January 1 marks the day I first caught a glimpse of the most profound truth in the universe. I was 18 years old. I was fighting tooth and nail with God. And He showed me, finally, through one the weirdest acts ever performed on the human body, that He and He alone makes me His son. Here's how it all went down.
The Dark Lining in Every Silver Cloud
I grew up believing that there's always a “but” between me and God.
- “Jesus died and rose for me, but I must make Him my personal Lord and Savior.”
- “The Father wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but they must do their part by meeting God halfway.”
- "You may be a Christian, but you need to show your obedience to Christ as Lord by submitting to His baptism.”
Between God’s gift and my reception of His gift there always loomed a but. The nagging questions were: what if my actions weren’t good enough? Sincere enough? Where would that leave me?
Because that but demanded something of me, a deeply flawed human being, it was the dark lining of doubt in every silver cloud of grace.
That doubt manifested itself most clearly in my decision, when I was sixteen, to be re-baptized. During a revival at my church, I became convinced that I had been too young the first time I was baptized to know what I was doing. Plus, if I were really a Christian, how could I have failed so miserably in my life of spiritual obedience? It was obvious to me that I needed a reboot, a rededication of my life to Christ. And I must really mean it this time. So, late one night, I made the decision, again, to follow Jesus sincerely, to receive His baptism obediently, to live a Christian life wholeheartedly.
And wouldn’t you know it, even though I did all that, the doubts quickly resurfaced. My old sins still whispered sweet temptations in my ears. I couldn’t go an hour, much less a day, without letting God down in some way. Maybe I was one of those hopeless causes, a son of the night, who only masquerades on Sunday morning as an offspring of light.
The Whacked-Out Church on the Edge of Town
Some times things have to get worse before they can get better. So it was with me. While I was wrestling with my doubts, God sent a friend into my life who added confusion and frustration to the mix. Bob and I began working side by side at a local feed store. And while we were unloading trucks or sweeping the warehouse floor, we began to talk about our respective beliefs. He belonged to a church on the edge of town that, in my opinion, boasted some pretty whacked-out teachings. And topping the list was the conviction that babies should be baptized, just like older children and adults. I don’t think I could have dreamed up a stranger, more wrongheaded practice. It epitomized the opposite of everything I held to be true. Everybody knows that infants are at the mercy of their parents, and can’t make a decision for Christ, so why in the world would they be baptized?
Curious, I decided to sit in on a class at Bob’s church so I could better understand, and then debunk, these teachings. Over the course of the next few weeks, his pastor talked about God, the Ten Commandments, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism. As he did, I became aware of a common theme that seemed to be the glue that held all their teachings together. It was this radical idea of God’s all-sufficient grace in Christ. It meant that I can’t do anything on my own to become or stay a Christian; that I can’t even take one tiny step toward God, much less meet Him halfway; and, that rather than baptism being my act of obedience toward God, it was God’s act of salvation for me. In other words, God in Christ did everything, that He and He alone was responsible for 100% of my salvation. And to make matters worse, there were scores of Bible verses that sure seemed to back up what the pastor was saying. If I were full of doubt before, now I was also brimming over with frustration and confusion.
How Circumcision Cut Away My Doubts
The class concluded, but I was far from finished. I continued to ask questions, to probe the Scriptures, and to try and make sense of these newfangled teachings. The baptism of infants, however, was the biggest burr under my saddle. How could babies become Christians? All they could do was nurse and cry and poop in their diapers, so how could they be involved, in any reasonable or willful way, in their salvation?
Everyone has their own Aha! moment, when the Spirit opens up their minds to understand the Scriptures. That moment was fairly unique for me, but God knew what He was doing, and what I needed to hear.
One evening, as I was reading Genesis, I happened upon one of the oddest stories in Scripture. When Abraham was a year shy of his hundredth birthday, the Lord told him to circumcise himself. And not only himself, but his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael, as well as every male that had been, or would be, born in his household. In fact, when they were only eight days old, these baby boys’ foreskins were to be cut away. Why? This was the sign of the covenant between them and God (Genesis 17:11). It was a covenant quite literally “in their flesh” (17:13).
I read that chapter again. And then again and yet again. Slowly, as if that page of Scripture were the eastern horizon, a light began to dawn and illuminate my shadowed mind. The sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of Abraham were made children of the covenant when they were barely over a week old. When all they could do was nurse and cry and poop in their diapers, they received that covenant sign in their flesh. When they could not, by their own reason or strength or decision, be actively involved in their salvation, they became the children of Yahweh. God circumcised them by the hands of their parents.
God made them His own.
God gave, they received.
The Disappearance of the Dark Lining of Doubt
By one of the weirdest acts ever performed on the body, God revealed to me what His all-sufficient grace in Christ really means. He drew the line from the “A” of circumcision all the way to the “Z” of baptism for me.
God has remained consistent in His dealings with humanity. From ancient times, God let it be known that He is the one who does the work of making us His children. Circumcision underscored that beautiful truth. And baptism, in particular the baptism of babies, continues to underscore it.
While we are lost, while we are at the mercy of our merciless sin, while we are dead and hopeless and unable to do anything about it, God the Father acts to change all that. He and He alone sends His Son to do everything necessary for our salvation. He and He alone pours His Son’s saving work into us and onto us in the waters of baptism. He and He alone makes us His children.
Since January 1 falls eight days after the birth of Jesus, it is the day of our Lord’s own circumcision (Luke 2:21). @@While the world is making resolutions, the church is rejoicing in the Lord’s resolve to save us.@@ And unlike so many human resolutions, the Lord’s resolve never will waver.
Christ underwent circumcision for the same reason He underwent birth, a life of flawless obedience, a sacrificial death, and a death-killing resurrection—because His firm resolve was to do everything necessary for our salvation. And because He does it, there is no doubt as to its perfection.
Jesus tears down every “but” that people try to build between us and God. He died and rose for us, and—not but—He makes Himself our Lord and Savior. The Father wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and He does the saving and truth-revealing. He makes Christians precisely in the waters of baptism, because in that washing He does the giving and we simply receive.
There’s no nagging questions about whether our actions are good enough or sincere enough, because God does the acting. His actions are always more than good enough, more than sincere enough. So where does that leave us? With a silver cloud of grace that has no hint of a dark lining of doubt.
Whether He’s dealing with the oldest of adults or the youngest of babies, Jesus Christ saves. He forgives. He baptizes. He makes them His own. On this first day of the year, when we celebrate Jesus’ circumcision, may that act, and the grace it holds, cut away all our doubts and bring us into this new year with hearts full of peace that God the Father has adopted us as His own children. And nothing will ever alter His heart of love toward us.
My new book, Your God Is Too Glorious: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places, will be released in January. You can pre-order copies now from Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.