Without baptism, Christian faith risks a life of contradiction.
Sports jerseys obviously make a statement. Even if we’re not on the field moving the ball, our jersey shows our fondness for and commitment to a team.
Occasionally complications arise from jerseys. Like when someone transfers from another university and begins attending Ohio State. They might really like it here, being a buckeye. All of their new friends are buckeyes. But for sentimental reasons, they like their old jersey. This becomes a problem when they want to wear it, and more of a problem if it is from the University of Michigan. Whoever wears one of those jerseys around the OSU campus will end up feeling, well, conflicted.
Some Christians find themselves in a similar situation. They say, “I know I’ve relocated into Christ and I’m born again and I have a new life, but I think I’ll delay being baptized. In the meantime, I’ll keep wearing my old ‘jersey.’ I’m not doing those bad things of my past anymore, so I really don’t see the need to do anything radical like get dunked in water in front of a bunch of people. It’s an unflattering look for me to be drenched. Besides, other people I know have gotten baptized and it really didn’t help them much. They ended up backsliding. So I’m going to hold off on the whole baptism thing until I think I really need it.”
The Bible tells us our prior life is like a garment–a jersey. Ephesians 4:22 tells us to “put off your old, man” as though it were an article of clothing. Without baptism, that won’t happen. We’ll still be wearing it around, even if we’re not behaving badly.
And in the eyes of God and the powers of darkness, that old jersey will be making a statement, twenty-four seven.
Let me take you back to a past you don’t know you’re connected to, all the way back to the time when Pilate presented Jesus to public view. In John 19:14-15 he said to the Jews, “‘Behold your king!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no King but Caesar!’”
This sentiment is recognizable even today as Jesus is presented in some public place and the response is, “Away with Him, away with Him! Our King is the state!” Verses 16-19 continue, “So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” This was a post-it note of sorts, a mocking, taunt. In verse 20 it says, “Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, and Latin, and in Greek.”
At this point, if I asked you who crucified Jesus, you might quickly tell me the Jews did it. But then your answer would be incomplete. The inscription attached to the cross was a claim of responsibility, like the way a terrorist group seeks to claim responsibility for a violent deed.
It was written in the three principal languages comprising the ancient world. Aramaic at that time was the language of the Jews, and therefore that of religion, Latin was the language of the Roman gentile political power, and Greek was the language of the common man, as well as high culture. Truly religion took the lead in killing the son of God, but politics gladly lent its power for that purpose, and cultured, educated, civilized people lent their credibility to it.
The world as a team crucified Christ. If you are a person of the world, this is your team, your alma mater. The greatest sin in history was that this world got ahold of its Creator and killed Him. That’s the victory of which the “Team World” jersey boasts. And everyone of this world wears this jersey, even if they don’t feel they are.
Remember the way it was in junior high school? When someone pranked their buddy they would attach a note to his back that said “Idiot” or “Kick me.” Then the poor guy would walk down the hallway wondering why everyone was snickering at him. Finally someone had to tell him, “Hey man, there’s a sign on you that says, ‘My girlfriend is a monkey.’” The point is that he had to be told, otherwise he would have ignorantly worn it around all day.
Likewise, a little over a month after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, Peter stood in front of a huge Jewish gathering and told them that a sin was branded upon them, dark and ugly. “Let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
“You did it,” he told them. The person you took out as though he were the kitchen trash, God took and made the Lord of all. He is the executive, legislative, and judicial reality of God’s government in this universe. God made him Christ (which means anointed one), the only person marked out by God as the means of God’s salvation.
In verse 37 it says, “When they heard this they were cut to the heart.” The Holy Spirit was not accepting any excuses. He cut through all the self-deceit. Up to that moment, some in that crowd might have been telling themselves, “I wasn’t there! I wasn’t one of those people hollering at Jesus and throwing things. I didn’t even watch the crucifixion, much less was I responsible for hammering the nails in his hands.” And yet there was that incriminating note, implicating them in a representative sense, as surely as if they had personally done it.
You crucified Him, Peter said, and so the Spirit sliced all the way to the heart of both those who had been yelling at Jesus, as well as those who had stood quietly back, and those who were not even physically present.
“And they said, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” They were in effect asking, how do we get this jersey off?
So Peter told them in verse 38, “Repent, [that is believe and turn], and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the way to get rid of that old Jersey, the article of clothing that establishes guilt by association.
Believe and be baptized.
The bottom line of salvation is simple faith in Christ, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to omit baptism. God knows when baptism is not possible, such as with the thief on the cross. That man repented and believed in Christ, yet obviously couldn’t get down and go get water baptized. It was an abnormal situation. On the other hand, many of us don’t get baptized because we made a choice not to do it.
Don’t continue wearing your old Jersey. Peter says be baptized every one of you. That is, every single believer without exception. It doesn’t matter what we think about it, whether we see it as effective or meaningful, or whether we think we need it or not. God does not ask us what we consider appropriate.
We send conflicting signals to the entire spiritual world when our heart says we love Jesus, but our jersey says we stand with those who despise Him. This is exactly what gets communicated when a born again person does not get baptized. It looks like we’re on one team when in fact we’re on another. Let’s make a consistent statement. Put on the new garment.
The Bible says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). That’s the statement this new garment makes. While the old jersey said, “I put away Christ,” the new one says, “I put on Christ.” The message we send to the devil and the world: “I have ended the relationship.”
Maybe you wonder if too much is made of this Christian “rite.” But there seems to be no question about it in foreign lands. Wherever radical Islam or Hinduism exists, it might be okay to privately believe in Jesus, but baptism is viewed as unforgiveable. The water sends a message that the newly baptized person is done with their old religious entanglements. That’s why newly baptized people often become targets of murder in these places. Such hostility demonstrates that non-Christians frequently grasp the gravity of baptism better than some Christians.
In the meantime, what does our baptism say to Christ and the rest of His universal body?
“I am one with you.”