Or 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.—Romans 6:3,4
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!—2 Corinthians 5:17
This past Sunday we baptized 18 people at Community Church. The water in the tank was cold, but everyone was smiling. And even though I didn’t go all the way under like everyone else, I came away refreshed.
There is something pure and holy about baptism. And I don’t just mean pure because we are celebrating the fact that our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ. I mean pure because in baptism we are celebrating real Christianity, the core of our faith, and we aren’t distracted by all the other things that sometimes come along with it. When people are testifying that Jesus has met them and changed them, and water is splashing and family are hugging and taking pictures, no one is worrying about deadlines or budgets. No one is thinking about getting enough volunteers to keep ministries running. For a few beautiful moments, we aren’t talking about politics (thank God!) or pleading with people to give up their sins. We are just rejoicing in the simple, amazing truth that Jesus Christ gives new life.
Our Purpose Statement, which is supposed to guide everything we do as a church, is this: “Community Church exists to help people discover life in Jesus and grow as His followers.” It’s a simple expression of what God has called us to do. But putting it into practice is not simple. It involves a lot of prayer and Bible teaching and classes and ministries, but also staff, leaders, volunteers, budgets, technology, difficult conversations, opinions, misunderstandings, schedules, meetings, disappointments, and lots and lots of faithful, behind-the-scenes, day-in-and-day out sacrificial service by God’s people. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get lost in the details. But at the center of it all, and the reason for it all, is this basic truth: there is new life in Jesus Christ, and everyone needs it, and needs more of it.
New life in Jesus Christ. That is the core of our faith. And of course, our world doesn’t understand this, and can’t be expected to. If you ask non-believers what Christianity is, you will get a variety of answers, none of them completely on target. Some people would probably tell you it’s a group of people with certain political views. Ouch. And no, not even close. On the other end of the spectrum, some people will tell you it’s just all about loving people. Closer, but still, no. Some might say it’s an experience of spirituality that helps people cope with life, or that it’s a community service organization, or people who think they can earn their way to heaven through right living. Nope, nope, nope.
If you want to know what Christianity really is, baptism is a great place to start. Not because of what it does, but because of the story it tells. Baptism itself isn’t magical, and it’s not an act that accomplishes anything spiritually. It doesn’t wash our sins away or bring us closer to God, but it is a way of declaring that those things have already happened. Jesus has washed my sins away by His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus has brought me close to God. Jesus died and was buried, and so we bury someone under the water. Jesus rose again to a new life, and so we bring the person up out of the water to say that because of Jesus, through union with Jesus, they have died and been raised to a new life.
And so baptism isn’t the thing that saves me, just like my wedding ring isn’t the thing that makes me married. I am married because of something invisible: the vows I took that came from an internal commitment. But because those vows are invisible, my wedding ring is a great way of telling the world visually that I belong to my wife. It makes a statement for the world to see. In the same way, baptism makes a statement: I belong to Jesus. I have a new life in Jesus.
If that is the case, then the question is: When the non-believers in my life look at me, what do they see? What am I telling them Christianity is all about? Anger over politics? Picking on certain sins? Justifying my own pet sins? Working really hard to try to be good enough for God? Fixating on petty doctrinal issues? Or can they see that what the Christian faith is really all about is new life in Jesus Christ: Receiving it, living it, celebrating it, and sharing it? Is the message of my life today the same as the message on the day of my baptism? Can they see that Jesus has washed me clean and made me new, so that I don’t live under the burden of past guilt or present slavery? Can they see that I know He loves me, so I overflow with love for others? Do they see my joy, even in the midst of life’s struggles? Do I look like a person who is being continually renewed by the Spirit of Christ in me, or am I just the same old Brian?
Jesus didn’t die and rise to make us better than other people, or to make us feel guilty, or even to make us feel loved. He did it to make us new. Let’s live to tell the world: “I have new life in Jesus Christ!”