“I don’t think any of us boys who went to the altar the week before, really meant it. I do know that none of us lived it.”
When I was thirteen I was sitting in the Baptist Church of my hometown for our weekly Sunday evening church service. I was never able to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on Sunday nights because I always had to be in church. I always resented that because all my friends talked about it every Monday in school and I could never enter in.
On this particular night the teenage boy’s Sunday School Class all happened to be sitting in the same row. There were about ten of us there that night sitting next to each other in the pew, and it seemed that we were lined up according to both size and age. The oldest and largest of us was sitting at one end of the row, and I, the youngest and smallest, was sitting at the opposite end.
When the pastor gave an invitation for people to surrender their hearts to the Lord, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of our Sunday School teacher walking up to the oldest of us at the far end of the pew I was sitting in. He whispered a few things to the boy, who stood up and walked with the teacher to the altar. But I wasn’t prepared for what would happen next.
When the oldest boy stood up and began walking to the front of the church, each boy in the row stood as well, including myself, and followed him to the front—all ten of us. I’m not sure what compelled each of us to respond in this way, but we all did. Each one of us knelt at the altar, repeated the sinner’s prayer, and according to the pastor all became Christians.
The next week at the same weekly Sunday night service, we were all baptized in the baptismal tank behind the platform of the church. I guess they wanted us all baptized as quickly as possible, before the emotion wore off. However, the truth be told, I didn’t mean what I did that night. In fact, I don’t think any of us boys who went to the altar the week before, really meant it. I do know that none of us lived it.
In fact, for me it was the beginning of a significant fall away. I even convinced my parents to let me forego Sunday evening services, so I finally did get to see Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
Several years later, however, I did surrender my life to Christ authentically. I didn’t do it in a church service; and I didn’t do it at a single moment on a certain day. It was more of a process for me. I didn’t give my life to Christ with anyone watching or with anyone prodding me. I decided to become a Christian after a flurry of experiences that caused me to assess the wisdom of the decision. After careful analysis, I decided that the best choice for me was to give my life to Christ. I made that decision when I was eighteen.
Within three months of becoming a Christian, I sensed God’s call to go into the ministry. So I packed up my family and went off to Bible College in the state of Ohio.
Three years later, on the night of my graduation, my wife Shirley and I, along with a few of our friends from the college went to a pond we knew of to have a picnic lunch and celebrate.
We were all ministers, albeit very green clergymen; but that night the subject of baptism came up. As we talked we realized all except one of us were baptized early in life before we had sincerely given our lives to Christ.
So that is what we did. One by one, as the sun was setting over a serene pond in Central Ohio one quiet warm summer night, we baptized each other in the presence of the Lord. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Jesus affirmed and adopted the practice of baptism as representative of lives changed by Him (Matthew 3:15, John 3:5, Matthew 28:19). Baptism doesn’t make one a believer in Christ or ensure eternal life for those who are baptized. Instead, it is a proclamation that we already believe. It is a statement of prior belief.
Every baptism in the Bible occurred after people made decisions to believe. Thus, people had already become believers when they were baptized. And every baptism in the New Testament was by immersion, or at least done in water they had to walk down into, and walk out of afterward. The word baptism means “to immerse”, so the suggestion is, people who were baptized were put completely under the water.
The concept of baptism symbolizes three word pictures.
First, it symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:4).
Second, it symbolizes the spiritual death and resurrection of the one being baptized (Romans 6:5). People who come to Christ, burn the bridges to their past, die (as it were) to their old life before they came to Christ, and are resurrected to a new life as a follower of Jesus.
Third, it symbolizes the blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin (Revelation 1:5).
By all means, if you haven’t been baptized, do so. But first, surrender your life fully to Christ. Then when He enters your life and causes you by His Spirit to die to your old life and rise again to a new life, you will have a full understanding of not only what baptism means, but also what the death and resurrection of Jesus means for you and the whole world.