Sixth point: For some reason, God wants his converts baptized in water. There’s not the least hint of water baptism in the OT. It was introduced by John the Baptist as a sign associated with the coming Kingdom and adopted by the followers of Jesus at Pentecost.
Rarely does anyone pause to ask why? Well, people need rituals. God doesn’t so much, but people do.
Consider a young couple. The young man embraces his girl friend and for the first time says, “I love you.” She hugs him, smiles, kisses him passionately, and the evening ends.
Later he discusses the evening with a friend over coffee. The friend says, “Wow, it’s great that you have a girlfriend who is so affectionate! Can’t you see in her eyes how much she loves you?”
“Yes, I know she loves me,” the young man says, “but I need her to say that she loves me. In fact, if she won’t say it, I don’t think I can continue in this relationship.”
Is he right to consider her reluctance to express her feelings a barrier to their relationship? Why not travel on her body language and behavior? Why are the words so important?
And, you know, the words really are important — not because of tradition or his inability to perceive her emotions. They are important because his girlfriend has to make a decision. She may feel love for him very much, but saying that she loves him changes their relationship and it changes her. It forces her to admit to herself that this is how she feels — and once she admits that, it changes her life. As soon as she admits her love, she has to make a commitment and be willing to make sacrifices.
Moreover, once he hears her words, he’ll behave differently. He’ll see her as a companion. No more will they just be dating. They’ll be bound to one another in a way that’s radically different from before. The words matter. And if she never says the words, their relationship will not progress much at all. In fact, it will end.
So when did she fall in love her boyfriend? When she first felt those feelings? When she started imagining what it would be like to be married? When she found her dreams filled with him? When she says the words?
Well, she fell in love over time. For some, it takes a few weeks. For others, it takes years. But true love is never at first sight. It always takes some time.
When did their relationship change? Well, it changed incrementally, a bit here and a bit there. They were strangers, and then two people on a date, and then they were a couple, and then they were a couple in love.
When did they become a couple in love? Well, not until they admitted it to themselves and then to each other. The words matter. The words change everything. The words change both lives forever.
But, of course, many couples say, “I love you” and don’t mean it. The words only matter as between honest people. Lies happen.
And then there are some couples, not many, who fall in love, get married, have children, and grow old together never having said, “I love you.”
Is it essential that you tell your boyfriend that you love him if you want to one day be married? Yes. Well, almost. Relationships don’t always follow the rules, but the rules are the rules for a reason. They matter.
And this is why Tevye eventually insisted his wife avow her love.
Confession of faith
It’s become popular to argue that faith is a process, and it is — obviously. But there has to be a moment when the first inklings of faith mature to saving faith. When does that happen? Well, not before I’m willing to confess my faith. It’s not that confession is a magic sacramental thing that empowers (or forces) God to save me.
Rather, it’s more that faith isn’t really faith until the believer is willing to confess it. If the believer won’t even tell the church that he believes, it’s just not enough faith to save. It’s not really what the Bible calls “faith.”
(Rom 10:10 ESV) For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Now, if we avoid the sacramental, Plan of Salvation understanding and, instead, see confession as the moment when faith becomes real — real both to the church and the believer — Paul’s teaching makes perfect sense.
(Luk 12:8 ESV) “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God … .”
Words matter. A willingness to say the words, to admit to yourselves and others that you’ve made the decision to be a believer, takes faith from a possibility to a reality.
(And as I said already, the words aren’t enough. They aren’t so much sacramental as a necessary consequence of actual saving faith.)