Come to the Water
Many Christians tend to think baptism originated with John the Baptist. However, the idea of baptism stems from the Old Testament practice known as tevilah, an act of immersion in natural sourced water for purification rituals called a mikvah. It was customary for Jews to participate in this holy bath after doing something that would label them as spiritually unclean. There were many strange rules that could result in someone being labeled as unclean. For example, in Leviticus 16, Moses’ brother, Aaron, had to use a mikvah for cleansing after having contact with his dead sons’ bodies.
A Vehicle of Grace
In the New Testament, John introduced an adaptation of the mikvah known as baptism. John the Baptist invited people to repent and be baptized as a way to be cleansed from their sins. Because of Jesus’ baptism, we now recognize baptism as an outward sign of an inward spiritual union with Christ. The United Methodist Church defines baptism as a sacrament. “In a sacrament, God uses common elements—in this case, water—as means or vehicles of divine grace. Baptism is administered by the church as the Body of Christ. It is the act of God through the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit” (from http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-does-the-unitedmethodist- church-believe-about-baptism).
United With Christ
Baptism is a sign and public recognition of the presence of God’s grace in our lives. Through baptism we begin the journey of living out God’s grace. It’s important to realize baptism does not equate to our salvation. The thief on the cross was not baptized, yet Jesus assured him they would be in heaven together (see Luke 23:43). Our salvation comes through our faith in Jesus Christ and our acceptance of God’s grace. However, for Christians, baptism is essential for obedience to Jesus’ command that those who believe in him should be baptized (see Matthew 28:19; Acts 16:30-33).
Baptism is a profound spiritual picture of passing safely through the waters of judgment, of dying and being raised again with Christ. Our sins are totally washed away, showing that we are now friends of God. The sacrament of baptism is an expression of how we, followers of Jesus, are intertwined and united with Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. The death and resurrection of Christ frees us from the slavery of sin and gives us new life! This is the ultimate expression of God’s justifying grace in our lives. Through baptism, we are recipients of this grace in the presence of the church, the body of Christ.
The Great Equalizer
A common debate among Christians is whether people should be baptized as infants or at the point which they decide for themselves they believe in Jesus, known as a believer’s baptism. Both decisions are biblical. Jesus himself was baptized as an adult. Yet, in Colossians 2:11- 12, Paul notes that baptism has replaced circumcision. It was customary for Jews to circumcise baby boys as a sign of the covenant and a commitment by the family to raise them in the faith. Paul wouldn’t have made this comparison if baptism weren’t meant for infants too.
During Pentecost, families were most likely baptized all together, as in Acts 2:38-39. Peter says the promise of the Holy Spirit through baptism includes children. Baptism truly serves as a great equalizer and is an inclusive way for everyone, regardless of age or gender, to be united with Christ.
Samantha Tidball is the Youth Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor in Michigan. She graduated from Calvin College with a degree in rhetoric communication. She furthered her studies at the Center for Youth Ministry Training while attending seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity and Memphis Theological Seminary. She loves writing and blogging for a variety of religious organizations.