The thought came to me rather spontaneously. It was a new angle on an old story that seemed to fit the circumstances perfectly. In retrospect I believe it was a God@Work moment. And an illustration I expect to use many more times in the future – with the full knowledge that most every time I try to form earthly pictures of biblical truth there will be some sort of shortcoming in the story.
I was visiting with a mother and her 10th grade daughter. The daughter had expressed an interest in getting baptized, so they had invited me over. Generally my baptism conversations in homes are in the context of baptizing infants. Then the words of Jesus to Nicodemus fit very naturally. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. … Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3.3-6) With this in mind, I ask, “Please tell me, what you remember of the day you were born, and what you had to do with being born.” The answers, accompanied by a funny look on the face, generally are the same – “nothing – on both accounts.” With this I am able to describe how baptism is 100% God’s work (gift) of giving us faith and eternal life.
However, the context with this teen was very different, and so the other term connected to baptism – adoption – entered into the conversation. The verse here is one that is read annually on Christmas Day. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons/daughters. And because you are sons/daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts … So you are no longer a slave, but a son/daughter, and if a son/daughter, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4.4-7)
So here is the new illustration (feel free to critique, criticize, or plagiarize): Picture a child living in an orphanage … no family, no hope … just life in an institution. The child then is moved into the home of some wonderful, loving foster parents. Life is much better. One day those foster parents come to the child with some paperwork, and the statement that they wish to move from being foster parents to adopting the child. With adoption the child becomes a full-fledged, irrevocable member of the family – an equal heir with all the other children.
The point of the story? The young lady already had been given the gift of faith (why else would she be asking to be baptized?) … but her relationship with God was like that of a foster child. Baptism, in her case, rather than creating faith, will seal the deal (adoption). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8.16-17) “In (Christ) you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our in heritance.” (Ephesians 1.13-14)
Identity and security are two critical items without which we flounder. Both are given freely and eternally in adoption. They are gifts of love that combat feelings of fear, shame, and isolation … the critical side effects of sin [You remember Adam’s words – “I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid (fear) because I was naked (shame), so I hid (isolation).” – Genesis 3.10]. Children can walk away from the benefits of their adoption, but our heavenly Father will never back off on his promises.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16.16) This salvation God in Christ Jesus gives to us freely as we are born again of water and the Spirit. This same gift is sealed over us as, through the power of his Word, God moves us from the orphanage to foster care (faith). He then gives us a whole new, and secure, identity as he adopts us into his family with the waters of baptism.