Ah, water baptism. To some, it’s a natural decision to publicly declare that you have decided to follow Jesus. To others, it’s as big a step as marriage. At least I’ve heard of a few who think that way.
To them, baptism is a Christian obligation that, once fulfilled, would be equivalent to a commitment to sin no longer. This is a tall order – who is able to thoroughly refrain from sin? And what about the not-so-right stuff that you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to?
But this sentiment resonated with me. After all, my own journey to baptism was also fraught with hesitation.
As a child, while I had cognitive understanding of what baptism entailed, I was detached to what it meant personally and emotionally. My church only conducted adult baptism and not infant or child baptisms – hence, I had the impression that baptism was a rite of passage Christians went through around the age of 18.
This was an arbitrary number that made sense in my head. Thus, I deemed it unimportant to consider baptism until I was, by personal opinion, “of age”.
Yet, my 18th year of life came and went without me being baptised. I had no qualms sitting out, despite knowing that this was a self-defined timeline in my Christian walk. After all, I didn’t feel ready.
At 20, I decided to reconsider this commitment, knowing that it was a commandment that Jesus has given (Matthew 28:19), meant to be done soon after conversion (Acts 22:16), as a sign of identifying with Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). There was only so long I could delay this.
While I indicated interest in being baptised that year, I pulled out nearing the date – how did I know I was ready? What did “being ready” look like? I didn’t know, but I was sure that “ready” wasn’t how I felt towards baptism at the time.
I knew the Christian faith was real, but felt that I didn’t have a sufficiently good testimony I could unashamedly share with pre-believers around me.
I finally got baptised, aged 21. In honesty, it was in part because I felt embarrassed to pull out again, not that I felt “ready” then. I was afraid that the people who knew of my decision would question why I kept pulling out – and I was more embarrassed for not having an adequate answer as to why I pulled out a second time. Hence I went ahead, clueless as I was.
Unlike others preparing for baptism, I wasn’t enthused about inviting friends and family to witness mine. To my best recollection, apart from several relatives including my grandma, I only invited a couple of friends whom I wanted to hear the Gospel.
Deep inside, I knew the Christian faith was real, but felt that I didn’t have a sufficiently good testimony I could unashamedly share with pre-believers around me. I felt too imperfect to be a “proper” Christian.
The night before my baptism, I sat in bed, texting my cell leader from youth group in tears. I shared about how unready I felt – I didn’t know what I was doing, or why. Still, with just over 12 hours to the baptism service, there was no way I could pull out. It was too late to make adjustments.
At the baptism service, the candidates were introduced in the order that they would be baptised – I was taken aback to realise I was the first in line! Yet, at the end of it all, it felt more surreal than scary – the water was a bit cold, and I cautiously eyed the congregation around me. In the moment, my concerns and what-if’s faded.
That day, it occurred to me that baptism was recognition that God loves me enough to draw me near to Him. In turn, this also meant realising the need to extend this love to others. Being baptised was a symbol of faith, me trusting God to meet my every need in His time.
It is not that we are “good enough” for baptism, but to acknowledge that we aren’t and will never be.
Today, I believe baptism affirms not just the individual’s commitment to a public proclamation of faith – it is also the Church’s opportunity to witness that the individual has declared his/her commitment to protecting and preserving the Gospel and its ministry in the church.
So why get baptised?
Not that we are already perfect (Philippians 3:12), nor does baptism make us perfect. Getting baptised is a response of obedience that symbolises the believer dying to the old era of law, sin, and death, and taking on a new life and purpose through being spiritually united to Christ (Galatians 3:27).
Furthermore, Jesus calls those who love Him to keep His commandments (John 14:15). It is not that we are “good enough” for baptism, but to acknowledge that we aren’t and will never be.
That, after all, is what it means to be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).