On the Commitment of Baptism
A few weeks ago another elder and I were interviewing a young teenager for church membership. He was asked what he understood baptism to be. He replied, “Baptism is about being committed to God.” That is a succinct and accurate definition of the sacrament that allows for the full room of baptism’s meaning.
First, in baptism God has provided a sign and seal of his covenant commitment to his people. When someone is baptized, we are acknowledging God’s commitment to them. This is the primary understanding of baptism in the New Testament. This is the force of Paul’s language in Romans 4:11-12, 6:3-5, Galatians 3:25-29, Colossians 2:11-12 and Titus 3:4-7. To be baptized into Christ is to be identified with the work accomplished by him. Baptism is an acknowledgment that as God raised Christ from the dead, so we are raised by God from death to life. God is committed to Christ as his Son, and we are united to Christ. Baptism is the acknowledgment that God has committed us to himself on the basis of that union.
Second, in baptism the church recognizes its commitment to God. Baptism is the entrance rite into the covenant community (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38-41, 10:47, 1 Corinthians 12:13). The baptism of an individual is a reminder to the entire church community of God’s commitment to them, their commitment to God, and their commitment to one another as the one body, under one Lord, constituted by one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-6). When a new child of God is brought into the family of God, the church is committing that person to God and committing to support their discipleship.
Third, in baptism the person receiving the sacrament is committing to remain faithful to the God who called them (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3-14, Acts 22:16, 1 John 4:19). We are acknowledging the newness of life we have in Christ, having been washed by the Holy Spirit. Baptism obligates us to keep the covenant, and we commit to doing so in life keeping with repentance. We can commit to this because God has committed to us.