It’s one of the most important lines to be spoken before baptism . . . that you may receive the gift of the promised Holy Spirit.
I’ve been present for hundreds of baptisms. What’s said at those baptisms is rarely the exact same thing twice in a row. In some churches pastors and ministers do all the baptizing. But in my free-church tradition, any believer can theoretically baptize another believer.
If I could script out the baptismal words for everyone to say, I’d want them to say this as they immerse a person into Christ: Based upon your confession, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of your sins and that you may receive the gift of the promised Holy Spirit.
It’s not necessary to get every word right. The act of baptism is a powerful work of God regardless of whether we follow an exact formula that matches my expectations or anyone else’s. People often say it differently or leave things out. The baptismal words aren’t a magical incantation in which you must get them all exactly right for it to count.
Still, I think my suggested words are a good baptismal formula. It sums up the biblical essence and points to what happens in the waters of baptism, whether fully expressed or not.
A key thing that happens in baptism is that one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was often misunderstood in my church heritage. Some folks thought it meant you get a Bible afterwards. Others figured it was some kind of metaphor or antiquated language. People in other faith traditions have had their own problems understanding the gift of the Spirit. Some think it is a gift you receive later which allows you to speak in tongues.
I wish we could just sweep away all the confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to baptism. I’d love for us to understand a simple truth. The gift of the promised Holy Spirit may mean many things for the Christian life, but for those newly initiated into Christian discipleship it ought to mean just one crucial thing. It means you’ve been marked with God’s tattoo. You now belong to God, and his very Spirit is written in indelible ink across your heart. You’ve been tagged by God.
This is what Paul says in Eph 1:13-14, “In him you also . . . were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” The Holy Spirit is a gift at baptism that marks us as people who belong to God.
This is what made Jesus’ baptism so different from John’s baptism. With John, baptism simply began the waiting game. It was a baptism of repentance with the hope that the kingdom would come one day. But with Jesus, baptism merges a person’s repentance with entrance into God’s glorious kingdom.
Say what you want about the Holy Spirit. (There’s a lot to say.) But when it comes to baptism, let’s keep it simple. Christian baptism not only washes us of sin; it instantly ushers us into the family of faith under the lordship of Christ. There’s no probationary period. No waiting game. That’s it. Boom! Marked by God! You’re in!
Thanks be to God that this is so! God loves you so much and wants you to belong so badly that he generously tattoos the mark of his Spirit on your heart when you give your life to him. Christians young and old ought to realize that they carry this seal of God with them everywhere they go. May you receive this gift with gladness. Knowing that God has tattooed you with his Spirit ought to be both a comfort and a challenge as you seek to remember your baptism and live out your life as God’s beloved child.