Unsure and afraid. Nothing had been constant in her life, and it was just a matter of getting through the day without having any great expectations. Long ago during pigtail years, her father promised to come and take her to the zoo. But after hours of watching for his scratched and beaten blue Honda out of the front window, her young hopes were bruised. A couple of years ago while struggling to make ends meet, her mom assured her she was useless and lazy, unworthy of a family who could love her. Just yesterday her only friend listed out all the ways she was a failure, to help her change, of course.
With every hope, behind every shimmery promise, she had learned the hard way that it would not last. Trust shattered. Confidence shredded. Comfort mutilated. But one day, she heard about a promise that was outside of this broken and disappointing world. She heard about a God who entered her own personal hell to make it right. She heard about love and forgiveness. She felt the warmth of a family for a moment, and she dared to wonder if this was finally the hope that would not be put to shame.
Curled up on the couch, pouring out a heart of sin and sorrow, overwhelmed with the whirlwind in which she was trapped, she dared to hope once again. Is this a Savior that would love me?
And this is the terrifying answer that too many hopeless people receive. Yes, you are loved, yes you are forgiven, only IF you do something about it. Sometimes it sounds like the Gospel, it sounds like a yes based on the mercy and love of God, but in truth it is not. The “if” tacks on requirements that must be fulfilled by you. If you are really sorry, If you really feel the spirit, If you change your life. If you show fruits of the spirit. If you can take away your own sin, then yes, Jesus is for you. But “if” is the death of the Gospel. “If” is the smashing of true hope.
Most offensively, baptism is mistaken as a deadly “if”. Yes, you are forgiven, Yes, you are loved by God. Yes, IF you can prove it. Baptism turns into your own testimony of dedication or faith. Baptism is perverted in the Christian church to earn righteousness or inclusion in a divine equation where that is not possible. Baptism is held captive by wicked judges who want to have power over your worthiness. In response to the graceful and undeserved YES in Christ, baptism can be grossly misunderstood as a display of the deadly “if”.
Hopelessness is the ultimate answer when the deadly “if” guides our lives. They will fail. We will fail. Our “if” will not be enough. We will look past the external mercy of God and trust in ourselves. Mothers, fathers, friends, and saviors will all disappoint us. When salvation is teetering on our “if”, there is no reason to expect anything greater than the heartbreak we’ve always known.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Rather, baptism is the pure YES in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a gift not earned or performed by you. Baptism is a gift given freely to sinners who don’t deserve it. Baptism is a connection to the death and resurrection of Christ, by no merit of your own. Is there a Savior who could love me? Yes. Is this a family who will carry me, even though I’m a terrible sinner? Yes. Is this a promise God will keep? Yes. Baptism is God’s tangible assurance that the YES of the Gospel is for you.
No ifs, ands, or buts.