Preparing for the Plunge

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“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

After saying these words, my pastor lowered me into the warm waters of the baptistry. I closed my eyes, pinched my nose, and relaxed my body. Once I was lifted out of the water, exhilaration flooded me. What I believed about Christ personally, I had declared publicly.

I thought of this recently during a baptism service at church. The only candidate was physically disabled and could not be immersed, so the pastor used a pitcher of water. No problem with that. But when he finished, the pastor invited anyone present who knew the Lord and had never been baptized to come forward for baptism. People flocked to the front of the sanctuary.

I wrestled with the pastor’s offer. Others he had baptized in the past had taken a baptism class and shared testimonies just before being immersed. True, the Ethiopian eunuch made a spontaneous decision to be baptized after he read about Jesus in prophecy. But Philip made clear, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). I now wondered if the pastor’s impromptu offer to be baptized lightened a solemn act that must be carefully and prayerfully considered.

The New Testament does not outline instructions for baptism. We gather from various passages that immersion is preferred (Acts 8:36) but extend grace to those who cannot be immersed. However, Scripture does specify requirements for baptism, gleaned from examples in its pages.

Primary is repentance — what John the Baptist drove home while baptizing in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:1, 2). We repent in response to conviction of sins and accept Christ as Savior. So before we enter the waters of baptism, we must be cleansed at the core.

There’s more. We not only believe this glorious news of Jesus’ death and resurrection but also identify with it, as happened in the early church. Infused with the Holy Spirit, the apostles burst with the incredible message of the dead Christ brought back to life and walking around. Baptisms flourished (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 36; 9:18, 16:15, 33).

We know these baptism facts. Still, Paul’s advice in preparing for the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28) is appropriate for us to follow: Slow down and examine ourselves before we “take the plunge.”

We can start by asking ourselves if we have been washed by Christ’s blood and identify with His death and resurrection. That’s easy to answer. Other questions are tougher. Do we have wrong motives to be baptized? Is baptism a religious show, for example? John the Baptist condemned the religious leaders who traipsed to the Jordan without showing fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:7-12). Our motives must be right with God before we’re baptized.

In seeking baptism, are we trying to please someone else — a spouse, a parent, a friend, or loved one? Baptism is a personal decision, between God and us. We shouldn’t let others pressure us into it or be baptized because everyone else has been.

Do we see baptism as something we can cross off our spiritual “to do” list once we come up out of the water? That is mindless. As we remember the broken body and spilled blood of the Lord Jesus, preparing us for the Lord’s Supper, so we must remember His blood washing our sins away and His body raised to life, preparing us for baptism.

Only God knows the hearts of the people who came forward to be baptized that morning. But the experience served as a warning to not approach this Christian ordinance casually. Baptism shows that Christ’s death and resurrection have moved from history to our hearts — and we want the world to know it. Now that’s a plunge worth preparing for!

Sherri Langton
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Sherri Langton has been on the editorial staff of the Bible Advocate since 1989 and is associate editor. She’s also a freelance writer and represents the BA at a number of Christian writing conferences. Sherri lives in Denver, CO.