waterI grew up in a congregation where baptisms felt more like examination day than a celebratory ceremony. Prior to being baptized, we were asked a series of questions to make sure that we were being baptized “for the right reasons.” If we passed the oral exam, our baptism was followed by one or two awkward claps and (it felt like) a series of yawns.

After my baptism I thought, “Is this what the Bible is talking about when it describes being set free from sin?” For years, my experience didn’t match the celebratory theology of baptism in Scripture. We make a big celebration out of a lot of things in life but baptism wasn’t one of them. I thought about graduations—we spend a lot of time and money on graduations and celebration is at the epicenter of the ceremony. I have yet to experience a graduation ceremony that is dull or emotionless. There is something powerful, beautiful, and meaningful about ceremony.

When God rescued the Israelites from over 400 years of hardcore slavery, it was done in a dramatic way. God could have chosen a million different ways to free the Israelites from bondage, but he chose 10 plagues followed by the parting of an ocean! Then he followed it up with a command for an annual celebration feast to remember that event! The more I read the Bible, the more I realize that baptism is a dramatic rescuing of God’s people who have lived as slaves to sin. When Peter was rescued from jail, he was overwhelmed at the experience of being rescued by God and thought he was seeing a vision (Acts 12:9). “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting’” (Acts 12:11 ESV). It was a dramatic rescue mission orchestrated by God himself! Rhoda was so overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to open the gate when Peter knocked! When she insisted that Peter really was at the gate, the Christians kept saying, “It is his angel!”

God, the author of life, always rescues his people in dramatic ways, and baptism is no different. Romans 6 always gets me pumped up! It’s a crazy description of God’s passionate rescue mission to rescue the sinner from the bondage of sin, bury the old person, and raise him up a new creature! When we read Romans 6 the way Paul wrote it, we can no longer be indifferent to a person’s coming to Christ and being rescued by God.

We should make baptism a big deal. We should clap, cheer, and spend the rest of the day together as a community of encouraging believers.

There is power in ceremony. It shows people that we care enough to plan an event to specifically celebrate them! There is a steel cross that sits on the hill across from my house. I like to take people there and reflect. One time, I took a dear friend there who was struggling to let the reality of God’s rescue mission take hold of her. Sometimes we find ourselves lost in the wilderness after being rescued and we daydream of going back to the land of slavery. I believe in ceremony and could not accept that her baptism was for naught. So we went to the cross and at the foot of the cross I handed a copy of this poem that I had penned a few days before. It was written as a reflection of the day I was rescued by God at baptism. I now give it as a gift to every person who is baptized.

I’m Free!

I’m free, I’m free,

From the person that I used to be

Our Father’s ultimate love,

Hanging there at Calvary

His blood and his tears,

I clearly could see

Were flowing down the cross,

They were flowing to me

With tears in his eyes,

Christ gently called to me,

“I love you, my child,

And give my last breath for thee.”

With guilt, shame, and love,

All rushing to me,

The burden of my sins,

Dropped me to my knees

I repented of my sins that day,

Thinking of that scene

My old self was buried,

In the watery grave, you see

I was raised by grace,

Made new, pure, and free

“An easy life,” I thought,

From now on would be

Seeing him lose his life,

How was I so naïve?

An easy life?

Love, service, and death,

Those are the keys

The great Shepherd,

With a word calmed the sea,

His voice calling out,

“Deny yourself, take up your cross,

and follow me.”

With tears in my eyes,

This is my everlasting plea,

“I love you, my Lord,

And give my last breath for thee.”

If amazing grace can save a wretch like me,

I promise to let go,

Of the person that I used to be

So I cling to the cross,

And I still can’t believe

I’m free, I’m free

From the person that I used to be

– Jimmy Hinton

Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been set free from sin.”