Although I was baptised as an infant in the Anglican church, my parents were not really church-goers, so during my childhood I rarely attended church other than for weddings and funerals. This all changed when I heard the Gospel and believed in my early twenties, in a little charismatic church in the West Midlands. For quite a few months I was “on fire for the Lord”, to use a popular expression in the church at the time, but it didn’t take time for the reality of Christian life to kick in.
When my faith was tested with the grind of daily life, financial struggles, problems gaining victory over past sinful habits etc., I began to doubt my faith in Christ was genuine. Unfortunately, in that church as in most others I’ve attended over the years, the advice was to look within rather than something outside of myself for the answers I so desperately sought. Things such as to examine my works, or to reflect on how sincere I was when I first turned to the Lord, or something similar. Needless to say, all this ever did was to highlight my own weakness even further.
Even when I read a passage such as “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39); I couldn’t help allow my own weakness to be the deciding factor. The strength of God was not the thing I doubted, but my own strength and determination to hold on. It felt a little bit like being chased by a deadly predator, only to be offered a ride on a super powerful get-away car. However rather than riding in it, I was only able to jump on top and hold on for dear life!
Over the years, God seemed to bring me back over and over again to the subject of baptism. I became convinced it was crucially important to me, but it wasn’t until I came across Lutheran teaching I’m now very familiar with, that the light finally came on. Finally I had found the reason to have certainty that I would be sitting inside the car I mentioned previously, rather than clinging helplessly to the top of it! For my baptism is the very thing that opened the door and called me inside to safety.
When I was going through my instruction prior to being confirmed in the Lutheran church, my pastor had a conversation with me about the Cross. He pointed out that all Christians believe in the power of the Cross, but can often have a problem bridging the gap between what happened in Calvary over two thousand years ago, and to today. As the old hymn says “I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it some day for a crown“, but how do we objectively cling to something so far away from us in time and space? If only in our minds eye, how strong will it stand when doubt enters the battle for our soul?
My pastor answered that our greatest and only hope is to allow the Word of God to be the very thing that anchors us to the Cross. We can be certain of its Power and Truth, and it is able to bridge the gap in time and space to the Cross of Christ, where He so graciously died for you and for me, and for all who believe. Or as Martin Luther seems so often to point out “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved…” (Mark 16:16).
As the apostle Paul pointed out in his letter to the Roman church:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3-11)
Baptism has now become for me the tangible thing that connects me personally to the atoning work of Christ upon the Cross. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a work of obedience that we do in order to please God. Rather it is a gift of God given to us in our weakness, through which we can secure ourselves to His promise of salvation. The Small Catechism says that baptism is “not only plain water, but it is the water set in God’s command and joined to God’s Word” (Matt 28:19); and “It brings about forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Mark 16:16); and also “a water of life rich in grace, and a washing of new birth by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5-8).
Regardless of how our inner feelings may scream otherwise, the truth is that through baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we have truly already died with Christ. As certainly as we can visit a graveyard and know that beneath the headstone lies the body of someone now dead and buried, our baptism is now for us our own headstone, and tells the same story with equal certainty. We have been crucified with Christ, united with Him in His death, and will just as certainly rise to eternal life just as He already has. As it is with Him, so shall it be with those who are baptised into Him.