I often think of baptism in terms of a present. The present isn’t effective until I receive it and open it. I can’t wear it or use it or play with it until I receive it from whoever is giving it to me and then open it and baptism…is opening the present.
But I think that description is a little incomplete as an analogy for baptism. A better picture is the physical process of birth. Late in 1956 my parents had a moment of passion and in that moment I was conceived. Was I born? No, I was conceived. I wasn’t born until about 9 months later (Dr. Schwartz claimed that I was 3 weeks late) when my mother went into labor and I popped out and the air touched my skin, and light hit my eyes, and I drew breath, all for the first time.
The process of salvation involves birth. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Then in verse 5 to Nicodemus’ response Jesus said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit.”
Think about it. God chose for our salvation to be like being born. Obviously, as Nicodemus noted to Jesus, a person can’t go back into their mother’s womb and be born again. That’s just ridiculous. Jesus is speaking of something much more significant.
Let’s build the analogy. One is not born until birth happens. In the process of salvation, the first thing that must happen in a person’s heart and mind is belief. Once the Gospel is shared with them, they either believe or they don’t. Belief is like conception. Some believe and some don’t (cf. John 3:16-21). It’s where the making of life begins. So . . . when is a person born? At birth and in the analogy, birth takes place at baptism. The water and the Spirit.
Remember these two passages; “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Acts 2:38 and, “Corresponding to this, baptism now saves you. Not the washing away of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience,” 1 Peter 3:21.
Birth happens when a person comes through the water. This happens at both births. The physical birth from a mother’s womb and the spiritual birth. With baptism, the water is not magical, but it provides the moment of change and a symbol of Jesus’ death and burial as described in the first verses of Romans 6, when we come in contact with Jesus’ death. But when a person chooses to obey God by believing, confessing, repenting and then submitting themselves to being baptized, God has promised that he will forgive their sins which means salvation from condemnation to hell, and a promised life with God for eternity, his Spirit in their life, adding them to the church, and more.
He was returning home to Ethiopia in his chariot. Whether he had stopped to rest or was riding along at whatever speed, this guy comes up beside him. The Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah (Is. 53:7-8) and this guy, Philip, asks him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” He didn’t. His reply was, “How can I unless someone helps me?” And he invited Philip into the chariot and asked him, “Please tell me, who is the prophet talking about? Himself, or someone else?“ And Philip began explaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ to him beginning with that Scripture.
They were travelling along when they came to some water and the Ethiopian asks, “Here’s water. What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip replied, “If you believe with all your heart you may.“ The Ethiopian said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.“ They stopped and Philip baptized the Ethiopian.
This is recorded in Acts 8:26-39.
One aspect of the Gospel is that to receive Christ and salvation, one must be baptized. “Here’s the water . . . ?”
Next: The picture baptism is.