June 16, 2008

Baptism as Birthing

John 3:1-17

“No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
John 3:5


Back in the early church, some examples of baptismal furniture were clearly designed to remind worshipers of a womb, and the waters they carried were designed to help worshipers think about the waters of birth. Indeed, we are all born in watery fluid. It’s quite a miracle.

Well, becoming a Christ-follower is quite a miracle too. As Jesus announces with stunning imagery in John 3, we must be born again.

Part of what is so compelling about this image is that it is an image of life and vitality. Sometimes people say after a successful surgery, “I feel like I have my life back. I savor every day!” Well, following Jesus is even better. It’s the start of a life that not even death can end—a life of spiritual vitality.

But another element of this image is equally powerful. “Being born again” is a passive condition. You can’t do it to yourself.

And when it happens to you, as with your first birth, about all you can do is scream!

Becoming a Christ-follower is not merely some heroic attempt to quell your doubts. It is far more mysterious than that.

As Jesus explains, it “comes from above.” This second birth is hardly something we can produce or engineer. It is more like something we receive and celebrate.

God of all creation, we marvel at the promise of new birth. Show us, even today, the kind of spiritual vitality that you make possible through the work of your Spirit in us. Amen.

About the author — John D. Witvliet

Dr. John D. Witvliet has served as a professor at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary for the past 11 years, as well as serving as Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He and his wife, Charlotte, have four children.

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