Joy exploded through my mind as I burst from immersion in the baptistry that evening. I submitted to Christ in baptism decades ago, but memory of that burst of joy remains clear. No one told me to expect that experience. I’ve noticed that many others seem extremely happy after baptism. Sometimes, their expression of joy even makes some people uncomfortable. However, converts in the book of Acts experienced joy also when they obeyed Christ in baptism.
An Ethiopian government official, returning from worshiping God in Jerusalem, read from the prophet Isaiah as his chariot bumped along the road to Gaza. He did not understand all that he read; however, a passerby joined him and explained how the difficult passages pointed to a man recently executed in Jerusalem, a man that the official’s passenger said had risen from the dead and was God’s Messiah. As the official listened, he learned that immersion in water was part of joining the Messiah’s cause. He noticed a body of water nearby. “Look, here is water,” he said, “what hinders me from being baptized?” After the chariot stopped, he and his passenger went down into the water and the passenger baptized him. Afterwards, the passenger left him, the official went on his way rejoicing (see Acts 8:36-39).
The official was not unique in his experience of post-conversion joy. A prison guard, awakened by an earthquake that he was sure had freed all his prisoners, learned from two of his prisoners (all had remained in the prison) about this same Messiah, Jesus. After cleansing his prisoners’ wounds, he too was baptized. Then “the jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34).
The Apostle Paul wrote to converts in Thessalonica and recalled, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1Thessalonians 1:6). This passage makes clear that this joy would continue, but that it would not erase suffering. Christians would still encounter difficulties, some because they had confessed Jesus as Lord, but they would retain hope because of their newfound capacity for joy.
Galatians 5:22-25 identifies joy among the fruit of the Spirit that identifies those who keep in step with the Spirit because they remain faithful to Christ. Life as a disciple of Jesus may become difficult sometimes because we forget our baptism and the joy we felt as someone brought us up from the water, cleansed from guilt, forgiven of sin, and added by God to Christ’s church. Like the government official, the jailer, Paul and the Thessalonian Christians, remember your baptism. Imitate Christ and faithful Christians. As Paul wrote to another congregation in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-6).