June 15, 2008

Baptism as Washing

Acts 22:1-16

“Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
Acts 22:16


If you are new to the Christian faith, you may be a bit puzzled at something that happens with water in Christian churches from time to time. At some point in a worship service the church’s pastor will identify a new member of the community and sprinkle, douse, or immerse the person with water (the method may vary from church to church).

This practice, called baptism, goes at least as far back as the time when Jesus himself was baptized with water. It’s a ritual packed with meaning. A lot of that meaning is captured best in poetic images. Each of these images helps us to understand not just baptism but also the whole Christian life.

At the center is the image of water, a symbol with many layers of meaning in itself.

Most fundamentally, water is a symbol of cleanliness. We wash our hands, our clothes, our dishes, and many other things in water.

Water-washed cleanliness, in turn, is a symbol of holiness. As with our bodies, so too our minds and souls can become soiled. Pride, self-centeredness, anger, laziness, and destructive behavior are all layers of greasy, filthy grime that encrust our souls, minds, and hearts.

But the good news is this: the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. In Christ, we are scrubbed clean.

Wash, O God, your sons and daughters. Purify our thinking and doing, our resting and worshiping through Jesus. Help us to sense the beauty of holiness each day. 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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