My new confidence in baptism: Why was I baptized twice?

Three weeks ago I was baptized!  It was the second time in my life that I have been submerged in water because of my belief that Jesus, the son of the Living God, died for my sins, was resurrected on the third day, and that I would be forgiven of my sins.  I was 10 years old the first time I was baptized. I believe that both of these baptisms were important points in my Christian life, and I’d like to tell you the story…

I was raised in church.  My mother made faith a priority in my life and I have her to thank for opening the door and exposing me to the Truth.  Until recently I had not realized her example helped lead me to the Living Water (John 4:1-26), but I know that without her influence, encouragement, and discipline in attending church while growing up, I may not have ended up on the narrow path.

When you say you grew up in church, the next question is inevitably…which church?  The answer was difficult for me then and is difficult for me at times now, although for different reasons.  My family moved every 2 years like clockwork (with the exception of a few 1 year moves) and I have lived all over the United States.  So each move and new location, my parents sought out a church.  My parents met and married at the Upland Baptist Church in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes we attended baptist churches, sometimes non-denominational churches, sometimes the base chapel (typically non-denominational protestant), sometimes Methodist churches. My parents took care to find a place for us to worship that provided children’s’programs and where we were welcomed.  Having grown up attending church, though with a mix of different “denominations”, I believed in God from an early age.  When I was 10, I asked Christ into my heart and was baptized.  I wish I could tell you more about what my 10-year-old mind understood or believed, but I quite honestly cannot.  It was many years ago (17 to be exact) and I have a terrible memory when it comes to my childhood, potentially due to the ever-changing environment of a military family, which I loved so much.  I remember feeling very scared when I was baptized the first time because I was in front of a huge church and everyone was watching me.  I don’t remember how it felt to be baptized or much about my understanding, but I know for certain that I believed in God and in His son Jesus and the resurrection.

Now, a question that I didn’t ask myself until much later in my life was, how was I supposed to live my life after baptism?  What did it require of me? In general I was a very good kid who listened to her parents and tried not to sin.  I continued to go to church with the exception of about a year in college, as I learned how to make my faith my own and not simply fall back on the example of my parents.  These are all good things…but there was something missing in my life after baptism: an understanding of God’s Word and of my call to be obedient to God.  There was a depth that I missed with the many different churches I attended throughout my life.  I spent time on my faith and time at church, but I wasn’t growing in my understanding of the Bible.  I believe that gets back to the main emotion I remember from my baptism…fear.  I was overwhelmed by the Bible and couldn’t understand it.  I thought that the role of preachers was to study and learn the Bible similar to a college course and that they were the experts that I should believe and should learn from… I didn’t think it was possible for me to understand the deeper parts of the Bible, so I entrusted that responsibility to preachers.  There is nothing new under the sun, and I have since learned (in part through the Pharisees class my husband is currently teaching) that the power of teachers and the feeling that you could only learn through them was very common in Christ’s time on earth as well.  They may or may not have been moving around all the time, but this emphasis on being taught the way in those times stemmed from the literal lack of the Bible itself. By that I mean very few people had access to the Old Testament scriptures or were even capable of reading.  Therefore, most of their knowledge and understanding came from religious leaders…the Pharisees among them.  It would not surprise me to know that other people have also experienced the same feeling I felt: that we learn from teachers who we believe have studied the “right”understanding and being a good Christian was a matter of following the teaching of these people, that this was the best guide to living a Christian life. Don’t misunderstand, I did open and read my Bible, but I put up an invisible barrier for myself that I wouldn’t understand most of what I read and therefore, I didn’t ask the deep questions.

I began to identify symptoms of this falsehood (that the Bible can’t be understood except by a teacher) about 5 years ago.  I began to realize that I was very uncomfortable speaking about my faith outside of church for fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say.  I certainly wasn’t applying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to go out and make disciples because I was scared.  I was very comfortable talking about the fruits of the Spirit (peace, joy, love…Galatians 5:22) and emotions and that I loved God and was comfortable even studying/discussing books on certain christian topics.  I always did my best to trust God and prayed fervently to know the right path for my life during some of the most difficult decisions in my life (namely giving up a pilot slot with the Air Force).  I most certainly had a relationship with God, but it lacked depth and understanding.

So…by God’s mercy, about a year and a half ago, I believe I was given a sign.  It was hard for me to see it as a blessing originally, but looking back I know that it was.   A little background to preface this:  I have had “night terrors” ever since I can remember and my parents would say ever since I was born. I typically don’t dream unless it is very scary and would wake up suddenly, sometimes screaming/crying/out of breath.  I only say this to emphasize that after a lifetime of this, I was fairly used to it.  I no longer called my parents to make sure everything was ok if I had a dream that something happened to them.  I no longer had difficulty knowing if it was a dream or real and going back to sleep wasn’t so hard.  In general it was no longer a big deal. I had begun dating my husband, Cameron, and had opened up to him about the areas of weakness in my faith.  I also at some point told him about my night terrors.  He encouraged me to pray to God asking Him to take them away! I know this sounds silly but I had never considered that.  I was so used to the dreams, that I didn’t even consider giving it up to God and asking for help (Philippians 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7).

So one night, I did.  I prayed that God would take away my night terrors and help me sleep peacefully. And I fell asleep.  I know I cannot properly describe this dream, to do it justice. I’m not that good of a writer and what made the dream so terrible is not the horrific sights, but the feelings of absolute fear and torment I was going through. I dreamt that I was in Hell and was in the most excruciating pain, surrounded by what I thought might be demons. I was trying to scream in pain and shout against all that was around me, but my throat just burned and I was unable to say a word.  The only words I could think (which were constantly running through my head the entire dream) were from Matthew 7:21-23…”Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!'”  I woke up screaming and crying and more terrified than I have ever been in my life.  I called Cameron sobbing (who was visiting California at the time) and eventually woke up my Dad who lived with me.  I didn’t want to go back to sleep…. ever.  This was not an ordinary night terror of mine–it felt so incredibly real and vivid and painful…it felt beyond my ability to get past.  It took me hours to calm down and stop crying and I never went back to sleep that night.

The next night I felt fear.  Fear to fall asleep and fear to trust God with my night terrors and fear of that horrific dream.  I still prayed to God about my night terrors, despite that fear.  The dream changed my life.  My first thought was that Satan was after me because I finally gave something up to God that I had always dealt with alone and Satan wasn’t going down without a fight.  The more I thought over it and considered it, however, I began to interpret it differently.  Sometimes even these awful experiences have God’s hand in them and they are for a purpose. If there was ever any question of what hell was like in my mind, I received an answer.  I felt the most excruciating pain and an inability to speak, which is discussed in the Bible (Luke 16:19-31).  With Cameron’s help, we dug into the Bible and I noticed that every time Jesus was tempted by the devil, he combatted him with scripture (Matthew 4:1-10).  In other areas of the Bible, God calls the Word our sword (Ephesians 6:17, Revelation1:16), to symbolize that God’s Word is our defense against Satan.  There may be other interpretations of my inability to speak in the dream, but this was what resonated with me. I had no words…I didn’t know God’s Word (the Bible) and I had no defense against Satan.  None.  This lack of words pinpointed the weakness I had in my faith, believing the Devil’s lie that I could not understand the Bible and believing that I would never know what to say to people about Christ, even though I had been a Christian my whole life.

The verses that kept resonating in my head from Matthew speak to what we believe in our heart and not what we externally show to others. The verses come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ is warning the people about false prophets who don’t realize their own error; who believe they are doing the right thing but have not followed the Word of God and are surprised to learn on judgment day that they are being shut out of the kingdom of Heaven.    This warning emphasizes that a relationship with God is not just based on the external things we do, “prophesying in His name, casting out demons in His name, doing great things in His name,” but goes deeper to our hearts and what motivates our actions.  God desires to be known by us and I’ve learned that faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).  The focus on external actions and equating that to righteousness was a common problem in Christ’s time on earth because the Jews had piled tradition upon tradition on top of the Old Law (Mark 7:8). Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant and die for the sins of man, freeing us from the Old Law, saving us, and establishing the New Covenant with the shedding of his blood (Hebrews 8:13, 9:11-15).

What is the correct meaning of the verses from Matthew 7:21-23 in my dream?  Could it have meant that I might have been destined for hell if I didn’t change my ways? Yes.  Could it have meant that Jesus might say He never knew me? Yes.  I sought answers to these questions through Christian counsel and diligent study of the Bible.  It has been through careful study that I have come to understand the context of those verses and dig at their meaning.  After reflecting on this dream for many months and what it meant to me, one thing is certain: it changed my life.  I no longer felt comfortable with the place I was at as a Christian.  I needed to study and learn the Word for myself.  I needed to increase my knowledge and break through my fear of not understanding.

I believe that my dream was a sign and a call to action from God. Sometimes it takes something horrifying for us to wake up.  It was hard at first to imagine that God would terrify me so much and the dream may have been from Him.  But I realized in a more full way then I could have ever fathomed before what it is to fear God.  Not only fear of God’s power, but also of the consequences of my unintended disobedience.  It yielded an understanding of what was at stake and how important it was. And I believe that He gave me a man in my life to help me through the journey of learning the Bible, and to show me it wasn’t out of my reach.

I have learned to study the Bible and am continuing to do so. I have begun to understand the Bible in a way I never have before. God gave us His Word to be accessible and to be understood (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is a falsehood that I need a teacher to explain the Bible to me. That does not mean that I don’t need help and that preachers are not valuable to help us.  But it does mean I can’t use the excuse that the Bible intimidates me.  Through this process of learning God’s Word, I studied the concept of baptism with the help of Cameron and his amazing unofficially adopted brother, Jacob.

Learning about baptism is a lot like opening up a can of worms….to fully understand baptism; you need to have a broad understanding of the Bible’s big picture and the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Learning about baptism is slightly different than the requirements for being baptized.  In order for one to be properly baptized, the Bible identifies several requirements: a person must hear the Word (Romans 10:16-17), they must believe that Word (John 20:31, Hebrews 11:6), believe it enough to repent of their sins (Luke 13:3, Acts 17:30), and make verbal confession that Christ died, was buried, and was raised for the remission of our sins (Romans 10:10, Matthew 10:32).  Baptism is the culminating act, which we must undergo to obtain our salvation–it is the seal of our entry into the New Covenant with God (Galatians 3:27, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38).  In order to understand the concept of baptism, to answer the question, “why baptism?” you have to go much deeper.  It requires an understanding of the Old Testament and the three-fold promise made to Abraham, with emphasis on the third one, that God planned to give all nations salvation through Abraham’s seed, which is Christ.  It requires an understanding of the Old Testament requirement for circumcision-which God commanded Abraham as a sign of His Covenant with him.  A Jew was born into the Old Law, but he entered into it via circumcision on the 8th day of his birth.  Through the New Covenant, none are born into the law-but all must enter into it to inherit eternal life, they must be born again of the water (baptism) and the spirit (belief, repentance, confession) (John 3:5).  The old law passed away at God’s appointed time and baptism in a way became the new circumcision, but for all mankind-not just the Jew. Fully understanding baptism requires us to learn the symbolism behind it: it represents being buried with Christ and resurrected into a new life with Him (Colossians 2:12).  I have learned so much about the Bible and about baptism and now, I will tie us back to original intent behind this testimony/proclamation.

As I looked back on my life, I know that I believed in God and tried to live my life as a Christian (albeit having many ups and downs). But I realized that I couldn’t say that I understood what I was called to do.  I had not studied the Bible well enough to understand that there are 2 parts to salvation: 1) scriptural baptism (referenced above), and the one I didn’t understand 2) obedience to God’s commands – the Bible, specifically the New Testament (Revelation 2:10) in the hope that I will be judged as righteous (being “made right” with God) and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 28:19-20).

It is not enough for us get baptized or merely believe we are “saved.”  We are called to reject lawlessness.  We are to take action and make disciples and grow in spiritual maturity (Hebrews5:12-14). On judgment day, we will be called to account for our lives and God will justly determine our reward (Romans 2:1-8).

God requires our obedience and he makes clear through the Bible what He wants from us and how to be obedient to Him.  There are so many examples of times when God’s people were not obedient to Him and God showed them his displeasure.  It goes all the way back to the beginning, with Adam and Eve and then their sons, Cain and Abel.  My favorite example of God’s requirement for us to be obedient and do exactly as He commands is with Moses.  After he led God’s people out of Egypt (through water -interesting symbolism tied to baptism), he was praying to God to provide food and water for the people.  God told him to go in front of all the people and speak to a rock and water would come out of it.  But Moses did not follow His exact instruction.  He struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it and although water came forth, God punished Moses because he did not treat God and his commands as holy (Numbers 20:1-12).  As Moses’ punishment, he was not allowed to enter the promised land; it was passed to a later generation.  It may seem like such a small thing, but it is clear that God cares about the details.  Now Moses was a prophet and a righteous man, but he still had to learn to follow God’s commands exactly. There are so many other examples (King Saul – 1 Samuel 15, Incorrect offering – Leviticus10) of the consequences of not following His commands.

We may be Christians and believe with all our hearts in Christ, but we still need to understand the second part of entering into heaven, as I needed to.  God desires for us to draw closer to Him and to know Him. He seeks for us to be obedient to him and not stray from his commands. As we seek to grow in righteousness, we should remember that God has instructions on how to be obedient to Him and He gave the Bible to us as His inspired Word so that we could understand it and live out our lives in obedience.

I believe that my first baptism was sound in terms of the procedure and I believe that I was genuine in my love of God and belief. I also know that I was young and that I lived my life unaware of the instructions to follow Him to the depth that I should have.  I was re-baptized on June 8,2014 by my husband in the Pacific Ocean.   I now go forward with the confidence that God will count me and am resolute in my goal to follow Him in obedience to His Word.  The Bible (Acts 19:1-5) gives us a precedent for being re-baptized if we know or feel like a previous baptism was not done in accordance with the Truth (in accordance with the requirements) or in Spirit (where our hearts and understanding were at the time of the prior baptism). I believe that my baptism when I was 10 was sufficient in the Truth, but I have doubts about the level of understanding I had at the time.  I want to be confident in where I am going and that confidence comes from fully understanding His Word and what we are called to do as Christians.  I am happy to say that although it is still a bit uncomfortable at times, I have become filled with the Word through my studies and excitedly express my faith and try to live out my life according to His will. This letter is part of that. I invite you to grow with me and read with me and share in the opportunity to enter God’s kingdom after this temporary life.  I now know with certainty the path that I am on, and though it is narrow and less traveled, there is room for all who choose it.

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