The Mystical Teachings of Christianity by Jim Lewis
Water Baptism Explained
One day a man named Zacharias was in the Temple at Jerusalem burning incense as a part of his priestly duties. While doing so he had a vision in which an angel named Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his prayers for a son had been answered: his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child whose name would be John. Zacharias found this hard to believe; when he questioned Gabriel he was told that because he had doubted, he would not be able to speak again until the child was born.
His wife, Elizabeth, probably had her doubts, but the prophecy was fulfilled and she did conceive. This was an especially happy occasion for both of them. When the child was born, he was taken to the Temple for circumcision and it was suggested that he be called Zacharias after his father. But Elizabeth refused, insisting that he be called John. When they protested to Zacharias, he took a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” After this Zacharias was able to speak again, to the amazement of those around him.
Some thirty plus years later this John came out of the wilderness proclaiming a message that excited great interest. He said the great event was about to happen: the Messiah was coming to usher in and establish the kingdom of heaven. He, John, was a voice of one “crying in the wilderness” warning the people that they must confess their sins and be baptized as a preparation for the great event. His was the voice of repentance.
John began baptizing the many who came to him. He would take them into the Jordan River and either dip them or sprinkle them as a sign of their repentance. His message of the coming of the Messiah king was politically controversial, for it indicated that a revolution to oust the Romans was imminent. This was serious business.
John never hesitated to speak his mind. Although he was proclaiming a liberal message, he was doubtless a conservative at heart and in understanding. He had no hesitation in telling the people they were living in sin, especially Herod the king. Herod was living with his brother’s wife, Herodias, for which John condemned him in no uncertain terms. John probably believed, as did other conservatives, that the people’s bondage to Rome was due to their sins and to the years of delay in the coming of the Messiah. So John had some opposition from the king, and Herodias was definitely out to get him. Herod was afraid of him because the people responded to him so readily.
When Jesus appeared on the scene John recognized Him as the One Who was to come. It must have been puzzling and confusing to John, for John no doubt thought the Messiah would be a king who would come with an army to defeat the Romans. When he saw Jesus and the inner voice told him that Jesus was the One, John wondered how it would be accomplished. Many thoughts must have passed through his mind as he baptized Jesus: How can a man of such gentleness lead a revolt? Where is His army? Will it be a band of angels? How could it be this individual—He’s my cousin! I know Him; He wouldn’t harm anyone. Why does He submit to this baptism when He doesn’t need it?
John finally got himself thrown in prison with his constant condemnation of Herod. In prison he had further moments of wondering about Jesus being the true One Who was to come. When he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if He were really the One, Jesus told them to tell John what they saw, the miracle healings that took place.
John was probably very frustrated. He was of a temperament that wanted to be a part of the action and here he was in prison. He believed the kingdom was about to be established and he wanted to be there when it happened, but it wasn’t to be that way for him. Herodias wasn’t satisfied that he was in prison; she tricked her husband into having him killed. Her daughter, Salome, was appearing before Herod, who offered her anything she wanted if she would only dance for him. At her mother’s prompting, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. This frightened Herod, but he couldn’t lose face; he overcame his fear and consented. It was done: the voice of John the Baptist was silenced.
Christians today accept water baptism as a necessary part of becoming a Christian. In the beginning it wasn’t so readily acceptable; in fact, it was an embarrassment to many Christians. Why would Jesus submit to it? He wasn’t a sinner. He was superior to John, although some of John’s followers didn’t accept that. Jesus’ followers said that John even admitted the superiority of Jesus. Did he not say, “I am not the Christ?” John also stated he was unworthy even to take the shoes off Jesus’ feet. This was a job of the lowest of slaves; John was saying he wasn’t that worthy.
Another problem was that when the apostles began teaching, people began receiving the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Today we don’t make these distinctions and so the reverse method has become the accepted one: the proselyte is saved and then he is baptized.
Water baptism is a ritual, a symbolic act of something that is supposed to happen within the individual. More emphasis has come to be placed on the outer ritual and the real meaning has been lost. Many are baptized in water, but they are not really baptized.
John wasn’t certain what the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom would be like. He only knew that radical changes would be necessary in a person’s life in order for him to have a part in it. He knew the people could not continue in their sinful ways and expect to be saved. He saw the coming of the new king as a time when sinners would be destroyed along with the heathen Romans. Therefore, it was essential that people confess their sins and admit they were at fault. They must give up their sensuous practices: sex, gluttony, greed, seeking only the things of this world.
John would baptize anyone, Gentile as well as Jew, although this didn’t set too well with the established religious leaders. For John the coming kingdom would be for anyone who would repent.
To accept what water baptism really means and to do it is difficult for us. We are so used to blaming God and others for our predicament that we find it difficult to admit we had a part in bringing about the conditions of our lives. Oh, we can admit we have made some simple mistakes, but nothing that would be so serious as to cause sickness, poverty, lack, bondage, misery, and unhappiness.
Yet when we realize that God cannot cause sickness, nor could germs if we were in the right consciousness, then we have to admit that we have had a part in it. Baptism is really a time of making a commitment with the Lord of our Being. This inner Lord is constantly telling us what we should and should not do for our highest good. We want the good life without doing what is necessary to have it and this cannot be done. When we come to realize and admit that we must change our mind, our consciousness, then we are experiencing what water baptism represents—the cleansing power of denial, the activity of the faculty of renunciation in releasing old attitudes and beliefs.
We have a vague notion of what the kingdom is, but we are not totally sure. We only know it is going to be great and we want to have a part in it. For many years and maybe many lives one may be living in the simplistic consciousness that all the work necessary to enter this kingdom will be done for him. But one day a John appears on the scene in his consciousness and begins to tell him it is not enough to follow the accepted religious beliefs and practices and rituals. This John tells him he must repent; that is, he must change his beliefs and his ways of thinking as well as his destructive habits.
In our moments of ecstasy and great expectation, we say we are willing to do anything to get out of bondage. It is one thing to accept what we are told or know we should do, but quite another to actually do it. We become so attached and dependent on many sense experiences that we find it difficult to give them up. We wonder how we can be happy without them.
How do we repent? Although it may be a traumatic moment in our lives, it should not be a time of self-condemnation. Admitting a mistake doesn’t mean we must condemn ourselves for it. God isn’t interested in condemnation, but past religious teachers and others certainly have been. Emphasizing condemnation is counterproductive to our growth; it delays and hinders the true process of repentance, the sincere changing of our minds.
Wallowing in despair and crying over the mistakes of the past is not the way to deal with them, for it weakens us. We need instead a strong, positive attitude of resolution to do something about them. This is what repentance is, a strong determination to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn in our way of thinking, feeling, believing, and living.
We can begin by making a list of the things in our lives that we know we should give up or change. Every one of us can easily do this, for when we are honest and sincere with ourselves we know and probably have said, “I know I shouldn’t do this or that” and do it anyway. The purpose of making a list of these things is not to reinforce them in our thinking, but to impel us to make that necessary commitment to do something about them beyond rationalizing and justifying the continuance of them.
This list applies to what you put into your body and shouldn’t, as well as to what you put into your mind and consciousness and shouldn’t. I am not about to make any suggestions as to what anyone should put into his or her body, for each one knows that already. What we need is the resolve to follow our inner feelings.
We must resolve to give up all negative thinking about ourselves. We must cease calling ourselves sinners and other depreciating names. You are not a failure, you are not a hypocrite, you are not evil; you are a child of God with unlimited possibilities.
This making of a list of things we know must be released is not a time to identify more strongly with them. It is a time of recognizing the need to let go of them, and of strengthening our resolve to let them go.
It may not be an easy thing to do; we may have to give up some things we cherish doing. We may even have to give up some of our beloved religious beliefs and practices. For example, once we know and understand what baptism is all about, we know it is not necessary to be baptized in water. I have known people over the years who were very disturbed because they were not officially baptized. Some were disturbed because they were only sprinkled rather than immersed in the water.
It is not only some of the so-called “bad” things we are doing that must be given up. We must also be willing to give up some of the things we are doing that we think are right, good, and harmless. These things may be stumbling blocks on the path of spiritual progress. Remember, this is a preparation for the coming of something greater, a preparation for the coming realization of the kingdom of heaven.
We may be called upon to give up some of our personal associations and attachments. Our relatives and friends are not always going to agree with the way we see things. They may even put pressure on us not to pursue this inner light, but rather to stick with the status quo.
Many times we find ourselves in the predicament in which we enjoy our mistakes. We enjoy things that we know are detrimental to our health, happiness, peace of mind, and prosperity. But let me tell you this one thing: the joy of the kingdom is greater than any sensual joy you think you can’t live without.
On a more metaphysical level John represents an intellectual perception of truth. At this stage of development one is usually against something and tends to dwell too much on what is wrong. Therefore, it is not a stage of development that we want to prolong even though many do this. They never get past the point of thinking about the many changes they must make; they find themselves increasingly anxious and frustrated.
John said of Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Jesus stressed the positive approach of applying truth in our daily lives, following the guidance of Spirit as it seeks to lead us on the path to health, prosperity, and true self-fulfillment.
Jesus said of John, “Of those born of women there is none greater than John, but he that is least in the kingdom is greater than he.” At our present level of development we cannot begin to conceive of the greatness of the kingdom. However, the smallest spiritual insight is far greater and of more value than all the intellectual knowledge about truth. John said he came to prepare the way, but we don’t want to spend all our time in the intellectual pursuit of more knowledge of truth. Some people are always searching for a new way to make truth intellectually stimulating. They look for a new phraseology, not realizing truth is truth and is the same regardless of its dress.
John said he was baptizing with water but that when the Messiah came He would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Traditionalists think they have had both these baptisms; no doubt some have. But many do not even know what the baptism of the Holy Spirit is all about. They think of some experience called “conversion” as being a Holy Spirit baptism, but this experience is only psychological in many instances.
So if you want to prepare for a real and genuine Holy Spirit baptism, make the commitment now to prepare for it in consciousness. Cease chasing all over for a secret teaching or teacher. Cease making excuses for habits you know must go. Cease holding on to hurts and resentments that can’t bring you anything but sorrow and grief. Cease belittling yourself and cleanse your mind of the “sinner complex”. Cleanse your mind also of the thought that God hates you. Know that no matter what you have done in the past, He loves you with a steadfast love.
In Unity we call this water baptism the cleansing power of denial. You have the power to deny what is undesirable and false. This is the proper and constructive use of your power of renunciation, your power to release and let go. In the past I have heard students who thought they were advanced say, “I don’t have to use denials anymore.” They didn’t even realize that that statement is a denial. Every time we say “no” we have used the power of renunciation. Let us not use it to reject our good; let us use it to cleanse our consciousness of the undesirable and unproductive beliefs and habits that must go in order to prepare the way for the coming of the kingdom of God, the realization of oneness with the Lord of our Being.
© 1981, Dr. James C. Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.