Some years ago, 33 men were trapped a half-mile underground in a mining accident. For a couple weeks, no one knew if they were alive or dead, being buried so deep. They set a record of living 68 days underground before being rescued, but one thing was clear: they were utterly helpless to rescue themselves. On their own, they were as good as dead, and were already buried. Thankfully, heroic efforts were made to intervene and they were rescued.
There are echoes in this rescue story of our baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our baptism, when we were already dead in our sin, God demonstrates how we are virtually submerged under the waters of judgment, yet raised to new life by our savior, washed clean by God’s grace through no achievement of our own. We emerge soaked in God’s reviving grace, as if we are sopping wet with God’s forgiveness squishing in our shoes and splashing mercy wherever we walk.
Dead Until Revived
The Psalmist poetically described the effects of our sin, describing a wicked person as one who “makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (Ps 7:16). Our rebellion against God falls back upon us until we are buried in it. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins…by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1,3).
But that is not the end of the story. Paul continues with good news of God’s rescue: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:4–10). Though we were as helpless as a corpse, we have been made alive again as a gift.
Waters of Judgment
In the ancient world, the sea was seen as a chaotic, trackless, powerful force that would overwhelm us if it could. In creation, God himself pushed back the waters from covering the earth, giving us a safe place to live on dry land (Genesis 1). In the great flood, God provided Noah with safety in the ark (Genesis 7). In the exodus from slavery in Egypt, God parted both the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and the Jordan River (Joshua 3). When Jonah was thrown into the sea for his rebellion against God, God still sent a fish to protect his life (Jonah 1). In moments when the sea threatened to overwhelm and bury us in a watery grave, God rescued his people and brought them into his presence.
So, too, in baptism, the water in part evokes our drowning in our own alienation from God, being buried in the sea of our own sin. The water echoes the death that Christ had to suffer and the grave he endured in order to meet us where we are–dead until revived.
Dying, Rising, and Washing
Of course, the whole joy of the gospel is that God does not leave us where we deserve, but raises us up from the pit and the waters of judgment to new life. Baptism is a celebration of new life in Christ and our participation in his resurrection from the dead. As Paul put it, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13 NIV). To the Roman church he wrote, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Baptism signifies our belonging to God because it points directly to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Baptism also points to a cleansing from our guilt and alienation from God; the water evokes a sense of bathing and a washing away of our sin. As Paul wrote to Titus, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–5 ESV). Whatever grime and grit may have clung to you is now washed away; in God’s eyes, we are as pure as Christ himself.
The original root word for “baptism” refers to a thorough dipping, as if bathing oneself or dyeing a garment. Maybe we should have translated the word “bath-tized!” Just as a cloth becomes the color of the dye in which it was soaked, so we are bathed in God's mercy and are united with God, becoming more Christ-like through the Spirit.
Adopted into the Family of God
As Jesus approached the end of his ministry on earth, he commissioned his disciples with marching orders: “Therefore, in your going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This disciple-making is a task he has given us until he returns. This commission also shows us who is in God’s family.
Baptism is more than an action done in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, an act done by the authority of God, though that is true. When you were baptized, you were baptized into the name of the Triune God by the power of God. You were adopted into God’s family. God claimed you as his child, as if you have a new family name.
The congregation makes vows to support and encourage the faith formation of those receiving baptism. We are knit together on the journey of faith.
And note that God’s family is wide—all nations are called to belong. Your new family includes many, many siblings in this new covenant community. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Your Shoes are Squishy
This is who we are now, soaking wet with God’s indelible grace, Christ has died, and our debt is paid: we are free to belong to God. Christ has risen, and the more we “soak in” Christ’s Spirit, the more we will die to our sinful nature and live as redeemed children of God. Like those rescued miners, we may well have a long road of recovery ahead of us, but we are rescued. We have been plunged into the depths of God’s rescue, revived, washed, and adopted into his family. We have a new identity that changes all the other things that we might be. We are not our own, but belong to God, body and soul, in life and in death. We are so soaked with God’s love, it’s as if we walk around with sopping wet, squishy shoes that leave footprints of mercy wherever we walk.