Reflections on Baptism Part 2

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"no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit." (John 3:5)


Baptism imprints the pattern of the life of Christ in us. That pattern is life out of death, from the cross to the resurrection, from self-denial to true self fulfilment and this pattern is worked out in many ways during the life of the Christian until he reaches that final stage, the moment of physical death leading eventually to the resurrection of the body.

Every morning we take a shower to become clean and start a new day. The water wakes us up from the drowsiness of the night’s sleep; we become alive and fresh, ready to face the day ahead. In a similar way the water of baptism washes us, cleanses us from the contamination of sin with which we came into the world, which we experience every day and which we hear about constantly in the news.

As baptism brings about union with Christ, the ‘Holy One of God’ (Mark 1:24), and as nothing unholy or sinful can stand in the presence of God, in baptism our sinful nature, acquired through our natural birth, is now symbolically dead and buried and we emerge from the water in newness of life, in the new life of the risen Christ:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3)
We are purified, washed by the blood shed on the cross and that is symbolized by the water used in the baptismal rite. In the rite of baptism there is a clear rejection of Satan and the principles of this world. We come out of one kingdom to enter into another, from the rule of evil to the rule of love:
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)
Water also symbolizes life and the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life. The association of water and the Holy Spirit is expressed clearly in the words of Christ:
As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive (John 7:38)
We can now understand John’s words that bring together water and the Holy Spirit: “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5).

In the baptismal rite of some traditions the forehead of the person is anointed with oil, another symbol of the Holy Spirit. There are many examples of the spiritual significance of oil and anointing. Here are two such examples:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, He has anointed me" (Luke 4:18)

it is God himself who confirms us with you in Christ and he has anointed us; he has marked us with his own seal and poured down the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come (2 Corinthians 1:21, 22).
The oil symbolizes strength, sanctification, consecration. The person baptized is consecrated to the Lord; he belongs to him and is no longer under the rule of the enemy. He has been set free from the powers of darkness, relationships are restored. This is his position in Christ. This is what is constantly worked out during his journey towards complete union with God.

Water, oil, the Holy Spirit, union with God, new life in Christ; these are all aspects of the same reality brought about by baptism. We have the restoration of that fundamental relationship between God and man, the precondition of the restoration of true relationships between man and man and between man and his environment.

In baptism there is a complete take over, we are under new management. We no longer belong to ourselves but to God who, as Creator, is the rightful owner. After baptism our spiritual journey begins because in baptism we have the necessary precondition, union with Christ, for the transformation of our lives: “It is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This takes place gradually as we live out that pattern of life out of death which has its beginning in baptism.

Another symbol, used in some traditions, is either to dress the person to be baptized in a white garment or place a white garment over the person. White again is the symbol of life, just as black is the symbol of death. The garment symbolizes being clothed in Christ, incorporated into him (Galatians 3:27). Again this is the precondition to a life lived out in Christ. Through baptism we are placed ‘in’ Christ and our life’s journey is to remain in him: 
Abide in me as I abide in you. … Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (1 John 15:4, 5)
It is the Holy Spirit who effects this in us, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit that Paul speaks of in Galatians:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
How much suffering in our lives and in society is due to the opposite of love, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! What havoc is wrought in the world due to egoism, hatred, impatience, unkindness, unfaithfulness, anger and the lack of generosity and self-control! It would be worthwhile interrupting reading these words to reflect on our lives and on the state of our society and how they have been influenced by all this negativity, belonging to the kingdom of darkness from which we have been set free. To what extent have relations between nations been negatively conditioned by it all, the poverty, wars, exploitation, the despoiling of the environment? This all belongs to the culture of death. In our union with Christ in baptism these are replaced by the unconditional love of Christ who lives within the person baptized as he progresses on his spiritual journey towards closer union with our lifelong companion.

The same could be said of joy and peace. We have all known moments of joy and peace that depend on persons, events and good health. This joy and peace are as unstable as those people and things on which they depend. The baptized person united to Christ, who allows the life of Christ to grow within, experiences a very different quality of joy and peace, the joy and peace of Christ himself to whom he is united:
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
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