Uniform 03.03.2015: Baptized by the Spirit

John 1:29-34

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Do you have a baptism story? I do. I was ten, and I remember facing my baptism with a mixture of excitement and dread. I knew it was a big thing to do—that it showed my commitment to Jesus in front of the entire church, that it was something hundreds of believers had done before me in that very baptistery, that it was expected. I also knew that the stairs were narrow, the tub deep, the robe thin. It was a vulnerable experience, and many pairs of eyes would watch it happen to me.

At ten, I was old enough to understand the basic symbolism behind the act, but I didn’t fully grasp its meaning until years later. I sat in a Sunday school class with other young adults, all of us in our twenties and early thirties, just beginning to embark on the adventures of marriage and parenthood. We were a fairly diverse group when it came to spiritual opinions and biblical interpretations. The subject of baptism was on the table that day, and one young man shared that he was not considered a member of our church. We were surprised and wondered why.

“Because I refuse to be dunked,” he said. He further explained that he had grown up Catholic and had been “sprinkled” into the faith as an infant. For him, that event was meaningful and symbolic enough to cover his entire life of faith. Our church at the time had established a bylaw that required those who wished to be members to show proof of “believer’s baptism.” If not, they had the option of being baptized in the baptistery—their entire bodies dunked into the water to show death to an old life and resurrection to new life in Christ.

My friend’s comment sparked some debate in Sunday school that day. There was no prevailing opinion, no “winner” or “loser.” But all of us knew this man well and were certain of his faith in Jesus—the dunking versus sprinkling issue aside.

The point of our lesson text seems to be that there are two types of baptism: baptism with water and baptism with the Spirit. Human beings can perform only the first kind on the body. God alone performs the second kind on the soul. And the result of both is that Christ will be “revealed” (v. 31) and his identity “testified” so that others may know him (v. 34).

In my life, it seems that I am in constant need of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though I let myself be dunked in the water at church nearly three decades ago to show my choice to follow Christ, I need renewal in the Spirit several times a week—and often several times a day. There’s always something old in my heart that needs to be washed away and renewed, and Christ through the Holy Spirit is the only one who can do that for me.

Discussion

1. Do you have a baptism story? If so, what is it?
2. To you, what is the difference between baptism by water and baptism by the Holy Spirit? Do you think it’s possible to have one without the other? Why or why not?
3. Have you ever been involved in a debate about the different types of baptism offered by churches of various traditions? If you resolved the debate, what did you conclude?
4. What do you think is the true purpose of baptism?
5. Why might it be important to allow the Holy Spirit to renew us often?

Reference Shelf

John the Baptist points to Jesus. A variety of titles and functions are attributed to Jesus in this brief section, some clear and some problematic. “Son of God” is familiar from the epistles (cf. l John 5:5, 12, 13, 20). “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is problematic. If “takes away the sin of the world” were absent, then the background would surely be Exodus 12:1-11, the paschal lamb. If one understands “takes away the sin of the world” as in the sin offering (cf. 1 John 2:2; 4:10), then the servant of Isaiah 53:7-12, who is like a lamb, who makes himself an offering for sin, and who makes many to be accounted righteous is a likely possibility. If one reads “takes away sin” as synonymous with “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:5, 8), then the apocalyptic lamb who is raised up by God to destroy evil in the world (T. Joseph 19:8; 1 Enoch 90:38; Rev 7:17; 17:14; 5:9) is a credible candidate. That Jesus is “the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” precludes any attempt to understand him solely as a prototype of the experience of the Spirit whose function is finished after he has served as a model for others’ experience. For the Johannine community, if one experiences the Spirit, it is because Jesus has performed the baptism.

John baptizes with water so that the Baptizer with the Spirit may be revealed to Israel (vv. 31, 33). There is some evidence that in Jewish circles there existed a belief that the Messiah was hidden and that his identity had to be revealed before he could become known (1 Enoch 62:7; 2 Esdras 12:32; 2 Baruch 29:3; 39:7; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 8:3; 49:1; 110:1). In the Fourth Gospel the baptismal activity of John is the means by which the Baptist comes to a recognition of Jesus.

Reference

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 84-85.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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