Last night as I traveled home from Bible study, a young friend sent me the question, “What if a person was baptized at a point in life when she really did not believe in God? Does that render her baptism invalid?…Now that she believes, does she need to be baptized again?”
This morning as I write, I’m headed to the endodontist’s office for a root canal. I wouldn’t hate it quite as much as I do except that I already HAD this root canal done a year-and-a-half ago. I mean I already did the dread, the drill, the cap, the pain, and the recuperation during the holidays of 2013. I spent New Year’s Eve in the chair. I remember. “Everything’s fixed now,” the dentist said. “You shouldn’t have any more problems.”
But I did. In fact the pain never totally went away. I kept telling myself “That ache you’re feeling back there is just residual.”…”Everybody probably feels pain for a while, right?”…”It’s probably just because you grind your teeth, Cindy Colley…You need to wear that retainer more faithfully.… That’s it. After all, you had a reputable dentist do a root canal and you have the cap back there (and the receipt for a big dental bill) to prove it.”
Oh but nothing doing. “It hardly ever happens,” my dentist explained, when I finally told him about the pain, “But every now and then, for some reason, that area below the tooth just gets reinfected and we have to drill back through the cap and get that infection out. I need to do an X-ray to see what’s going on in there.”
I knew that tooth wasn’t reinfected. Truth be told, that old infection never went away.
“Are you telling me I have to have ANOTHER root canal?” I stared at him, open-mouthed, as I heard his post Xray synopsis.
“Yes, that’s basically it….Only, this time, we have to drill through the cap to do it. I’ll have to send you to a specialist. Let me see if I can find one that takes your Blue Cross….And let me give you an antibiotic to help the swelling go down, so it will be easier to deaden your mouth.”
“That’s okay, I said…I’m already on antibiotics for bronchitis.”
So today, I’m headed to that specialist.
You see, everything looked good back there in the back of my mouth. Any dentist would have looked back there and said, “Oh, you’ve got a cap back there. Looks good.” It’s that Xray machine, though, that sees all the way through the flesh and bones…it’s that machine and that machine only that can reveal what’s going on way down deep. And, in my case, that wasn’t good. The infection that remained rendered the first root canal invalid. Today, I have to do it again. ARRRG!
That’s the way it is with our spiritual conditions. So a person goes under the water and rises again to the sound of Christians singing “Oh Happy Day.” She gets hugs all around from the members of the church. Her name is in the bulletin as the newest Christian. Perhaps she even attends all the time. But only God knows if the infection (sin) has been removed from her life. He knows whether or not her baptism washed her sins away. He has the Xray machine.
If a person is baptized to please someone else, as surely was the case in the scenario that my young friend related, the infection of sin is still there. If a person goes under the water in an emotional moment that’s void of true commitment, perhaps because friends are doing it or, as one person I know did, in a desperate attempt to save a failing marriage, the infection is still there. Those who are looking on may find comfort in knowing the procedure has been done, but the “cap” on that baptism is just hiding the infection. It will keep hurting. Try as she may, this girl is not going to get rid of the ache of sin. She may tell herself over and over that it’s okay. But if the ONE, the Spirit, who sees all the way through, does not bear witness with her Spirit that she is a child of God (Romans 8:16), then the infection of sin is still there. It will never stop hurting, eroding, destroying, until the sin is removed.
Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins(Acts 2:38). It’s a simple procedure by which infected people become clear and clean. But it is possible to go through all the motions without removing the sin. May I always put all of my life under the Xray machine of His Word. He knows.
And, of course, the answer to my young friend’s question is, “Your friend’s original baptism had nothing to do with the removal of sins or forgiveness. It was merely a submersion; a dunking with no spiritual significance (except perhaps it was a blasphemous ritual). How could one’s baptism accomplish forgiveness in the heart of the living God in whom she did not even believe? If she now believes and is penitent, let’s get back to the water. Let’s clear up the infection.”