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation. Many Christians talk about the need to spiritually dress themselves for the daily battle.

In Colossians Paul writes about a different wardrobe. It is the wardrobe of our baptism.

Baptism is more than a religious ritual. It is something we wear all our lives. It is invisible. But it is made visible by how closely our lives look like Jesus.

Whenever and however we were baptized we are to live lives that look like him.

Our final hymn this morning is “The Church’s One Foundation.” In the first verse we sing of how God makes us new creations by water and the word. As we sing this great hymn of faith, come forward, place your hand in the baptismal font and the water, and remember that you are baptized. You may even want to touch your forehead with the water as a way of claiming your baptism. Remember your baptism, and clothe yourself with Jesus Christ.

[1] [2] Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life [3] Galatians 3:27

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