It’s not uncommon for us to tell people what’s going on in our lives. It’s often about the weekend, sleep depravation or what’s happening in Breaking Bad, and sometimes it’s a picture of our dinner plate on facebook. But it’s less often that we go public with our identity. It’s rare, if ever, that we stand up in a public place and say:
“This is what I stand for.”
“This is what I am committing my life to.”
“This is who I am.”
And we don’t need to do it regularly either. We’d look a bit odd if we did. Besides, as a general rule, how we live our lives says a lot more about what we stand for than standing up and saying it does.
For example: 18 years ago I stood up and publically announced my life commitment to Emily with a set of vows, but I haven’t since then. And it’s not because I’m trying to forget it, it’s because I don’t need to keep publicising it. People know I’m married, not by regular announcements but because I live as though I am married (finer details aside).
But other than a wedding, another time when people publicise their identity is during their baptism.
This is the killing and the filling.
The killing is the dunking under water. It represents death by drowning, displaying a personal choice to kill off a life of selfishness.
And the filling is the coming up out of the water again. This represents resurrection into a new life, displaying a personal choice to fill your life with something else.
For Christians this means filling your life with following Jesus Christ.
I’m sure that most people would agree that it’s a good idea to kill off at least some selfishness. Even if they don’t like the idea for themselves I bet they could think of somebody they’d recommend for the ‘killing’ part of baptism. But the filling is more contentious. There are probably less people who think that filling your life with following Jesus is as good as say: filling your life with doing good deeds or simply being a trustworthy person. I think it’s partly because Jesus has had quite a bit of bad press, and partly because it demands such deep change that it seriously affects relationships.
But still lots of people do it!
In fact millions of people have made a connection with God, experienced his promise and responded with a promise of their own, that they make public at their baptism.
In Baptism, the water itself doesn’t make you a follower of Jesus. It’s not magic water that somehow changes you once you are under it. And nice as we think it might be, baptism doesn’t actually save or change you either because it’s only a symbol. But it’s a powerful symbol because baptism is a choice-made-public that affects our whole lives and the lives of people around us.
It may not always be immediately recognisable but a follower of Jesus leaves a big impression on our world.
At the Bear we baptise people when they want to make a promise to follow Jesus themselves. For children growing up in the church we suggest that, rather than being christened (baptised) as a baby, it’s at an age when they are making other independent decisions too, such as the first few years of secondary school.
So when people want to be baptised we ask them these three questions.
1 - Do you repent of your sin?
2 - Do you renounce the work of the Devil?
3 - Are you trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of your life?
Reading these questions today is almost like reading a different language. Even as a Church leader I hardly ever use the words ‘repent, sin, renounce, Devil, and saviour’. They sound so religious, distant, and even threatening in everyday life.
It’s because they are religious jargon words.
Of course there is nothing wrong with using jargon words. Jargon is used in all areas of life. It’s where we use one word to sum up a much bigger picture or story so we don’t have to keep repeating the whole lot. It’s fine if you are in the know, but if you are not in the know or if the meaning has become distorted then of course it will sound like a foreign language.
So if you don’t know what words like repent, sin, renounce, Devil, and Saviour mean, and if you have come to associate them with feelings of being punished or manipulated or accused or useless or afraid, then they need explaining because they are important. Especially when people are using them as part of a public ceremony that displays what they want their life to be about.
At the Bear we understand these words as more about freedom than punishment or manipulation, more about kindness than accusation, and more about peace and hope than fear and uselessness.
When we ask ‘Do you repent of your sin?’
We are not laying on the guilt, or threatening punishment.
We are remembering that ‘sin’ is a word used originally to describe an archer’s arrow missing the bull’s-eye. Anything short of the perfect shot was called a ‘sin’. To repent of sin is to confess that you do not get everything right, that you are not perfect, that you recognise that you cannot get it right alone and that you would like to get it right. In which case, a bit of help from God is both good and needed.
That is not about guilt or accusation, or punishment – that’s about freedom, and peace within.
And when we ask ‘Do you renounce the work of the Devil?’
Forget what Greek mythology, medieval superstition, modern day horror films, or religious scaremongers say about the Devil and demons. The bible says that the Devil seeks to rob, kill and destroy. It says he is a liar, an accuser and a deceiver. That means that those feelings that I talked about earlier, feelings of guilt, accusation, manipulation, fear and uselessness, are actually the work of the Devil, not God.
It doesn’t really matter what the Devil looks like or where he lives. The nature of his existence and his scientific state are unknown. But his work matters because his work is destructive. And that’s we are renouncing.
So if you don’t want lying, killing, destroying, stealing, suspicion and accusing in your life, but you want honesty, healing, hope, kindness and trust in your life then you can confidently stand up and say:
“Yes! I renounce the work of the Devil”.
And finally we ask: Are you trusting in Jesus as Lord and saviour of your life?
To me this is the big one.
It’s big because it’s not just about whether you believe in God, it’s about trusting in him, letting God into your life now. And most importantly it’s about admitting and accepting the love of God. I know it sounds twee but that’s the most fundamental part of being a Christian. If you can accept that God loves you then Christianity can really be outworked in your life.
By accepting that God loves you, you are accepting his forgiveness, you are accepting that he has a call on your life, you are trusting that he knows best and you are believing that he believes in you.
And that’s just the beginning.
Accepting God’s forgiveness means you’re going to have to forgive yourself. And then you’re going to have to forgive others, not hold grudges and want the best for them.
In short, to say: “yes, I am trusting in Jesus as Lord and saviour of my life” is to say yes to your life being governed by love.
And, seeing as love is essentially non-selfish, that is much easier said than done.
But it’s ok, because it’s:
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord” (Zech 4:6)