Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baptism Means Looking Forward

I've always wondered why baptism purely in the name of Jesus isn’t good enough. On the surface, I know the answer—because we’re Trinitarians. There is real power in the recognition and belief that God is one in three persons. The mention of the Trinity is foundational to our understanding of baptism. In fact, it’s one of the few things that most churches share—baptism by water in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. For example, if I were to become a Roman Catholic, my confirmation and ordinations would not be recognized, but my baptism would be.

We get a little taste of that in Acts 19:1-10, when Paul encounters some believers in Ephesus and asks them, “When you were baptized, did you receive the Holy Spirit?” All they could say is, “What Holy Spirit?” Uh-oh, Paul must have thought. Something important is missing. It turns out that the believers, who had every good intention of being disciples of Jesus, had only been baptized into John’s baptism—a way of repenting in preparation for the coming of Jesus. So Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Apparently, a place of repenting and waiting isn’t all it means to be a Christian.

Our baptism is partly a look back—a recognition that a sinful, broken identity in the past needs forgiveness and fixing. But it is also very much a look forward—both to the time when we will be raised with Christ into the heavenly places but also a life between baptism and then of Spirit-filled work. We cannot, as Christians, be content to in our rearview mirror. Although repentance and forgiveness is critical, there is more to being a Christian than that. We are called to be filled with the Spirit and take the good news out into the world. We are supposed to do something with our baptismal identity. Sitting still and looking back aren’t good enough. When we proclaim our identity as God the Father’s children who are redeemed through the gift of his Son, aren’t we also proclaiming our role as his Spirit-led missionaries?

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