It happens every year on the morning of my birthday. Mom calls and relives the day that I was born. She tells me, "When you were born, I couldn't believe how tiny you were; you were just like a little baby doll. I held you in my arms and your eyes were bright and fixed on my face." And then Mom says those words: "You were perfect." Well, the "perfection" didn't last long. Recently, I asked Mom to share her earliest memory of when I did something wrong.
She started laughing. "I remember when you were just a toddler," she said, "and I heard giggling coming from the kitchen. When I came in, there you sat stirring raw eggs you had cracked on the floor. With your older brother and sister watching in delight, I asked you, 'Nancy, did you make this mess?' You looked up at me, shook your head, and answered, 'Nah.'"
So I wasn't born perfect after all, and neither were you. Unfortunately, we didn't have a choice. We were born into a world that was already in a battle between good and evil. And as perfect as we may have looked to our moms when we were born, we all committed that first sin and the second and the third.
Have you ever looked back on your life and wished you could start all over—be born again? With the knowledge you have now, you could make better decisions, resist more temptations, and have less guilt. Well, that wish can come true.
How is this possible? A man named Nicodemus asked Jesus that very question. "'How can a man be born when he is old? . . . Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!'"(John 3:4).
Jesus explained, "'No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit'" (John 3:5). He was talking about baptism—about being immersed in the water, which symbolizes death to self, and being raised out of the water, which symbolizes resurrection to a new life.
Baptism is much like a marriage ceremony. You publicly marry someone as a symbol of your love, devotion and desire to spend the rest of your lives together. You make the decision to be baptized as a public witness to the entire universe that you have given your life to Jesus and you want to spend eternity with Him.
I've heard people say that nothing mysterious happens to us at baptism, and I agree. There's nothing magical about the water or the words the pastor speaks. But I do know for a fact that something wonderful happens because I've experienced it. I was born into a loving, yet non-Christian home. When I was a pre-teen, my dad felt empty and started searching for something to fill the void. That something was actually someone—it was Jesus. Dad started reading through the Bible, and some where between Genesis and Revelation he gave his life to Jesus. Because of his changed life, before long, we all gave our lives to Jesus. We felt the need to start over—individually and as a family. Baptism is the perfect symbol for beginning again.
On that life-changing day, my family watched as we were born again one by one.
After my baptism
Two things happened the week after my baptism that I certainly did not expected. When I went to school on Monday morning, my three best friends meet me in the hallway. “Were you baptized this weekend?” one of them asked while the other two glared.
"Yes," I answered, "I was." "Well, then we are not your friends anymore," and with that they walked away. I spent the morning recess crying in the bathroom. It was my first experience standing up for what I believed. I had made the first of many choices to follow Paul's example when he said in Romans 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." And to this day, I am not ashamed. Why? Because Jesus loved me enough to die for me and isn't ashamed to call me "daughter."
I also sinned that week. Out of love for Jesus and my newfound faith, I tried so hard to live a sinless life that first week. I was born again, so I shouldn't sin, right? Wrong. I wasn't prepared for the temptations that came or to my yielding to them. It was time to pack the family in the car and head for church, but I couldn't find one of my shoes. Everyone was waiting for me in the car as I threw things out of my closet. I even asked God to help me find my shoe, but I didn't find it. And then it happened. I got angry and said a mild curse word that I'd thought was OK to say before I was baptized. I was stunned. I was greatly disappointed in myself and felt that God was, too. But as I read my Bible and got to know Jesus better, I came to realize that baptism didn't make me perfect. I still needed the blood of Jesus to cover my sins.
It's been many years since that first post baptismal sin, and I still don't live a perfect life. But each time I sin, I ask for and receive forgiveness, and I do my best to not repeat that sin. But I know I can't overcome alone. I need God's help. And I access His help by staying close to Jesus. I read my Bible, talk with Him throughout the day and worship with other Christians. And not only does God forgive my sins and yours, He also promises to forget them. He said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions ... and I will not remember your sins'" (Isaiah 43:25). He doesn't hammer us with the offense over and over again. He chooses to forget it.
And He does even more. He changes our desires so that we don't even want to sin. This is what God means when He says, "'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh'" (Ezekiel 36:26). Can you believe it? God forgives, He forgets and He gives us a new heart.
"Whoever believes ..."
When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus that night, He spoke those promising words that give us hope: "'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life'" (John 3:16).
Whoever believes in Him. Do you know who this "whoever" is? It's you, and it's me. We can have eternal life. Don't think you can't give your life to Jesus and be baptized because you're not worthy. Baptism is for everyone. Whether you've grown up in the church or want to accept Jesus for the first time, He invites you to make a lifelong commitment to Him through the rite of baptism. Your first birth was passive. It just happened to you. Your second birth is active. It's a deliberate, well informed choice. A choice I have never regretted making—and neither will you.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, February 2010.