I met Paula a couple of years ago at our Passover banquet. She came as the guest of her Christian friend, Jennifer, who had witnessed to Paula over the years. Jennifer had attended many of our events and felt that we would be able to help Paula get to the next step in her faith journey.
I was at the registration table when Paula approached me very enthusiastically and asked if we could get together sometime to discuss the Bible. She had lots of questions about Jesus, but as a Jew she was having a hard time understanding how she could be Jewish and believe in Him.
As the months passed, we studied together and Paula did come to faith in Jesus. Yet a year and half later she still had a hard time saying the name of Jesus, and while she believed, she hesitated to call herself a Christian. Sometimes I wondered if she truly wanted to follow the Lord.
Paula had yet to be baptized and I knew that it would be a huge step for her, as it had been for me early in my walk with Jesus.
We looked at 1 Peter 3:20-22, which talks about Noah and his family being saved through water, and describes baptism as also saving through water. The text at first sounds like salvation comes by baptism. But then Peter goes on to say (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word for “answer,” sometimes translated “pledge,” was used in Roman society for an oath that a soldier took to Caesar. In other words, baptism is the outward commitment that publicly declares the fact that we surrendered our life to God when we came to faith in Jesus.
“We are not saved by baptism,” I explained, “or for that matter by anything we can do. We are saved by grace through faith in Messiah. However,” I went on, “baptism is important as an expression of our love for Jesus. It is the public announcement and symbol of our personal salvation. And obedience to all of God’s commands is important as the outworking of our love for Him. In Acts 2:38 Peter replied, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Baptism is the result of our salvation, our sincere desire to grow in our faith, and to be transformed to be more like Him.”
Paula finally began to understand. She decided that if she was going to take such an important step, she wanted it to be very special. During the days ahead we just couldn’t seem to find a place for her to feel comfortable. Her own church was not equipped for immersion, and Paula wanted to be “fully dunked.” Then one day a few months ago Paula announced she was going to Israel with Jennifer, the friend who had brought her to that Passover banquet. She planned to be baptized in the Jordan River.
When Paula returned from Israel, where she did have a very special baptism, I noticed a change in her. She no longer had trouble using the name of Jesus, or even calling herself a Christian. She had a new boldness. She was excited to tell me that she had told her brother that she is a believer in Jesus and going to church. When we study the Bible together she seems to have a clearer understanding. It has been a blessing to see how she has grown in her faith, and how God is truly transforming her.