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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When you can't pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation: Baptism

For those of you who can't pinpoint the exact moment of your salvation, but wish you could: Consider the benefit of water baptism through your local church.  

Looking back during Days of Doubt. Just a few years after I first trusted Jesus who saved me from death to life (John 5:24), I began to wake up with doubts. I was in a university setting where students were openly invited to question the very existence of God, not to mention (a) One who is (b) masculine and (c) paternal and (d) would openly subject His Son to "divine child abuse" through the crucifixion. So there was an intellectual battle in which the "shrapnel" of ideas hostile to God filtered even into my very soul and paralyzed me from getting to my prayer closet and living by faith. I'd try and fight back with the Sword of the Spirit (God's Word - Ephesians 6:17), with all manners of prayers whilst asking others fight beside me in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). No doubt these weapons are effective and in no way ought to be muted by the one I'm about to highlight - the moment three years earlier when my eyes were opened to the truth that Jesus is Lord! The image of that day is burned into my memory: 
The table at which I sat and heard the message on 1 John 4:7-10. The outdoor bench at which I afterwards wept over the emptiness of my current life and the bitterness of my sinful heart toward God. Praying with a a Conan O'Brien look-alike named Chris, a summer camp staff member who had first approached me to tell me "dude, you're not where you're supposed to be right now" but changed course when he saw a young man whose life was being changed on-the-spot by the Savior.   
When I have exhausted all rational defenses for the faith and every spiritual weapon at my disposal to dispel doubt, I turn to those three connected images on that evening in the Summer of 1995 and am immediately filled with faith. You had only to know me prior - stubborn, self-indulgent, blind, miserable, lost. I had changed then and there. 

When racked by questions and doubt, I felt a lot like the man-born blind in John 9. After Jesus had healed the man, a mob brought him before the Jewish intellectuals who interrogated him with the aim of getting him to disown the work of Jesus (John 9:13-24). The now seeing man admits he doesn't know everything, but "One thing I do know: I once was blind but now I see" (John 9:25). I imagine, like me, the once-blind Bartimaeus looked back and drew upon the first image he saw after being both healed and saved by his long-awaited Savior (Mark 10:46-52) and that the apostle Paul vividly remembers the day the glorious light blazed as He heard His Savior speak to him (Acts 9:3-6), then immediately went blind (Acts 9:8-9). In fact, he was quick to share this moment with others and on various occasions (Philippians 3:4-11, Acts 22:1-22; Acts 26:1-23).

I can't relate to that radical salvation story. But not everyone who has trusted Jesus can relate. For so many of you, trusting Jesus was gradual. The images then of key moments are strung together over weeks, months, maybe even years. Although there was a moment "the transfer" from darkness to life definitively took place (Colossians 1:13-14), you can't pinpoint precisely when. So if/when you doubt that God really is there and should you wonder if you really have been saved, pointing back to the proof is a challenge. Firstly note, God thankfully entered our history and so gave us a historical moment in humanity's history through the actual life, death & resurrection of Jesus. His finished work is all we need to look to in giving us proof of His love (and the looking itself is evidence of His saving you). But being able to draw upon a concrete picture of His love breaking into your 21st century life, specifically, is remarkably helpful. "They have conquered Satan by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11). 

Visual Reminders of His Salvation. I suppose the need to visually remember may be one reason why, prior to the advent of Jesus, God was so keen to have his people celebrate feasts and festivals. Seven in total, the feasts lasted up to 50 days, and represented ways for God's people to look back and remember His deliverance on their behalf. However, even deliverances such as the Day of Atonement (when God delivered the nation from sin) and the Passover (deliverance from slavery) were a process. The preparation of the high priest (Leviticus 16:3-5), the casting of lots (Lev. 16:3-5), the preparation of the scapegoat and sending him off into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 8-10), on and on until the high priest concludes the tenth day of the seventh month by going into the holy of holies and making sacrifice for sin (Lev. 16:33). So ends Yom Kippur, a.k.a. the Day of Atonement. Passover itself was a process - the plagues leading up to it, the lamb sacrificed, the blood of that lamb splattered on doors, angel of death, running, Egyptian chariots, parting of the Read Sea - you get the point! (for more see Exodus or The Ten Commandmentsignore the 4* rating on imdb, it deserves 5*!!). God's salvation was itself a process or series of steps. So to reignite so many images of genuine salvation, God commanded his people to remember them through celebrating feasts and festivals some of which reenact the salvation through songs, symbols, and the like. Turns out modern science confirms God's ancient practice re: the importance of human beings having mental photographs to draw upon for autobiographical purposes. As Christians no longer subject to the Old Covenant, we are not commanded to celebrate feasts and festivals because they all point to a final deliverance fulfilled in Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). Through faith and His indwelling Spirit, we can feast on Jesus at any time and in any place (John 6:57). Jesus left behind two visual reminders of the deliverance He achieved for us - the Lord's Supper & Baptism. Both of which he commanded we celebrate.

What Baptism can do for you. Baptism cannot save you. I want to make this crystal clear. I do not wish to give off any hint that Baptism either saves or offers definitive assurance that you are saved. Only Jesus saves - this good news can become good for you by trusting that He is the God who can save and forever forgive your rebellion toward God. What baptism can offer you who cannot pinpoint your day of salvation: A visual reminder stamped into memory of what Jesus has done in and for you. Jesus caused you to be born again when you trusted him (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3); baptism is your birthday party. You get to choose your birthday theme - songs, Scripture readings, and your 'toast' to Jesus (expressing verbally to friends & family what He's done for you). Jesus reached into your history to kill and bury old identities and old trusts, forgive you, and has raise you to new life (see Ephesians 2:1-7); baptism is the Broadway Play of that history, based on a true story. Pictures will be taken of each of the three "Acts" of this stage play: You going down into the water (old life buried); a moment beneath the water (cleansing of forgiveness); and coming up from the water (resurrection). Here is your visual reminder of Jesus' work. The songs, the pictures, the church leaders responsible for overseeing your souls affirming your trust in Jesus (Hebrews 13:17), the church family who knows you well cheering and clapping because they've seen evidence of His work in your life. 

For those of you who cannot pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation but wish to look back and draw upon a definitive moment you celebrated its reality, consider contacting your pastor, elder, small group leader about Baptism. The picture is all there from one moment, on one afternoon - to be drawn upon duringsome later time of doubt. Those in the picture, a church family to later lean on to offer words of encouragement and assurance; church leaders entrusted to oversee your soul in the waters with you - affirming a genuine faith. 

1 comment:

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