“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
SOME THINGS DO not change.
Every January, regardless of the progress or setbacks of the year prior, you cannot escape the question that is floating across the airwaves, infiltrating all advertisements or even swirling in your imagination. What is going to be your resolution this New Year? What do you want the “new you” to look like and how are you going to achieve it? Does the new you weigh 20 pounds lighter? Does it have a cleaner home, organized week or recommitted relationship? Did it get that new promotion at work, stop falling down the toxic bunny trails on your social media? Is it found in the warm embrace of a reconciled friendship?
Who we are, and how we achieve, at times, seems like an ever-evolving imaginary image, or, at best, a moving target that two weeks into the process of recreating ourselves seems impossible to achieve? Yet regardless of the past experiences of failure, somehow, we meet the changing year, fueled with optimism, desiring a “better” self. We want a superior, healthier, more manifested self. We would like to possess the confidence to confront the question of “who are you?” with a well-rounded sense of pride as we contemplate our contributions and achievements in this life.
The problem is that we will never get there. You see, if a person loses 20 pounds, they’ll most likely end up looking in the mirror, grabbing their gut or love handles and immediately come up with another goal. Our homes will become cluttered again and so will our weekly schedule. Our relationships will become strained again. We will even witness ourselves being sucked into the drama of the world by its so many allurements, not the least of which is social media. We might get that promotion, but even if we are standing on the mountain top of one career, in the distance, I’m sure will see a taller hill to climb. There will always be a more fun vacation to plan, more money to make, even a greater name to establish for ourselves.
We hunger to continue to be relevant, important and impressive to others. There is nothing like adding to the continuously growing number of smiley face emoticons associated with who we are.
To be honest, it’s all quite exhausting and distracting.
Chasing the wind and grabbing at vapor, seen in our drive to enhance our identity, takes away from the precious moments of this life seen in the everyday blessings made new each morning. With our eyes set on a “better me,” we lose out on experiencing the now and richness of who we already are. More than that, who we always will be. But that can all change.
Let me explain.
You see, in the Jordan River, we are given the imagery of God’s unrelenting heart toward us all. There was no need for Jesus to be baptized as He was sinless. Yet He stood in the place of the sin-sick individuals pleading for forgiveness. He took our place.
In His Baptism, He was anointed for the work that laid ahead of Him as He would be our great high priest, offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice that would bring down the barrier between God and mankind.
In the baptism of Jesus, we are given the identity of the one who will reconcile us to our Father in heaven. He is the Son of God. We will hear this proclamation of identity again at the cross, coming from the mouth of the Centurion. Yes, Jesus’s identity was set before He walked the road that led to His death. It was announced, not earned. It was established, not worked for. It was resolute, not transient. Jesus’s baptism leaves no question to who He is, and it also leaves no question as to who you are as well.
Yes, it leaves no question as to who you are.
Baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is in no way a public demonstration of submission to the church, an outward act of commitment on behalf of the believer, or symbolic in any way.
It is never described as much in Scripture and should never be seen in such a minimal legalistic way. Your baptism was powerful. Not because of the church in which it was done, how deep the water was or how in your heart you were truly ready for it.
It was powerful because of who was there. Not the pastor or priest, but God Himself.
In His Word, He united Himself to you. In your baptism, you were supplied nothing short of a rebirth, a new identity, being given a new name (Galatians 3:26-27).
In your baptism, you were united to Christ, His death and resurrection, giving you victory over death (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 1:13-14).
You became a forgiven and restored child of God, an heir to His throne, a possessor of an eternal identity in Him (Acts 2:38, 22:16; Colossians 2:11-16; 1 Peter 3:21).
The preciousness and value of your identity is seen in how He desired to give it to you, even when it demanded His own blood. In baptism, our Lord moves to you and does for you what He did over Christ in the Jordan. He declares, proclaims and establishes your identity as a son.
Now, I know for you ladies, being called a son might not be all that inviting to you. The point here is not about gender. It is about inheritance. We are all, regardless of gender, status or rank “as sons,” full inheritors of salvation and the Kingdom of God. Baptism changes everything. Not because of who we were when we went into the water, but because who was found there in His word. He did the work. That is where your identity is.
No matter the struggle you are facing or personal crisis, you can return to that memory of your baptism and the reality that our Lord spoke to you, “You are my beloved child.” That identity was announced, not earned. It was established, not worked for. It was resolute, not transient. It is this true identity that the superior, healthier, fully-manifested self is given.
Talk about taking the pressure off!
Now that we are set free from the chains of New Year’s resolutions, the rat race of establishing a name for ourselves and the pressure of achieving more, we can rest. Rest in who we have been proclaimed to be, an identity that will not change or be taken; that was given to us at the beginning of our lives and not determined at the end.
So, moving forward, the question isn’t, “who are you going to be?”
The real question is, how are you going to live out who you already are? Who are we all going to be this coming year as we live our identities in this baptism we have been given?
It is so freeing knowing that our identity is not tied to political agendas, social movements or the many divisive aspects of our culture, but the words, “my beloved” from the mouth of God.
I have a resolution this year!
To be the child of God our Lord has made me in my baptism. To strive to live up to the identity He has given me. Not because I need to be saved, but because I am saved.
This is my resolution and the one I encourage you to embrace as well.
May we live our lives recognizing the most important identity we have through Christ. Also, may all the other roles we play in this world flow from that.
Perhaps if that happens, we can put down our guns, signs, maybe even quiet our shouting voices and open our shaking fists.
If you have any questions regarding baptism, please feel free to reach out to me.
Through it all, may our God be given all the Glory.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Lovejoy is pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or [email protected]