Wading down into the deeper waters of the Jordan River… Putting himself in John’s hands who would immerse him in the sacred waters…Rising again, soaked and dripping wet…Climbing up the bank…Seeing the heavens torn open and the dove descending…God’s voice coming from heaven: ”You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This is Mark’s vision of Jesus’ baptism in Chapter 1.
Baptism is at the core of Christian beliefs, following the example of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Anointing, cleansing, protecting, restoring a person to God, baptism is a ritual with many purposes. But the ritual of baptism by water is nothing like the Baptism by the Holy Spirit which John the Baptist described to the Pharisees and Sadducees just before Jesus came: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”[Matthew 3:11-12]
We could say that there is baptism, a ritual, and BAPTISM, the complete conversion of a person into a Spirit-empowered spokesman or spokeswoman for God. That person could be Peter, the disciple of Jesus, at Pentecost or Sojourner Truth, a former slave, who could and did speak the truth to the powers-that-be of her day, including the President, Abraham Lincoln, or many saints like Catherine of Siena who restored the split papacy to Rome in the 14th century.
Jesus spoke of being born of water and born of the Spirit.[John 3:5] Born of the water might mean coming from a mother’s womb and a rite of baptism, but to be born of the Spirit, means a total conversion into God’s ways, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. A second birth. Born of the water means to be born into this world and its ways. Then the rite of Baptism sets a person aside for God. To be a person of God, filled with his Spirit, is to have left behind all the trappings and attachments to the things of this world and to be 100 % in God’s camp.
In anyone’s life it means that the Holy Spirit is your best friend, your confidant, your guide, your leader, your mentor. It is a total inner reference to the Indwelling Spirit of God, with no interest in, no attachment to the trappings of the world—money, power, material things, others’ opinions of who you are or what you should be doing. Jesus put it well when one of his disciples asked for a delay to bury his father: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” [Matthew 8:22] Someone who is born again no longer responds to the cares of the world.
To be born again is to have an all-consuming partnership with the Holy Spirit, to follow his lead wherever you go and in whatever you do. You may have a job and a family and other obligations, but your first priority is to follow the Spirit of God in all these things.
The time between when you are “born again” and when you are actually filled with the Spirit may be considerable. Being born again means to have surrendered your whole life to God, but it may take time for everything in you to be aligned with God. The disciples spent two years with Jesus before the Holy Spirit entered them on Pentecost after Jesus’ death. Saul of Tarsus, after an encounter with the risen Christ, turned his whole life around, but it was three years before, as Paul, he started his ministry to Greece and other territories of the Roman Empire. Two years, three years or more means a long time.
What happens in the intervening time between saying “Yes!” to Christ and being born of the Spirit? It’s a time of relinquishing all that the world has taught us about life and other people and who we are and what we are about. It’s a time of opening up to the Spirit so that he might transform us into people who are righteous—that is, who have the right relationship to God and would do nothing that would violate his trust/his laws in any way.
Being humans, even those of us who have said Yes! to Christ, can delay our conversion, we can hold on to what we have been taught, rather than listening to the Spirit. We can hold on to our pain and suffering and not allow the Spirit to heal us. We can linger in the world and resist all efforts to convert us. We can remain faithful to the teachings of our church and not hear where God wants to lead us. We can remain captives of the world’s ways without seeing our own resistance to God’s ways.
To be filled with the Spirit as the disciples were on Pentecost is to leave behind all the world’s ways and adhere only to God’s. It means you not just think you are a new person in Christ, because you have said Yes! to Jesus, but that you are a completely new person, filled with the power of the Spirit of God.
Too many Christians think that because they have been “born again” that they have arrived, that they are filled with the Holy Spirit while they are still attached to the ways of the world, still living their lives as they choose to live them, by their own lights, not God’s. They lack the conversion to God’s ways.
That completely new person, one who has been converted to God’s ways is an exemplar of the fruit of the Spirit: s/he lives in peace, joy, love, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control towards everyone they meet and in everything they do. These qualities are simply natural to the person, not something they have to achieve on their own. There is no anxiety within, only trust in God. There is no fear, only going where God would have us go. There is no discriminating, no preferences, no catering to one group over another. Every person they meet is a child of God and they treat each one accordingly. They bring others to God because of their great love, not because of the fine words they preach. They are humble. They are true. They are Christ-like, living in the mind of Christ.
When I think of Jesus and the crowds he attracted, I think that it was his great love, his being filled with the Spirit of God was what drew the people. It was his healings which transformed people right in front of the crowds that drew them. And then he could teach them, too, because they were captivated by God’s love and the Spirit of God which were palpable to those around him. That is why being converted to God’s ways, to his kind of love, to his way of looking at us and his whole creation is so impactful on the world. Others can see, feel, touch, experience what real love is. Others feel included, important to God, loved and forgiven. I always go back to what Saint Francis of Assisi said in sending out his monks into the world: “Preach the Gospel wherever you go, use words if you have to.” Another person who was filled with love and the Spirit of God.
Questions to ponder over the week: Have I been been converted to God’s ways, baptized of the Spirit, in the Spirit? What else in me needs to be converted to God’s ways? Am I really willing to go all the way with God? What do I exhibit of the fruit of the Spirit on the inside and outside of me? Peace, Joy, Love, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness and Self-control?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are actively participating in our conversion from the world’s ways to God’s ways. May the focus of our lives be on the “still, small voice” of God within. May we be willing to follow wherever he leads.
Would you be willing to share your story? I am writing a book about the Exodus story being the template that God has left us for going from slavery to the world to the kingdom of God. I am looking for stories right now about what woke you up to God, to a fuller life, to leave the life you had led. It might be an inner call, it might be a dreadful or wonderful change in circumstances. In other words what called you out of “Egypt”? I would only use your initials or a pseudonym and I can’t even guarantee that I would use each one, but I hope to use many to illustrate what I am trying to say.
Throughout the writing of this book I’ll be asking for other responses as well. You can leave them in the comments if you’d like or as a message which is private. I know that I will be fascinated by the stories, and if you read my book, I think you will be, too. These are the stories that often don’t get shared and yet they are so inspirational. I’d like to thank you in advance for participating with me in sharing how God inspires us or how he uses even difficult circumstances to get our attention. In faith and love, Pat