“Change your hearts and Lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 3:2 CEB).
We see that John’s version of baptism (small “b” because it is not a sacrament) appears different than what Christianity came to know. John called for people to repent of their sins and come to the river to be washed clean. The people who came to John followed a first-century practice of ritual washing. The water suggested a symbolic cleansing, so a recommitment to God started from the purist of places. For the ancients, one had to become clean to have a complete change of heart and life to embrace the kingdom of heaven.
The Christian understanding of Baptism (big “B” because it is a sacrament) differed with a focus on God’s involvement in the very act of the water. Our initiation into the family of God refers to a Divine invitation for the believer in Christ. Grace plays a vital role in the church’s life. We must show up and receive the gift of salvation offered without price.
The main difference between the earlier understanding of baptism and the Christian view involves humanity’s role in both systems. The ancient understanding called for a symbolic washing of the soul to receive God’s grace. In other words, salvation depended on the works of the people. To obtain the Divine’s blessings, they had to do something suggesting that one must work to receive the holy gift.
The ancient thought regarding baptism starkly contrasts the Christian understanding. For the believer in Christ, the sacrament does not depend on anything we do. Instead, all the blessings of Baptism depend on the unmerited grace of the Holy One that flows through us. The gift of water reminds us that we are clean in God’s eyes. The only agency we experience is simply showing up. The Divine does the rest.
Through the season of Lent, I hope to discover the gifts given to me by simply showing up. How do I receive the love of God in my life? I pray that I may toss away the idea that I must prove myself worthy to receive God’s love. Instead, may we constantly thank the One who offers us holy love that transforms us into the people called by our amazing God.