Family Matters Part 5: Family Commitments
On Sunday 25th February at our morning service, we finished our series 'Family Matters' with the topic Family Commitments. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to this, click here.
In this series we’ve looked at how important it is for us to be really open to people who don’t normally “do” church to be able to join in. Jesus during his time on earth was like that – he reached out to all sorts of people, especially those whom the religious authorities wanted nothing to do with!
Jesus reached out to people of all sorts, and invited them to belong with him. Belonging then led – sometimes – to believing in him and believing in him led to behaving the way he taught them to.
At EBC people can come and belong here, and we hope and pray that through the intervention of the Holy Spirit they will eventually believe in Jesus and in light of that belief (and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit) they will begin to change the way they behave too.
For many of us, a huge milestone in our journey of faith has been baptism and the step into church membership.
We all have different backgrounds, different perspectives. Personally, I was Christened as a baby and then “confirmed” as a teenager. A few years ago I was baptised too – as a step of obedience to Jesus and recommitment to God – as my faith had deepened in the intervening years. I don’t think God minds that I’ve done in triplicate!
That’s what I think. But it’s Jesus’s church – so what did he do and say?
Well, Jesus was himself baptised. In Matthew’s account we can read about this (chapter 3, verses 13 to 17) and later in Matthew’s account Jesus gives a clear instruction to his disciples to make disciples – explicitly telling them to baptise people. You can read this by clicking here.
Later, in the part of the New Testament called Acts, we find the apostle Peter being obedient to this teaching when he told a huge gathered crowd all about Jesus and the fact that the Jewish people had crucified the Messiah, the chosen one, Jesus. When asked what they should do in light of all this, Peter told them ‘Repent and be baptised, 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. ’ (Acts chapter 2, verse 38, NIVUK).
Baptism is the natural, approved entry into full commitment to Jesus and his church, his family.
Jesus, through his death and resurrection unlocks and opens for us the gates of heaven and invites us, unworthy as we are in our own sin, to follow him into his heavenly Father’s house of many rooms, where he has gone to prepare a place for us.
Our decision to make is this – will I follow Him? Will I commit?
Before we take the step of baptism, we need to have answered yes, in our hearts. Only then, when we have made that private commitment does the public ceremony follow. Just as with a wedding.
When people get married, they normally celebrate together with a wedding day. They get together with family and friends and make binding promises to each other, in front of all those people and (for Christians) in front of God too.
Importantly, before the wedding, the bride and groom have already made a decision and a commitment to each other in the privacy of their hearts, to be committed to each other.
Then after the public declaration and celebration (the wedding) comes the marriage – and in a lasting and happy marriage, there is a daily recommitment to the other person.
I think that weddings and marriages can help us to understand what baptism and discipleship are like.
A baptism comes when a person has made the decision – in the privacy of their heart – to commit to following Jesus. The baptism itself, like a wedding, is a public declaration of that commitment in front of loved ones and God. An incredibly joyful day that marks out a dying to the old way of life (with all its bad attitudes and behaviours) and a rebirth into God’s family, with Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour!
Afterwards comes the ongoing commitment of discipleship, just as with a marriage. In other words, you can’t just have the wedding (or the baptism) and then carry on behaving as if you never made any such commitment! That would hardly be OK with a husband or wife and it’s not OK with God either!
Tragically, in some marriages, one party breaks the covenant and wrecks the marriage single-handedly. No matter if the other is faithful, loving and stands ready to forgive, one party can wreck a marriage by flagrantly, persistently breaking their promises with bad habits and bad attitudes. Now between Jesus and his bride the church, there is no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will wreck the marriage.
He always loves us. He always is faithful to us. He always stands ready to forgive us. But we can wreck the relationship singlehandedly – by not actually following him, by not repenting of our sins, by flagrant wilful disobedience.
Of course, we’ll all make many a mistake and sin many a sin – if we’re honest that’s true even in the closest of marriages. But there’s a persistent faithfulness too. There’s saying sorry, there’s asking for forgiveness, there’s commitment expressed in a thousand ways when you feel like it and when you don’t. There’s what Peter calls repentance. “Repent and be baptised” he said. Repent… and there’s forgiveness.
That’s why we take the step of baptism seriously – it publicly marks the start of a wonderful, lifelong commitment to be lived out every day. It’s a wonderful joyful celebration – like a wedding – but like a wedding it’s not something to enter into lightly. Weddings are wonderful – marriages even more so, if both parties remain committed to each other in love. Hearts, heads and hands,
We want to be a growing family of believers. Everyone is welcome – especially those just exploring, because Jesus came to seek and save the lost. We love that your journey has brought you here. We want you to be part of the family – be in no doubt you are welcome here. Be in no doubt that God loves you. Be in no doubt Jesus died for you. And be in no doubt you have a decision to make. God wants something for you. He wants you adopted into his family and he sets out a way for that, he made a way for that through Jesus. And Jesus explicitly demonstrated and gave instructions about it, which Peter – an eyewitness disciple – put this way: “Repent and be baptised…”
Having more people being baptized and coming into membership is right up there as a top objectives for EBC. Not because it means more people giving or serving and the rest. But because it means people are becoming disciples – and that’s our mission.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Why do you think that while anyone is welcome to come to EBC there is a distinction when it comes to voting on what we do as a church such that only members can vote?
2. What are the differences between a church and a “do gooders” social club?
3. What are the differences between Christening, Confirmation and Baptism?
4. What do you make of the analogy above in which baptism is likened to a wedding and discipleship to a marriage?
5. Have you ever considered baptism – what are/were your reasons?