And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:1-5)
Even today, many Christians still think baptism is mostly about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Yet, St Paul reminds the Christians of his day that the Forerunner John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, but being baptized into Christ is so much more, for it makes us into God’s children. We are born of our parents, but born again of the Holy Spirit. Our new birth makes us children of God. St Tikhon of Zadonsk says:
“O blessedness! O God’s love for man! O how much God’s love has accomplished! O how profusely has God’s grace abounded! Poor and rejected sinners are made the children of God! The Apostle of Christ wonders at this and says, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God (1 Jn 3:1), and so we are. For what is more astonishing that that a sinner should become a child of God? God’s grace has bestowed this on man. It is glorious to be the child of an earthly king; it is incomparably more glorious to be the child of God the heavenly King. This honor, glory, merit, nobility, and name is more excellent than all titles of this world. For this, glory to God Who love mankind!
If Christians are children of God, they are also heirs, heirs, then, of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). If they are children of God, what then, and whom should they fear? Why fear traitors, enemies, the devil, demons, death and hell? God shall stand up for them. If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). We receive this most exalted gift of God in Baptism, for then we men are born of God and receive this most glorious title.
Beloved Christians! Let us remember our holy baptism and this most exalted mercy which God then showed us: we then became children of God. Glory to God for this! But it is required of children that they should be like their parents, That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (Jn 3:6). Therefore Christians must be like God as they are born of God. Let us therefore show in deed that we are children of God. God is holy, let us also be holy. God is righteous, let us also be righteous. God is good, for He maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt 5:45); let us also be good and do good both to our friends and to our enemies, to those that love us and to those that hate us. God is compassionate, let us also be compassionate and show mercy to our unfortunate brethren. God hates sin, let us also hate every sin and turn away from it. God loves us, let us also love one another. God forgives us our transgressions when we repent, let us also forgive men their transgressions.” (JOURNEY TO HEAVEN, pp 45-46)
All we have to do is read and think about the prayers of the baptismal service itself to see all that is offered to us in baptism – it is far more than just the forgiveness of sins. Here are the words from two of the prayers the priest recites while blessing the water at baptism, both show us that baptism into Christ bestows upon us many and varied blessings:
1] And grant to it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities; the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might. Let those who would ensnare Your creature flee far from it. For we have called upon Your Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful, and glorious, and awesome even to adversaries.
2] We implore You, O God, that every obscure phantom of the air may withdraw itself from us; and that no demon of darkness may conceal himself in this water; and that no evil spirit which instills darkening of intentions and rebelliousness of thought may descend into it with him (her) who is about to be baptized.
But show this water, O Master of all, to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. For You have said, O Lord: “Wash and be clean; put away evil things from your souls.“ You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the Spirit. Therefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he (she) who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he (she) may put away from himself (herself) the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he (she) may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed to him (her), he (she) may receive the prize of his (her) high calling, and be numbered with the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Forgiveness of sins is only one of the myriad blessings bestowed by baptism, and it is only the very beginning of life in the world to come. After the forgiveness of sins, the best is yet to come.