I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva


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Or, as Asher says, “bathtized.”

I was sprinkled as a baby and dunked at the age of 14. I expected that to be a pretty powerful spiritual experience but ended up feeling unchanged. Partly because of that, and partly because I kept coming to a better understanding of the good news, I often wished I had waited longer to be baptized. Several years ago I read something from John Piper that changed my thinking:

Many of us came to faith and were baptized at a point when we did not know very much. This is good. It is expected that baptism happens early in the Christian walk when you do not know very much. So it is also expected that you will learn later more and more of what it means. Don’t think, “Oh, I must go back and get baptized again. I didn’t know it had all this meaning.” No. No. That would mean you would be getting re-baptized with every new course you take in Biblical theology. Rather, rejoice that you expressed your simple faith in obedience to Jesus and now are learning more and more of what it all meant.

This is very comforting: God accepts us in our immaturity, and maturity is not at all what will secure our salvation. But why didn’t baptism seem to change anything? Perhaps it did, in a different way than I was expecting? What is baptism and what does it do?

I married Lisa ten years ago this month. I expected it to change me and I was not disappointed. Sandy Young pronounced us man and wife, and we became man and wife! What did that pronouncement do?

Linguists call something a performative utterance if its accomplishment is wrapped up in the declaration of that accomplishment. If I say “I promise I will pay you,” my speaking is my promise. If Queen Elizabeth declares someone to be a knight, so they are! Declaring is part of a performative utterance, but so is authority: you cannot promise anyone my money; and no one but Queen Elizabeth can dub a British knight.

This is what happens in a pronouncement of marriage: a minister of God’s church, under God’s authority declares a couple man and wife, and this declaration itself accomplishes the marriage. Neither the declaration nor the exchanging of rings or vows actually causes the marriage, but altogether they do accomplish it. This, too, is what happens in baptism: a minister of God’s church, under God’s authority declares a person to belong to God and to be part of God’s family. Baptism doesn’t cause anything; we have a risen Savior and King who does that! But baptism is normally part of how God visibly accomplishes joining us to Christ.

In one sense, baptism is something we do — part of submitting ourselves to Christ. But baptism is much more God’s declaring and doing than our declaring and doing. Consider:

  • Baptism takes place in the Triune name; it is done under authority.
  • Baptism is done to someone. The one being baptized is not the subject but the object.
  • Baptism is spoken of as accomplishing something or bringing us somewhere, in terms that seem very bold to us: it kills us, buries us, washes us, puts on, unites us, saves us. We are baptized into Christ, into his church.
  • Finally, if baptism unites us to Christ (Romans 6), and if God declared over Christ that “you are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” — at his baptism, no less — then our own baptism is certainly God’s declaration of his acceptance of and pleasure in us, in Christ.

Surely a dip in the water cannot cause all this! No, but it accomplishes it, since God has ordained to use baptism to speak and do through his church.

Are you baptized? God wants you to remember and believe and live in this truth: God loves you as his child and is pleased with you. Our Father has finalized our adoption by publicly announcing it. That is a powerful experience!

Written by Scott Moonen

June 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Essays, Union with Christ

Tagged with ,

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  1. […] which symbolically identifies us with Jesus (Romans 6, Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:4-7) so that we very clearly share in the Father’s baptismal declaration over him that he is “well pleased” with us (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). There is no […]

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