Water and Spirit
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..." John 3.5
There is a phrase in the Rite of Baptism which implores: "... that they, being buried with Christ in baptism, may rise with him to newness of life..." What does this mean?
The first thing to say is that it recognises that, at our first birth, we are under the curse of the Fall. A newborn baby may be innocent of any criminal offence but, in their original state, they will grow up with all the rough edges and corrupt tendencies which have become natural to humankind. The proof lies in every child's need to learn right from wrong, to be guided and disciplined, while wickedness comes naturally!
Jesus came to rescue us from this plight so that, rather than remain estranged from God, at odds with one another and enemies of creation, we might be reconciled in every way and therefore fit for eternal life. He took on our sin, paying the price for it on the cross, so that we should inherit his righteousness, which amounts to a new birth. This is what we celebrate in baptism: the water signifies our cleansing, while we are promised the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to live faithfully, becoming more like Jesus along the way.
This why baptism is so special and so unique. It does not matter whether we are baptised as infants or as adults. It is not something that we ever deserve or achieve - as if it were a badge of holiness or commitment or a statement of intent - it is a gift and, like Holy Communion it is about what Jesus does for us rather than a gesture we make for him or to impress anyone else.