The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral transformation. Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do. So Paul seems to know not whether to call what happened to him on the Damascus Road “birth or “death” – it felt like both at the same time.
In all this I hear the simple assertion that we must submit to change if we would be formed into this cruciform faith. We may come singing “Just as I Am”, but we will not stay by being our same old selves. The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed, unless conversion of life and morals becomes our pattern. The status quo is too alluring. It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the six-thirty news, our institutions, theologies and politics. The only way we shall break its hold on us is to be transferred to another dominion, to be cut loose form our old certainties, to be thrust under the flood and then pulled forth fresh and newborn. Baptism takes us there.
On the bank of some dark river, as we are thrust backward, onlookers will remark, “They could kill somebody like that.” To which old John might say, “Good, you’re finally catching on.”