My Personal Experience with Baptism

There are some passages in the Bible that are strange. Near the top of the list is 1 Peter 3. Our mistake is that most often we only want to speak to the strange while ignoring the plain. My advice in reading Scripture is pay attention to the plain and your understanding of the strange may indeed come in time.

In the midst of the strange 3rd chapter of 1 Peter is a plain teaching about baptism. Verse 21 reads,

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

This verse is meaningful to me simply because its truth is an integral part of my story. Around the age of eight I heard a stirring sermon about hell in an overheated church, in the midst of a mid-summer VBS in North Georgia. Young boys have vivid imaginations. Hell is an image certain to ignite young male minds. It was hot. I was scared. Apparently this plague of fear also gripped every other young boy sitting with me on the pew. When the invitation was given they scorched the aisle. I followed close behind.

There are certain things contagious to me. When a person yawns, I will join in. Even in typing the word “yawn”, I do so. If someone gets sick to their stomach and shares the joy, I have to work hard not to be next. When people are laughing, I will laugh, even when I am not privy to the conversation. It is the same with tears. Tears are contagious. When “me” and the boys arrived at the altar everyone was crying. I started crying. A woman immediately grabbed me, knelt down beside me and began praying for me. When she finished praying for me she asked, “Do you feel better?” I did, so I affirmed. She then told me that I had been saved.

A few weeks later I was baptized. I still have the commemorative Bible here in my office. Yet as I grew older, especially into my teenage years I got a stirring sense that my issues with eternity were not settled. The woman in the altar was wrong. I was not saved. Yet, I participated in church, and later became a leader in our youth group. I even stated that I felt called into the ministry. Everything I affirmed in my life was in hopes that I could erase the sense of guilt that condemned my conscience. Publically I was a Christian. Privately I was something else.

My faith was very public, yet privately it was non-existent. To some who knew me “when” this post may be surprising. To a select few it may not. There were skeletons and vices in my closet that even to this day bring me dire shame. I could play the part. Even still that left me only an actor on a stage, but very far from being born again. I had no desire to read Scripture or to pray outside of being told to do so. The only desire I had to pray was to constantly ask God to give me some assurance of salvation. Though I attended church I grew to despise the sermons due to the looming sense of guilt that seemed to come with them.

I wanted release. If I had logged the entries I would say that I prayed to be saved thousands of times yet with no answer. I remember working summer jobs, fearing eternity, praying for assurance. I prayed nightly, daily, incessantly the same prayer, “Lord please save me and give me assurance of eternal life.” When I prayed that prayer, especially in my later teen years, I would always receive a sense of calling along with it, a call to surrender.

The call to surrender was general, but also very specific. I knew that an important expression of salvation was baptism. Every time I prayed for salvation I also faced the fear of baptism. I wanted the Lord to save me, but I did not want to follow Him and be baptized again. My hypocritical life had become a curse to me. If I publically demonstrated repentance and faith in baptism I feared that my church would wonder what the rest of my life had really been all about. I wanted the Lord to privately save me, an under the table deal, just between the two of us. He refused. My spirit constantly confirmed it.

It was not until March of 1992 that I finally surrendered. I wanted release from the guilt of my sin. I wanted the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. I wanted also to follow the Lord’s call to surrender my life, act number one being baptism. Why was baptism such a provocation of my conscience those many years? My suspicion is that it was much like the rich young ruler’s money. It was the one thing I would not surrender. For me it was too much a memorial of public repentance. It was the burial of a great actor with a guilty conscience. But it finally came to the point that I so desperately wanted to bury him. I cannot perfectly state my prayer in that moment, but I can perfectly state the result. Salvation.

When Peter says that baptism is not the removal of the filth of the flesh, I know what he means. Without repentance and faith little boys who are baptized are merely wet little boys who will soon dry. When Peter says that baptism “now saves you”, I know what he means. He means that surrender is surrender in any context, especially in the early steps, even in baptism. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, baptism was one of those initial steps for me, following closely behind repentance and faith. My later baptism was an answer of a good conscience toward God, “and that has made all the difference.”[1]

[1] Robert Frost, Road Less Travelled


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