No Free Passes…
I have very little recollection of my childhood baptism. I was only eight years old, but I do remember well my interview with the bishop, and my father standing with me, dressed in white, receiving the same baptism by him that was performed by John to Jesus on the River Jordan so long ago. Baptism is the doorway covenant that allows us to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and the guidance through repentance to becoming more like Jesus. Although memories of my own baptism are a bit fuzzy, I do not even know of a photograph that exists, through the process of receiving that same authority given to John to baptize, I have had the wonderful opportunity to perform many baptisms in my lifetime, starting with one of my dearest friends when I was but 16 years of age. I hold every one of these ordinances near to my heart, and with humility thank God for allowing my participation in His work for so many I love.
It is important for us to understand that baptism is a beginning, and by no means a final step in the process of our drawing nearer to God. Jesus Christ set the perfect example of baptism followed by action. Jesus received baptism at the beginning of His mission as recorded in the New Testament. He did not wait until He had lived His full life, performed all of His miracles, and completed the great atoning sacrifice, to be baptized, but did it at the beginning. He made covenants, and then He put action to those covenants by doing the work of His Father. Of course, we know that He did not commit sin, so He was in no need of repentance, unlike all of us. Nevertheless, He went about doing the work of God, and not solely resting upon the covenants He made in the River Jordan.
When I was a little boy in the schoolyard, maybe somewhere between first and second grade, I recall meeting a young boy for the first time, and we began to play as children do. In the course of our fun, my new friend exclaimed a naughty word, I do not recall which one, just my shock, as I was not accustomed to hearing kids curse. The boy saw the discomfort and embarrassment on my face, and immediately replied, “It’s OK, I am Christian, and whenever we do something bad, all we have to do is say, ‘God forgive me,’ and then it is OK again.”
This was very curious to me, and did not quite sit right. As we stood by a lone tree in that part of the playground, I inquired further. “You mean you can cuss all you want, and all you have to do is say, ‘God forgive me,’ and it is OK?”
The boy replied, “Yes.” Then he cursed again, and simply said, “God forgive me.” To the six or seven-year-old mind I suppose that made as much sense as anything else, and we went on with play.
The experience, and this honestly innocent little boy’s theory intrigued me sufficiently that I decided to experiment for myself. Was there really a get out of sin free card, so to speak? For a few days, whenever I was alone, I recall picking some pretty juicy words and saying them just for the sake of saying them, then I followed up with “God forgive me,” hoping that all was resolved. Truth be told, it never felt right, and within a few days I abandoned the practice.
While I believed, and still believe in repentance and asking forgiveness, I think at that time I received my first understandings that being a Christian is not a free pass for me to sin and just ask forgiveness, so I could sin again another day. Jesus knows our hearts, and while cussing is ranked pretty low when it comes to severity of sin, the change of heart, that comes with true repentance and discipleship causes us to desire to sin no more, not seeking free passes, but looking to better ourselves with every day to become more like Him.
When Jesus came to John the Baptist, He was the only mature human who had no need of repentance nor forgiveness. Nevertheless, Jesus went unto John at Bethabara in the River Jordan and was baptized. As it is written in scripture, “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?’ And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17).
Jesus went unto John to be baptized, not to repent, nor be forgiven, but to fulfil all righteousness, make sacred covenants, and keep them. He is our exemplar and has called upon all of us to follow Him. As John taught those in ancient Israel along the shores of Jordan, we are to repent, confessing our sins, and be baptized, that we too may make and keep sacred covenants. Then, when we sin, we repent again, renewing our covenants by partaking of the sacrament, and recommitting ourselves to following the Savior. With every repented of sin we draw nearer to the Lord, our discipleship becomes more well defined, our desire to sin becomes less, and the promised mighty change of heart profoundly changes who we are into true sons and daughters of God, followers of Christ. Repentance brings real change.
Elder David A. Bednar taught: “The baptismal covenant includes three fundamental commitments: (1) to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, (2) to always remember Him, and (3) to keep His commandments. The promised blessing for honoring this covenant is ‘that [we] may always have His Spirit to be with [us]’” (General Conference, April 2016).
With His Spirit, we can ultimately overcome all of our shortcomings, and be more like Jesus. There is no other way but through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost to begin the refining process of receiving the grace of God. Therefore, baptism is a gift and opportunity for all mankind, either in person or by proxy, every child of God will receive this opportunity to be blessed by the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. As the living, it is our blessing today to take advantage of this wondrous gift through baptism’s door.
I am so profoundly grateful that power, authority and instruction to baptize and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost is a blessing afforded to the children of God in our day. Over my lifetime I have been blessed to perform baptism for many, all of whom I love dearly. In addition to so many dear friends, I have been so grateful to baptize my beloved wife Monica, my twelve sweet children and my elder brother Ricky. To add to my gratitude, this very day I was blessed with the opportunity to step once again into the waters of baptism and baptize my big sister, Linda. I am so profoundly grateful.
I invite all to come unto Christ, repent, and be baptized, receiving with all of the blessings that come with baptism the companionship of the Holy Ghost. May we stand as true Christians, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, keeping His commandments, repenting of those things that we get wrong, and continuing on our pathway in the service of our God, back to the Savior and His kingdom. There are no free passes, but the Lord Jesus Christ gives of His grace freely to all who will follow Him. It does not matter what has come before, only what is to come, if we turn our hearts to Christ. May the blessings of baptism and gift of the Holy Ghost lift us all to His kingdom with Him. This is my prayer and admonition. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.