Today is my birthday. No, not my physical birthday, but my spiritual birthday. On Nov. 11, 1989 I was baptized by my youth minister Teddy Tackett. 24 years ago today I became a new creation, as my sins were washed away and I was filled with the Holy Spirit. 24 years ago today I took my first steps as an active participant in the Kingdom of God. I was young, as I look back on it really young, and had no idea exactly what I was getting myself into or even exactly what I was doing. But as I reflect on that day 24 years ago today here are some thoughts.
It’s the greatest decision I ever made. As I look back I realize it’s not really that I was turning my life over to Christ or deciding to follow God for the first time. I already considered myself a follower of God. I was lucky and my parents raised me as part of a faith community, in a local church. There was never a moment when I wasn’t following God. And so in that sense I’m not sure I consider my baptism the moment that I went from being lost to being saved. If I had died on November 10th I don’t think God would have sent me to hell just because I wasn’t baptized yet. I was already a follower of God, doing my best to live out his will for my life. Baptism was instead another step along the path.
At the same time, it was more than just a sign. Even though I didn’t understand it at the time, God was working in that moment, cleansing me, changing me. God made promises to work in that moment. God promised that in that moment he would forgive my sins. God promised that in that moment he would send the Holy Spirit to live inside me. God promised that in that moment the Spirit would come in a new way and continue his transforming power in my life. That I would begin to be changed more into the image of God, not by my own power, but through the Spirit working in me. This isn’t anything I can do on my own, it is all the work of the Spirit. And in some way, this is initiated at baptism. For some reason God chooses this moment to begin a new work. And the best part is God fulfills these promises whether I understand them all or not.
Because at baptism I died. I don’t know that I completely understood that 24 years ago. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t completely understand that 24 years ago. That when I went into those waters of baptism, in solidarity with all of those who had gone into those waters before, I was dying. I was choosing to die; to kill off my own desires, my own will, my own dreams and aspirations. I chose to kill off that part of me that wants to make decisions and choose my own path. In that moment I was choosing to no longer be in charge. I’m not sure I completely understood that at the time. I’m not sure I completely understand that now. As each day I wake up and recommit to death, to dying, to burying myself. Many days I fail, and I let the old dead corpse rise. And then, when I realize what I’ve done I have to go about the process of dying again. Because it’s only through dying that I live; or better Christ lives in me. And when Christ lives in me he transforms me into what he wants me to be.
And so 24 years later I celebrate the day of my birth and I’m more thankful than ever for my baptism. I still don’t know that I fully understand what’s happening in baptism. But I do know God is working. I do know through this moment God is changing me. I do know that while all I noticed physically was that I got wet, in the spiritual world everything was changing. And I do know that at that moment my identity changed. Because 24 years ago I died, and Christ now lives in me. And everyday the Spirit is transforming me more into the image of the Son from one degree of glory to another.