A few months ago I lost my wedding ring.
Well, technically I didn’t lose the ring…I’d lost a little bit of weight and my ring didn’t fit anymore. One day in the bathroom it just fell right off my hand and I scrambled like a Hobbit after my precious to keep it from going down a drain! So now my wife keeps it on a chain necklace for safekeeping and I am ringless…and it feels weird. Especially when traveling for business.
People look at you differently when they’ve determined you’re married, rather than single.
And I may not be wearing an external display of my commitment to my sweet wife, but I’ve learned that really shouldn’t matter. My behavior, my lifestyle, my covenants with and love for her is not contained within nor defined by a mere jeweled trinket, but rather by the choices I make each and every day and the way I choose to live my life.
I’m still married, whether or not others can see a ring.
And that marriage commitment didn’t suddenly spring into existence on our wedding day, but rather it grew as I was introduced to her, spent time with her, learned about her, fell in love with her and decided that I wanted to to be hers. (And I have to admit, it was a pretty easy process. 🙂 You could say I was committed to her before I was officially committed to her. The wedding ceremony and ring was merely an external, one-time validation of a feeling and a promise I’d made in my heart; that she would be the only one for me and I’d spend the rest of my life proving it.
But what does any of this have to do with you, John? And how does this relate to baptism?
Well, perhaps baptism is a little bit like putting on a wedding ring. Or sitting under the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. Or crafting your first lightsaber as a padawan at the Jedi Academy.
It’s a one-time event that symbolically represents a lifetime of choices, many of which happened before, but the most important ones will now come after.
It’s the inflection point on the curve. The fork in the road. It’s placing your personal signature on God’s letter of intent, stating that you want to be on His team, you’re ready to follow His rules, read His Playbook and listen to His Coach and His team captains. And you’ll also help other players join the team and stay on it! And after the game is over and we all win (and win we will) you get to join in the most spectacular homecoming exaltation celebration the world has ever seen.
So, yah, it’s kind of a big deal.
It’s a big enough deal that Jesus Christ Himself decided to do it.
The Good Book tells us in Matthew chapter 2 that Christ sought out the one person who had Priesthood Authority, a young Levite named John and was baptized of him in order to “fulfill all righteousness”. In another account, John chapter 3, we read that Christ sets forth the Baptismal Requirement and states that His act was not merely symbolic, requiring nothing more than our passive observation, but rather the exemplary demonstration of the first saving Priesthood ordinance, requiring our devoted emulation. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit”, says He, “he cannot enter into kingdom of God.”
He repeats this doctrine, and further expounds upon it, in another good book, the Book of Mormon. 3rd Nephi, chapter 11, teaches us more. Listen carefully:
“The Lord called others, and said unto them likewise and he gave unto them power to baptize. Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them – Behold ye shall go down and stand in the water and in my name ye shall baptize them. And these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name saying, “Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. And then ye shall immerse them in the water and come forth again out of the water. And this is my doctrine. And whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also, and until him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And whoso believeth in me and is baptized the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Therein is the pure doctrine of the 1st saving ordinance, that of Baptism. Did you hear what He said? He begins by giving the power Himself – authority to baptize comes not from schools, seminars, or even mere desire, but rather it must come from God via literal hand-to-head ordination. God gave Priesthood power to Moses, who gave it to his descendants, one of which was John the Baptist. John the Baptist later appeared as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith and transmitted this same power, who then transmitted it to others in an unbroken line down to us today.
Back to the doctrine: Christ says that we must experience a change of heart and have a sincere desire to join His team. How do we show we’ve had a change of heart, that sincere desire? By our actions. By choosing to live the discipline life of a disciple (notice they share the same root, same meaning.) As a disciple of Christ there are some things we will not participate in, listen to, click on, watch, eat, or drink. There are jokes we won’t laugh at, websites we won’t visit, movies we’ll skip out on, clothing we won’t wear, and habits we won’t indulge. (Bonus: that means we get to skip all the negative consequences of those things too.) And it’s not just a question of what we eschew, but also what we intend to do. As a disciple of Christ there are ceremonies to attend, books to read, service to perform, missions to serve, temples to worship in, and a lifetime of Christ-like emulation.
And there are blessings, oh so many blessings. Imagine your entire spiritual transcript erased of any deficiencies. Imagine the comforting presence of one member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost Himself, as an internal companion to guide you in decisions, warn you of danger, confirm righteous choices, and comfort in times of strife. Imagine the peace of mind that comes to humble followers of Christ knowing that they are on the right team, that when the final trumpet sounds, when it’s ‘pencils down, times’ up!’, we can stand before our Father, head held high and proclaim like mighty Paul of old, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” In that day we shall look up with a pure heart, with clean hands, having the image of God engraven upon our countenances. And hear His voice, His loving, tender voice, proclaim “Come unto me, ye blessed, for behold your works have been the works of righteousness” as we enter then into His presence.
So yeah, Baptism is a big deal. It’s the start of something new, the end of something old, the first step of many. Today’s a good day, Jonathan. A day of beginnings. As a new disciple you won’t have a uniform to wear, or a house robe or alliance patch or wedding ring or any other tangible symbol of your choice today.
But rather will show your team colors by the life you live.
For the life of true follower of Jesus Christ is the greatest symbol of our faith.