We all like new things. But most often that means replacing the old. You can’t wave a magic wand and turn your old clothes into new clothes or your old car into a new car or your old house into a new house (wouldn’t that be nice!). Yet that is exactly what God does with people – in a manner of sorts. He doesn’t renovate them. Nor does he replace them. He completely transforms them, from the inside out.
That’s what happened to Brad. Brad has been coming to our church for the past 2-3 years, along with his wife Julie and two boys. But it wasn’t doing much to change him. He still struggled with anger and depression. And he was still unhappy. He just couldn’t get this Christianity thing. How could people believe in something so strongly when there was so little scientific proof? Surely evolution can’t be wrong – can it? And what about the other religions – aren’t they just as good? What makes Christianity so special?
Then Brad started attending a small group course we ran on a Sunday morning called Long Story Short. It explains the basics of Christianity in a way that is informative and helpful to agnostics and atheists alike. Now Brad he was getting some real answers to his questions. He now realized what life was all about and why God put him on this earth. He came to understand who Jesus was and why he had to die on a cross. Little by little the ‘holes’ in Christianity were plugged up. The pieces of life’s puzzle were fitting together. All that was left was that one last step: BELIEVE. With a friend at his side, he did just that. He turned his life over to God and asked Jesus into his life.
That very day Brad became a new man – not because of anything he did, but what God did in and through him. The first one to notice the change was his wife. Was this really the same man – so happy and calm and composed instead of angry and depressed? Yes. And yet no! This is what God does when they are born anew by his Spirit. They are transformed from the inside out.
Last Sunday Brad was baptized in a river just outside Richmond. His parents even made the trip down from the North Island especially for it. We all sat on the riverbank and watched. It was a glorious day. The sun’s rays blazed out from deep blue sky, the tree leaves performed a dance in the light breeze and the water sparkled like diamonds as it ran over the rocks. God’s old creation celebrating the birth a new creation – how apt! A wonderful prelude of what is to come in the new heavens and new earth.
It was time. Brad waded out into the water. He then shared his testimony that he had prepared for this occasion (a testimony is a Christian’s personal story of how they came to faith in Jesus and how their life has changed as a result). It was simple, yet very powerful. I was dead; now I am alive. I was lost; now I am found. Richard (one of our elders who was instrumental in leading Brad to Christ) shared a few words about the meaning of baptism. The believer is united with Jesus in his three great saving acts:
- Death with Christ (going under the water) The old self passes away
- Burial (immersion into water) The old self descends into a watery grave
- Resurrection (coming up out of the water) The new self comes to life
It’s a wonderful picture of what God does when, by the power of his Spirit, transforms a human heart. With a smile still on his face, Brad descended into the water. When he came up, our hearts were lifted in praise.
Driving the windy road home, with the late afternoon sun peeking through the hills, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful the new life in Christ really is. I felt incredibly blessed to have received it – not because of anything I have done, but because of what Jesus has done for me. Surely there is no greater happiness than all money could buy.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 HSCB).