One element of our baptismal ceremony for babies and children who have not yet reached the age of reason is clothing those being baptized with a white garment. The words accompanying this gesture include “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourselves in Christ . . . the outward sign of your Christian dignity.” The rite goes on to suggest that it “is desirable that the families provide the garments” (Rite of Baptism for Children). My family has a tradition of using the same baptismal dress for all the children— down through several generations and so the baptismal dress and blanket has become a cherished family heirloom. It symbolizes a double identity: a member of our particular family who share a common blood bond as well as a member of the family of God, of Christ’s Body, who share a Life bond in the Holy Spirit. Baptism, then, is about who we become through our new relationship with God and each other.
The event of Jesus’ baptism with water in the Jordan revealed who he already was: the “beloved Son” with whom God was “well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism did not change his identity, but revealed who he was.
The event of our baptism with the Spirit announces to all present who we become: beloved children with whom God is “well pleased.” We are plunged into the baptismal waters and rise out of those waters a new creation grafted onto Christ. We spend our lives growing into our identity as members of the Body of Christ. We spend our lives appreciating what it means to be God’s beloved and the kind of life that relationship requires of us. We spend our lives continuing Jesus’ saving mission. We spend our lives being the risen Presence of Christ for others. Being Christlike is what our baptismal identity is all about.
Every choice we make on our Christian journey either deepens our identity as God’s beloved or weakens it. We either respond to a person in need, or walk away. We either put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, or we steal time and money. We either take time for daily prayer, or neglect conversation time with God. We either strive to grow in understanding our faith, or remain content with inadequate formation. Who we are is God’s beloved, that is, the Body of Christ. Our baptismal call is to become every day more fully who we are. Growing in our identity is our most important lifelong task, doing works with which God is well pleased.