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My baptism story

March 30, 2010 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

This past Sunday, we celebrated a baptism service as one of our newest members, Anthony Varesio, was baptized. Many people come from traditions where infants are baptized, and then confirm their baptismal vows in their teenage years. In our tradition, as we understand the Bible, we believe that baptism is a public expression of an inward reality, that an individual has died to his or her old self, been washed of his or her sins, and has been raised to new life in Christ. Consider Romans 6:3-4 – “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Baptism is a way of identifying oneself with Jesus in His death and resurrection, and therefore something we believe should be experienced by those who can consciously make such a profession of faith. Finally, it is also an act of obedience, keeping in mind that Jesus, who himself was baptized in Matthew 3:13-17, commanded us in his Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything He had commanded us.

My baptism holds a special significance in my life. I had been baptized as a child, but soon after becoming a believer in college, I began to see the significance of being baptized as a professing Christian. I was part of a college ministry called InterVarsity, and every summer I went on a weeklong retreat called Chapter Camp. At the camp after my sophomore year, I remember one of the speakers talking about how she had never understood the Christian emphasis on “sin,” that she had always considered herself a pretty good person. Something in what she was saying struck a real chord with me, as I realized that I saw myself as a good person who Jesus had saved, but definitely not as someone who was a sinner in need of salvation. Even my prayer of salvation at age 18 was “I know where I belong, God, and it’s with you.” I know that this is when God saved me, as I can see the immediate changes He began to make in my life, but I can also see how there was no mention of my sin or my need for a Savior, because I did not truly understand that part of my relationship with God. That summer, I began to realize that I did not really understand what it meant that I was a sinner, and so I asked God to show me the depth of my sin.

During my junior year, I met with my InterVarsity staff worker and told him what I was praying, and he recommended that I keep a journal. That proved to be very helpful as I started to get more real with God, and ask Him to show me more of my heart. Then, at Chapter Camp after my junior year, I decided to be baptized. That evening, I remember being in a time of prayer with our group, and I remember formulating in my mind what I was going to pray. I remember another member of the group praying essentially what I had wanted to pray, and I recall saying to myself, “that’s what I was going to pray.” I felt a wave of jealousy: I wanted the spotlight, and it had been taken from me. And suddenly it was as if God had lifted the veil and allowed me to see into my own soul. I saw how, even in the most sacred things, like prayer and worship, I was so filled with a desire for the attention and praise of others, so self-focused and eager to steal glory from God. I can’t explain the feeling, but all I know is that I could not stop crying during that prayer meeting, as God revealed to me just a snapshot of the depth of my sin. It was just like Isaiah said so many years ago: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even my righteous acts were so stained with sin and self-centeredness. I was beginning to understand at a heart level how I had done nothing to deserve the salvation I had in Jesus, how it truly was a free and undeserved grace.

I don’t know if my baptism had anything to do with God answering that year-long prayer, but the events of that evening made my baptism a special experience. For some of you, it may seem odd to want to understand the depth of one’s sin, but I believe you truly can not be transformed by the love of God until you understand just what he saved you from. I had always considered myself a pretty good person who God had saved, but it wasn’t until that summer that I began to really experience the love and gratitude that comes from the salvation I have in Jesus. As Jesus put it after his feet had been anointed by the sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). When you don’t see much for God to forgive, there is little love for God, but when you understand the depth of your sin, the result is not self-condemnation but greater love for God, greater joy at His salvation, and greater freedom in life, for you truly realize that your self-worth is not based at all on your performance, but on His undeserved love and salvation that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.

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