You can’t baptise yourself

 
SHARE

What a remarkable sight: a man, fully dressed but drenched, climbing out of a baptismal tank after he’d intentionally jumped into the water.

What would lead someone to take the plunge wearing a suit and tie? The tale begins when Ann, my wife, studied the Bible with a woman whose heart hungered to understand more about Jesus—I’ll call her Samantha. As Samantha understood more about the power of Jesus’ love from the Bible, one day she realised that baptism was her next step. I was more than happy, as a pastor, to say yes when she asked if I could baptise her.

Her husband, who I’ll call Nick, also possessed a deep interest in spirituality. However, his passion took a different direction: transcendental meditation and supporting a New Age organisation. Yet, when Nick learned that Samantha had decided on baptism, he wanted to join her. As I discussed his decision with him, I encouraged him to wait and learn more about Jesus. He needed to answer some basic but important questions from the Bible, like why did Jesus need to die on the cross for our sins?

On the day of Samantha’s baptism, a dozen red roses blossomed in a vase on the platform in the church. The enticing aroma of food for the fellowship meal wafted in the air. People in the congregation sang about redemption and salvation as I entered the font.

Then, as Samantha slowly stepped down into the water to join me, I noticed that Nick stood up and walked toward the front. After sharing a few words with the congregation about her growth in faith and knowledge of Jesus, I rotated my feet to position myself for the baptism and to my surprise I saw Nick standing near the edge of the tank. He stood behind a wall, just out of view of the congregation. He just wanted to support his wife, I thought, and witness her baptism from a close vantage point.

Raising my hand high into the air, I said those wonderful words that Jesus gave us: “I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Samantha surrendered to the water and surfaced with a big smile. As I helped her out of the water, Nick popped out from behind the wall and perched himself on the ledge of the baptismal tank. Now in full view of the congregation, he said, “I so much appreciate Keith and Ann’s ministry to my wife and me, but I do not accept any human authority, so I baptise myself.” Then he knelt, in his white linen suit and tie, rolled over and plunged in the font with a splash, sinking to the bottom, where he remained for what seemed like minutes.

When he surfaced and climbed up out of the water I beheld a sight I’d never seen before: a man wearing a soaking wet suit and tie. After he dried off, I spent some time talking to him about how baptism represents surrendering to a relationship with Jesus, explaining that if we assign our own meaning to baptism, it loses its biblical meaning.

I did it my way

While I can acknowledge the funny side of this story, I must admit that at times I’ve also baptised myself. I haven’t plunged into a baptismal tank wearing a full suit, but at times I have resisted surrendering some issues to Jesus. Sometimes I prefer handling issues my way instead of Jesus’ way.

Pursuing a Christian life without embracing the struggle to give up on my way of handling all the situations I face would be like visiting a gourmet restaurant with my wife, sitting at a table with delicate white china, soft lights and candles, ordering our favourite entrées and then just smelling the food. Or like taking my young son to an awesome playground, only to have him stand around; or paying the high admission price to Disneyland and then spending the day sitting on a park bench near the entrance. Jesus paid a much higher price for my salvation than a ticket to Disneyland, but without embracing the struggle to live with Jesus’ perspective, I’m just sitting comfortably, hoping to go to heaven.

What not to do

To actively adopt Jesus’ perspective on issues requires making His love a priority. His love becomes more important than getting my way. I learned this lesson with my wife not long after we got married.

One day a sudden (and not very well thought-through) compulsion to scare her lodged in my mind. At this point I must explain that I grew up with an older brother, which meant scaring each other was respected as an art. Hiding under a bed for 15 to 20 minutes was a worthwhile investment of time to secure an opportunity to scare my brother. In turn, of course, my brother would strategically hide in a dark basement room in order to jump out at the right moment and cackle at watching me leap in the air like a cat sprayed with a garden hose. We understood that scaring each other was fair game. However, I discovered that my wife didn’t share that perspective.

“Jesus yearns to help us understand more about His perspective on issues we encounter.”

I remember the incident like it happened yesterday. I stepped up on a footstool beside our fridge, hidden from sight. My victim—that would be my wife—unsuspecting and innocent as a little puppy, walked into the kitchen. I correctly deduced that jumping out into the middle of the room with arms wide open, my war face on and an angry yell might be too much. (Well, I did have one good thought in this scheme!) So, as an alternative, when she walked by I just held out my hand above her head and wiggled my fingers.

To her, it looked like a hand coming out of nowhere. To my surprise, she reacted differently to how my older brother would have. No chasing me around the house trying to beat me to a pulp or looking at me with a steely determination to get revenge. No, she responded with sheer panic; opening her eyes and mouth as wide as possible without screaming. In fact, she did not even make a sound. Then, as soon as she could breathe again, she started to cry—and cry and cry. For the next 20 minutes, she cried.

I learned a truth that has remained valid for our entire marriage: my wife does not enjoy being scared. Since her perspective has value to me—because I love her—scaring each other never became a routine in our marriage. In the same way, Jesus yearns to help us understand more about His perspective on issues we encounter. Then, because we love Him, He can teach us about what’s true, not according to me, but according to Him.

Battle plan

In a battle with an occupying army of Midianites, God’s Old Testament champion Gideon accepted God’s perspective on how He wanted the battle conducted. In fact, God gave Gideon a plan he could not accomplish on his own. While the Bible describes the Midianite army as too large to count, God gave Gideon instructions to reduce his fighting force from 32,000 soldiers to a mere 300 men.

Gideon and his men encircled the Midianite camp at night, each armed with a trumpet and a smouldering torch inside a clay pot, just as God had said. Not exactly what I would call a dangerous, well-equipped army! Then, when the signal came, they broke their clay pots in one united stroke, blew their trumpets and shouted, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” The Lord brought confusion to the Midianites and they attacked one another. In this story, Gideon was victorious because he was willing to let God lead.

How to trust Him

As we encounter difficult issues and temptations, at times we choose to “baptise ourselves” and follow our plan instead of God’s. Sometimes, as with Gideon, God’s plan can even seem outrageous, yet the question remains, do we trust in Him? How can we trust in Him and follow His plan for the various issues and temptations we encounter? I have found the solution to this dilemma in the Bible’s “wisdom books”.

First, quoting Psalm 139:23, 24 I can echo the prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Then, as I depend on Jesus to search my heart and help me be honest with myself and Him about my desires, I can put Proverbs 3:5, 6 into practice: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.”

What a relief to admit that I need His help to understand my desires and motives. As I’ve invited Jesus to unwind the selfish motives wrapped tightly around my heart, it has led me to trust in Him more and value the forgiveness He provides. As I’ve adopted the routine of giving Him permission to search my heart each day and cut through my self deception, self-justification and self-righteous “baptise-myself” thinking, I’ve found that I can trust in Him with all my heart and experience more of the joy and peace He has for me. By embracing this always-humbling and sometimes-painful perspective, I’ve experienced the transforming power of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and gentleness.

However, without offering Jesus a teachable heart and asking for His help to be honest with myself and Him, I’d be living as if I could baptise myself.