Both the Bible and the Wesleyan witness show us the meaning of baptism and how important it is. We still have a problem with actually practicing baptism because we’re only baptized once! We can read the Bible daily, pray at every opportunity, and receive the Lord’s Supper every time we worship. Once we’ve been baptized, though, we never receive that sacrament again. Baptism is our initiation into the Christian faith. And once we’ve been adopted into God’s family, we never get kicked out.
So how is baptism a part of our daily discipleship at all? A friend of mine named Fred Edie has a wonderful image for what baptism should mean to our discipleship. He says that growing in our faith is akin to “learning to swim in our baptismal waters.” Baptism is the outward sign of God’s claim on your life. The water that covers us at baptism is a sign of God’s grace poured into us. Baptism, in other words, ushers us into a whole new life. If we think about the water of baptism as the image of God’s grace, then learning to swim in those waters is nothing less than learning what it means for our lives to be lived completely immersed in the grace of God!
One of the great celebrations in the life of a congregation happens when a new Christian is made through the sacrament of baptism. Whether that person is a baby, a youth, or an adult, the meaning is the same: Christ Jesus welcomes a new Christian into his fellowship, and the congregation, which is there to bear witness, makes a commitment to help that person grow into full discipleship. The moment is powerful, and it involves the whole congregation renewing its own baptismal vows. So just as we welcome the newly baptized person to begin swimming in his or her baptismal waters, we are reminded that we still swim in ours too.
The covenant that Christ makes with us at our baptism never goes away. We all live out that covenant through our worship, our discipleship, and our mission as Christian people to spread the good news. Through all of this, we can come to discover that our baptism is not truly a one-time event after all. It is a whole new way of life that we were ushered into. Baptism is truly when we begin walking in the ways of God.
The final image of God’s salvation in the Bible comes in Revelation, when the New Jerusalem is described. It is the picture of the church as she will be when all things are brought to completion—the bride adorned for her husband. Running through the middle of that city will be a river, which is the River of Life. After describing this beautiful scene, Scripture tells us, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17 NIV).
I read that passage as a baptismal bookend to the whole New Testament. The story of Jesus begins with a river which the Son of God enters to receive his own baptism. And that story ends with another river, which all men and women are called to seek out so they can drink and never thirst again. The waters of that river are baptismal waters, and we are invited to dive in.