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What About Baptism and Rebaptism?

Our Ask Anything box collected all kinds of interesting topics to discuss.  Here’s another request we couldn’t get to in the sermon series.

“Explain about baptism and rebaptism.”

Baptism is a powerful symbol of new beginnings.  Jesus compared it to a new birth in John 3. It has been used for thousands of years as a symbol for cleansing from impurity.  The apostle Paul saw it as a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). It is an outward act that symbolizes the inner choice to repent of my old way of living and begin following Jesus.  Peter told the crowds gathered at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

This is why Seventh-day Adventists practice baptism by immersion.  The meaning of the symbol is most accurately portrayed by going into and coming out of the water.  It’s the way Jesus was baptized and the way the disciples practiced baptism. But it is only a symbol.  The salvation that saves us comes from Jesus and what He did, not from the act of baptism.

So it is very interesting that Jesus himself was also baptized.  He went to John the Baptist and asked John to baptize him. John, knowing who Jesus was and what this symbol meant, initially refused and suggested that Jesus should instead baptize him.  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) So why did Jesus need to be baptized when he didn’t need to repent, or be born again?

The first Christians understood that Jesus was reenacting the history of Israel in the actions of his life.  Even the fact that he went to Egypt was seen as a fulfillment of prophecy and following the pattern of the first Israel (Matthew 2:15)  So when Jesus stated that his baptism was a fulfillment of righteousness, he was reenacting another step in Israel’s history. The apostle Paul describes Moses and the Children of Israel passing through the Red Sea as a baptism (1 Corinthians 10:2).  So Jesus was reliving Israel’s history. Where they failed, he succeeded.

So when you and I choose to be baptized, following Christ’s example, we are saying, “I want to join my life with Christ’s life.  I want His history to be my history. I want to pattern my future after his life.”

Where does rebaptism fit in then?  Because baptism is only a symbol and doesn’t provide any sort of special inoculation or eternal guarantee against sin, you and I have the choice about how we will live even after being baptized.  I might choose to walk away from my commitment to following Christ with my life, And when I come to the end of that dead-end path and realize I’ve made a mistake, Jesus is always ready to start again with me.  That’s when rebaptism might be appropriate.

Of course, none of us lives a perfect and sinless life.  There are countless ways we fall short of what God desires for us.  Why don’t we have rebaptisms happening every week? Peter had a similar idea on the night Jesus shared Passover with his disciples before He was crucified.  The Apostle John describes a scene in John 13 where Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet like a servant would do. Peter was incensed that his master would be doing such demeaning work and refused to let Jesus wash his feet.  When Jesus explained it was either this or Peter was out of the group, Peter wanted his whole body washed. Jesus replied, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean…” (John 13:10)

The periodic foot washing service that Seventh-day Adventists celebrate as a part of the communion service is a symbolic mini rebaptism.  It reminds us of the commitment we made to follow Christ with our whole life and to be reconnected with that experience. Like Peter, we can be reminded we have been cleansed from sin and continue in that life with Christ without having to be rebaptized frequently.

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