“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” (Matthew 3:16-17)
The theological insights we gain from Jesus’ baptism are not random, entertaining theological facts. Instead our theology of Jesus’ baptism should lead us into the development of a baptismal spirituality. The great Reformer Martin Luther spoke to the spiritual significance of baptism in his Large Catechism. He wrote:
In baptism…every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.…Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and [we can] say: ‘But I am baptized!’
Following Luther’s advice to study and practice our baptism, let me suggest three ways Jesus’ baptism should shape our spiritual life with God.
The pattern of dying and rising in baptism and the spiritual life (Romans 6:1-14)
First, we remember that our spiritual life is shaped around the pattern of dying and rising. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 6:1-14, a Scripture passage that I read every time we celebrate baptisms at Eastbrook. Here are verses 3 and 4:
Or 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. (Romans 6:3-4)
Because of Jesus’ baptism, because of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from death as the representative Messiah, we are invited into a spiritual life where we die to ourselves and live to God, we die to sin and we live to holiness, we die to what is not life and we rise into what is life.
Each day, we echo our baptism by surrendering ourselves to God in death to self and rising up in obedience to God by the Holy Spirit’s power. We say, echoing Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.
Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to dying and rising seen in baptism.
The call to suffering in baptism and the spiritual life (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-40)
Second, Jesus’ baptism reminds us that our spiritual life is a call to suffering. John’s baptism was a call to die to sin, to name it, to turn from it, and to enter into life. It was a call to spiritual renunciation of the self in order to follow God.
Jesus’ baptism was that, but it was also something more. His baptism in history prefigured a baptism of suffering that He would have to endure. Later in the gospel accounts, Jesus said:
I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:50)
Jesus here refers to His upcoming suffering on the Cross. We do not recreate what Jesus suffered, but our spiritual life is an invitation into a cross-shaped existence. Jesus’ invites human beings trapped in an upside-down world to turn to God through death to self. This involves suffering. If our Christianity does not involve some level of suffering, we are probably not Christians or have misunderstood the calling of Christ. Not only that, but we are also called as believers to enter into the suffering of others. By choosing to enter into the suffering of others—the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the dying, the imprisoned, the spiritually empty—we shine the light of Christ into dark places, bringing hope, joy, and peace where darkness seems to reign.
Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.
Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to suffering seen in baptism.
The joy of God’s delight in baptism and the spiritual life (Matthew 3:17; Acts 2:38)
Third, lest we think that developing a baptismal spirituality is all pain and suffering, Jesus’ baptism also helps us remember that our spiritual life is centered around the joy of God’s delight in us. Jesus is the unique Son of God who fully reveals the Triune nature of God and manifests God’s kingdom and salvation into our midst. When Jesus rose from baptism, He heard the words of the Father over Him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus has come to make that a reality for us as well. As the Messiah, Jesus brings good news to us that we are not trapped by the power of sin, but that we can turn from sin’s power through repentance to God for life and new beginnings as His children. Peter preached about this at the very beginning of the church when he said:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Baptism speaks of forgiveness. It is a sign of the old being washed away and the new coming again. We can begin again. The Holy Spirit speaks of adoption. We can become God’s children. We begin again in God’s delight and love for us. Even as Jesus heard those words, “This is my Son, whom I love,” so, too, we, in baptism, experience the very great reality that we are children of God whom God loves more than we can comprehend. When we remember our baptism, we likewise remember we are loved by God. That reality should center us in God’s love for us every day and motivate us to live with love for others every day.
Our spiritual life must be shaped by the joy of God’s delight in us as seen in baptism.
 Martin Luther, as quoted in Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000); referenced here: https://www.livinglutheran.org/2015/02/mythbusting/.
One thought on “The Urgent Need for a Baptismal Spirituality”
Wonderful, bracing, refreshing template to live into 2021 and beyond!