START INTO LIFE

LESSON 12 - BORN AGAIN

 

BORN AGAIN

Water. For us in Western Europe water is something we take for granted. We turn the tap on, we bathe or shower, water the lawn, have dishwashers and washing machines plumbed in. Our children splash around in large municipal baths or private swimming pools.

However, if you look at pictures from many areas of Africa you soon learn to reflect on the miracle of water: women crowd around an evil-smelling water hole. Every day they lug their heavy pots mile after mile, animals lie dead on parched prairies because no rain has fallen for years. Water: water is life, a garden in bloom, clean clothes to wear, and the feeling of being 'as if new born' after a refreshing bath.

A NEW BEGINNING

For our thoughts, actions and feelings too, the Bible recognizes the experience of being 'as if newly born'. The New Testament uses the image of being cleansed with water for the new beginning that a man makes with God. Baptism is what is meant.
It is discussed in a conversation between Jesus and an important man:

'"I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'you must be born again.'"'
John 3:3-7.

Jesus says to this older man: A new beginning with God is possible and necessary, even if you are surprised at what I say. According to the words of Jesus baptism has great significance. Only the man who consciously experiences this action and has decided in baptism for God can meet God.

Does this apply to us? Many Christians among us are indeed 'baptized', but in reality they have not experienced this beginning with God. They were 'baptized' as babies and were made members of a church without being asked. Yet when God makes the offer of a new beginning, who would want to refuse it?

IMMERSION

Wherever the Bible speaks about baptism it is against the practice of child baptism by sprinkling. The personal decision of a man is conversion to God, his burial and resurrection. All of this confirms that only the baptism of a mature person by immersion is in accordance with the New Testament requirement.

'Baptize' comes from the Greek word baptizo, literally 'to immerse under water', 'to immerse completely'.

Whenever we read about 'baptism in the Acts of the Apostles we must think of immersion. Excavations of old churches confirm this. The baptismal fonts were so large that they must have immersed adults in them. On this question the words of the New Testament are completely clear as two Bible texts show.

'But when they believed..., they were baptised, both men and women.' Acts 8:l2.

'Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water.' John 3:23.

And finally it should be remembered that Jesus Himself was baptized by John as an adult (Matthew 3:13-17). The words of Jesus: "Let the little children come to me"' (Mark 10:14), describe neither a baptism nor any activity close to baptism. Jesus blessed the children, but He did not baptize them!

AND THEN?

Whoever is baptized - understanding the significance of what he is doing - is a Christian. That does not mean that from now on he will have no more problems with sin. If anyone believes that, he is on the wrong track. A Christian is prone to the same temptations and inner struggles as every other person is. Yet his attitude has changed decisively through baptism. He has changed camps. Therefore he belongs on the side of God (Colossians 1:13), and thereby has a different relationship to sin (Romans 6:12,14).

In the New Testament baptism and church belong together. Baptism is the believer's yes to God which he publicly confesses before the Church of Christ.

But even more than this, with the act of baptism the Church accepts the new sister or the new brother as a member.

'For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.' 1 Corinthians 12:13.

The one who has been baptized has found a family who stands by his side, shares
His sorrows and joys, and gives him support. Whoever has been baptized does not need to cope with his problems alone any more. He will also be concerned with the needs of other people and tell them what he has experienced with Jesus Christ.

'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

'We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us - we implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.'
2 Corinthians 5:17,18,20.

A NEW LIFE

Jesus Himself emphasizes that according to Scripture the outward formality, that is, immersion, is in no way sufficient even in the case of adults.

'"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."' Mark 16:16.

Without personal faith every baptism is meaningless. Only our relationship to Christ makes more than a ceremony out of baptism. It becomes the beginning of a new life full of meaning.

When a person has met Jesus Christ he feels compelled to stand totally on His side. Through baptism he allows Jesus to take full possession of him.

'"'And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'"' Acts 22:16.

In the same way the eunuch also made a decision for Jesus. As they travelled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said:

'"Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he ordered the chariot to stop. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him... (he) went on his way rejoicing.' Acts 8:36,37.

The eunuch rejoices in his new life. But he is not the only one:

'"I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."' Luke 15:7.

OUR DIRECTION CHANGES

When Jesus said that someone is born anew, literally, from above, from heaven, then not everything remains as it was. Baptism is an important turning point in the life of a man. His thoughts, words and actions have taken on a new direction. Through baptism he professes this new way of life.

After Peter had preached at Pentecost we read in Acts 2:37,38:

'When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."'

Peter mentions two things - repent, or literally change your way of thinking, be baptized.

These are pure words which perhaps don't sound too comfortable to our ears, but bath belong together - conversion and baptism. Whoever is baptized without making a decision for Jesus Christ merely fulfils a religious ceremony.

THE PAST LEFT BEHIND

Yet baptism is more than simply correcting the direction of our life by putting our thoughts upon the right path.

With his image of burial the apostle Paul describes a radical change of the whole life.

'Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.' Romans 6:3-7.

Whoever has symbolically died with Jesus in baptism has received, through Him, complete forgiveness for his sins. Through Jesus our past can be left behind, buried.

Baptism is a joyful burial. The symbolic resurrection in baptism means:

'In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.' Romans 6:11.

Thus both burial and resurrection, old and new person, are included in this simile. This is what baptism means.

Paul even explains that a man who has begun to live his life with God is sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Sealed means 'given the stamp of God's ownership'. No longer do we have to find our way alone, but we are joined to the most powerful force, the Creator of the world. Therefore it is not enough to describe baptism as something which launches our faith. It is far more an aid for the whole life of the Christian.

 

Quiz Form

  1. Tick the true answers to show whether the following statements are true or false:

    New birth in spirit and water is a prerequisite of entering into the kingdom of God
    According to the New Testament, baptism is possible without conversation
    Jesus was baptised as an adult
    Jesus baptised little children
    Baptism should be preceded by a personal decision
    When we are baptized we have a new relationship to God
    In the time of Jesus little children were brought for baptism
    When we are baptised our relationship to sin is no different from before
    The acts of baptism itself brings about salvation

  2. Repentance in the New Testamennt means:
    (tick the correct answers)

    Self flagellation
    Confession
    Making restitution
    A change of heart
    A new attitude towards God

  3. Baptism actually means:
    (tick the correct answers)

    Sprinkling with water
    Immersion in water
    Pouring with water

  4. Baptism symbolizes:
    (tick the correct answers)

    Burial of the 'old' person and resurrection of the 'new'
    Washing off guilt
    Belonging to the family of God

  5. According to Acts 2:37,38 what are the pre-requisits of and results of baptism?


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