Few things in life are as worthy of celebration as the birth of a baby. The birthing process involves unspeakable pain, but that pain is almost immediately eclipsed by the even more unspeakable joy of new life. Parties, announcements, personal conversations…it is virtually impossible for the parents to keep the news under wraps. The overflow of their joy naturally floods their lives and seeks an outlet—a public expression. The word goes out publicly and privately, formally and informally, and not a single person thinks it strange or unseemly.
Interestingly, that child became a child—a living person—long before the announcement or even the birth itself. That little bundle of joy is just as alive prior to its emergence from the birth canal as when its first cry fills the delivery room. Its birth is more of a going public—a sort of “coming out party” (if the pun can be excused). It does not make the baby alive, but it is nonetheless very important to the whole process! It is so important, in fact, that common, everyday speech disregards the distinction between the life of the baby and its birth, virtually equating the two ideas as interchangeable.
Likewise, Christian baptism is arguably the greatest moment of jubilation and collective joy in the life of a local church. Together we celebrate the new birth of a brother or sister, once dead in sins and transgressions, now raised to new life in Christ…reborn as a new person by God’s grace. The overflow of joy floods the lives of both the individual and the church and seeks an outlet, finding its public expression in the act of immersion. The baptism is not unlike the birth of the baby; it takes the life that is already within and brings it out into the open, displaying it for everyone to see. It is good, right, and natural, and it is virtually impossible to keep the news under wraps.
Like biological conception, our spiritual “conception”—that is, our conversion and rebirth—occur in private, “in the secret place” (Psalm 139:15), known only to God. This rebirth is by grace, received through faith, not in accordance with any human action (Ephesians 2:8-9), and yet it must be afterward accompanied by action as evidence of the professed faith (Eph. 2:10; James 2:17, 26). Paul the Apostle writes to Titus that it is specifically not because of any righteous work on our part, but according to God’s own mercy that He saves us (Titus 3:4-5).
Nonetheless, in the very same chapter, Paul’s focus is that our eternal justification by God’s mercy should rightly be followed by an ongoing commitment to acting in accordance with that change. Action follows faith…always. Paul alludes to such a connection with regard to salvation in Romans 10:8-10, where he states that our internal belief in who Christ is and what He has done for us results in our being made right with God (justification), and our public confession of Christ as the ruler and governor of our lives and conduct results in our salvation, in this context referring to our sanctification and ultimate deliverance. (Note: the term salvation has a variety of applications in differing contexts throughout the Bible.) Here the act of confession is a result of the internal change of heart. This is consistent with the message of Scripture from beginning to end. Faith is never divorced from action; the distinction is one of causation. Faith is the tractor that pulls the plow of faithful action.
In the same way, baptism is inextricably tied to salvation, not as a cause or means of it, but as the result and logical expression of it. It is the biblically prescribed public confession of faith and identification with the work and Body of Christ. Our regeneration—our spiritual conception—must come first, then our public appearance, like the birth of the already-alive baby, must naturally follow. To reject baptism is to disobey the instruction of our Lord (Matthew 28:19) and the clear teaching of Scripture. This flies in the face of receiving and confessing Christ as Lord and, as a lover and follower of Jesus, is as unnatural and illogical as a baby, alive and kicking in the womb, not being delivered. It is as unthinkable as new parents deciding not to express their joy at the birth of their precious child. Such a thing simply does not make
any sense. As birth follows conception, baptism—along with a lifestyle of repentance and
obedience—follows salvation. The plow does not pull the tractor, but the two are meant to work in tandem.
At the moment of birth, a baby is visibly identified with his or her family; they belong together. The infant was already inextricably tied to the family genetically from its conception, but now all can see, recognize, and formalize the connection. The benefits and responsibilities of the family will become clear over time, but the “belonging” is immediate.
Here we again see the parallel to baptism. Our role in the family develops as we grow and mature in Christ, but the corporate act of immersion signifies our belonging. We belong to the forever family of God, and that identification is a powerful, meaningful thing, well worthy of public celebration.
Baptism is an act of obedience, which signifies a person’s passing from death to life by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and which identifies the disciple with Christ as a member of His Body, the Church.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ to save you from your sins by His death and resurrection and received Him as your Lord, turning from your own way to follow Him, then I exhort you to follow both His example and His command by declaring this reality publicly in baptism. (Contact me to find out how.) If indeed we love Him, how can we not?