I slept about three hours the night before my wedding. Jammie, now my amazing wife, says she slept even less. The run-up to the big day had been an exhausting blur of activity. There was the super-stressful whittling down of our guest list to a size that fit our budget, the long hunt for the ideal venue and the painstaking planning of everything from vows to the perfect (vegan) catering.
On the actual wedding day, it felt like there were a million and one things that could go wrong between the ceremony and the reception. Would the procession of toddlers we had recruited to join the wedding party really walk all the way down the aisle as instructed? (On the actual day, one decided she’d had enough about halfway and just sat down on the floor.) Would we forget the order of things in the ceremony despite having practised the previous evening? Would our photographers be any good? Just how embarrassing would the stories be that our friends would share in their reception speeches? Would we forget someone in our thank-yous?
Add to these burning questions a realisation of the life-altering marriage journey on which we were embarking and it was no wonder that Jammie and I were nervous wrecks as we approached the altar.
Fortunately, neither of us made a last-second dash for the exit. Despite the nerves, we knew deep down inside that it was time to say publicly before family, friends and God Himself, that we were committing to each other for life. It wasn’t a decision that we were keeping to ourselves. As we were pronounced husband and wife, the commitment was sealed. This was it. We would never be the same again. We had begun a new life together.
Only once before in my life had I been party to an occasion that felt like it carried as much weight. I was a teenager at the time. The life journey I was embarking on was a spiritual one that, like marriage, would affect absolutely everything that came afterwards. This was also a commitment rooted in a relationship, this one with God. The occasion was my baptism.
The Bible uses fairly dramatic imagery to describe the massive transition that baptism symbolises. Colossians 2:12,13 speaks of those who choose to be baptised as being “buried” with Jesus in baptism and then being “raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
Just as marriage leaves behind single life and involves stepping into a very different reality, baptism means leaving behind our old life of sin. Baptism symbolises the fact that God has forgiven and washed clean the mistakes of our past life. And it heralds a completely new life with Jesus. It’s about leaving behind sin and death to choose life.
Galatians 3:27 uses different language to talk about the transition of baptism. It says that those who are baptised are “clothed” with Christ. This shows that baptism symbolises a very tangible decision and change in our lives. Just as putting on new clothes changes the outward appearance openly, baptism publicly shows a change of the heart in deciding to follow Jesus.
The Bible repeatedly stresses the importance of this kind of public profession of faith. In His parting words to His disciples before He returned to heaven after His resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus would not have called on His friends to baptise people if this kind of commitment were not important. In Acts 2:38, the apostle Peter speaks to a crowd in Jerusalem at Pentecost and calls on them to “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. This is a big deal. Not only does baptism show that we are leaving behind a life of sin, but it marks the beginning of a new life with God through this gift of His Spirit that gives us strength and perspective for the journey of faith ahead.
It’s important at this point, however, to remember that the Bible is not promising smooth sailing just because you accept this gift of the Holy Spirit when you get baptised. Any married person will confirm that the wedding day is not so much a destination as it is a starting point.
Let’s go back to my wedding for a second: After the ceremony and reception were over and after we had said goodbye to our last guest, Jammie and I headed for her car. One of my first moves as a newly married man was to slam a car door on one of my fingers. I hadn’t even left the car park and I had already committed a blunder that would land us in a hospital with a horribly swollen finger by day two of our honeymoon!
You may feel the same after you get baptised. After the euphoria of being immersed in water and then coming out to your new life with Jesus, you may very quickly feel that you end up doing the spiritual equivalent of slamming a door on your finger. Failing as a freshly baptised Christian can hurt. But just as it would have made no sense for me to allow my car door mishap to ruin my marriage, we can’t allow early stumbles to affect our future with God. He forgives and He sticks with us. For the long haul.
After Jesus’ command of Matthew 28:19 to make disciples and baptise, comes a beautiful promise in verse 20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With this kind of assurance we have every reason to enter this new life with Jesus in confidence. And to celebrate while we’re at it.
A how-to guide: Baptism
There’s no denying that the act of baptism is highly symbolic.
When Colossians 2:12,13 speaks of being “buried” with Christ and being “raised with him through your faith”, it is not talking about physical death and resurrection. Baptism symbolises death, burial and resurrection—it mirrors the sacrifice of Jesus when He died on the cross to offer us salvation.
There are different variations of baptism being practised today. One popular form is aspersion, or sprinkling with water. Another is effusion, where water is poured on the head of the person. There’s also immersion, where a new believer is submerged in water and then brought back up.
So, quick question: If baptism is so symbolic, does the method really matter? Let’s look at some Bible texts for clues:
- Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:5 about there being, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism”. He is clearly showing that baptism is not to be left up to whim or tradition.
- We’ve already seen the allusions to death, burial and resurrection in Colossians 2:2,3. Baptism is meant to portray this sacrifice. And just as Christ went down into the grave and was raised out of it, baptism should mirror this with the new believer being buried—fully immersed—in water and then being raised up out of it. This is a serious act that should only be entered into by a believer who understands the importance of the act and embraces Christ’s sacrifice. Baptism should not be the result of coercion and it is not a decision you make for another human (like an infant) without his or her consent.
- Mark 1:9,10 speaks of the baptism of Jesus and clearly mentions Jesus “coming up out of the water”. Similarly, Acts 8:36–39 describes the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch by Philip. The two go into water and then come back out it. Both these passages show that entering a body of water, being immersed, and coming out, are the biblical mode of baptism.
- When Jesus spoke of baptism, he used the Greek word baptizo. The root meaning of this word means burial, being covered. It’s clear that this is best symbolised by immersion, being covered in water, before being brought up to a new life with Jesus.
Bjorn Karlman is a freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad,” living in two to three countries per year with his wife and toddler.