By Ps Lee Kok Wah
Yes, we have a baptism service this weekend. And no, I’m not referring to the video clip that went viral earlier this year. I am referring to a demand – and a valid one too – that the world is making of people who claim to be Christians. This is a demand for Christians to demonstrate the realities, and not just show the symbols, of the Gospel.
One Friday night, more than 10 years ago, after parking at the HDB car park adjacent to West Coast Plaza (WCP), I walked briskly towards Clementi Bible Centre (CBC), not wanting to be late for our church’s monthly Church Prayer Meeting. I carried my Bible in one hand. As I walked down the short flight of steps connecting the HDB void deck with the open area adjacent to WCP, a young man stood in my path at the bottom of the stairs and said loudly, “I hate Christians!” He was a total stranger to me. Stunned, I stopped in my tracks for a few seconds, then responded instinctively, “But Jesus loves you!” He retorted with words that cannot be published here, then stormed off. To him, the book in my hand (how could he have known, in the dark, that it was a Bible?) was a badge of my faith. Holding a Bible in my hand or wearing a crucifix around my neck does not make me a Christ-follower, even though some people may regard these as signs or symbols that mark a Christian.
Ever since the birth of the Church, baptism has been the public sign of a person’s allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. While baptism is a physical rite, it is also a badge that represents at least six spiritual realities.
Baptism communicates God’s call to repentance and cleansing
Baptism communicates the reality, that without Christ, we are unclean. We need washing. Jesus Christ can do that for us. But we must change our ways that separate us from God. We must repent.
Baptism signifies the blessings of the new covenant
Baptism declares the reality of new covenant blessings upon those who belong to Christ. These blessings include forgiveness, justification (being declared righteous), adoption as children of God, servanthood of the king of kings, union with God, new birth and the promise of life after death.
Baptism immerses us into the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ
As disciples of Christ, we have died to the old life. The old self is buried with Christ. We are born again into new life. The new self is raised with Christ. The Holy Spirit unites with our spirit. This dying and rising is the essence of Christianity. It is what Christians are called to – and empowered for. Baptism is a badge of our solidarity with Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection.
Baptism initiates us into the body of Christ
It is the rite of initiation into the family of God. It is the badge of membership, the essential dividing line. Even non-Christians often regard this rite as the confirmation of one’s allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism appoints us to do God’s work
Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. Followers of Christ are appointed to make disciples of and for the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is our badge of authority and our letter of appointment. If we are doing kingdom work, we are working under the authority and with the appointment of the kingdom’s King.
Baptism channels divine grace
Christian baptism does something spiritual and real! Yes, it is a sign. It is a symbol. But baptism is something more. God intends baptism to bring about what it symbolizes. The New Testament uses instrumental language about baptism. It channels the divine grace that enables us to enter the “name” of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19) and thus are saved (1 Peter 3:21), regenerated (John 3:5), united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-8; Colossians 2:12) and incorporated into his body (1 Corinthians 12:13) through the divine agency of the Holy Spirit and the human agency of faith.
When we say we are Christians, our family, friends, neighbours, schoolmates, colleagues and even total strangers may demand, in their hearts if not with their speech, “Show me your badge!” We should welcome this invitation to live out and explain the realities that baptism signify.