So, we left off with Paul that in chapter 6 is teaching a very basic doctrine. It’s basic, but I am afraid it’s been lost due to the way the Good News has been presented often to people. If the Good News is first of all a message that benefits me (my needs, blessings etc.) it usually stands at odds with what it really wants to achieve. The Gospel is first of all transformational. The benefits (and there are benefits…) are secondary.
Now, back again to the vital truth that Paul wants to teach the Roman Christians. What is it?
Obviously, after 2000 years of church history, fighting and bickering over the why, what and how of baptism, something got lost in translation. There are even whole church denominations that rather don’t talk about baptism, simply because it’s too controversial. Last time we spoke about Pentecost and the importance of the Holy Spirit. That too is a topic that can potentially create polemic. Isn’t it crazy that when it relates to the Good News, so many elements are often ‘off bounds’ or ‘too hot’ to even talk about? God forbid that we don’t talk about baptism or the Holy Spirit! If we leave that out, we might as well leave righteousness out too. There is no way of living out the New Covenant without understanding all the elements that are involved. So, let’s have a look at what Paul is saying in the letter to the Romans.
When believers get baptized, what are they actually doing there? Well, a few things…
First, baptism is a symbolical act where you identify yourself with Christ’ death, burial and resurrection. We are basically saying to the whole world: ‘I am really with Christ! I died and came back to life, because I am one with Christ’. In this context, it really is an outward sign of an inward reality.
Second, baptism means ‘to be immersed into’. Think for example of a cookie and a cup of tea or coffee. What happens when you fully dip the cookie in your cup? It gets immersed. When you see the cookie, it’s still a cookie, but it is fully immersed into the coffee or tea. The two became one. Baptism is something very similar. Christ’ death and life now becomes also our death and life. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples when He was talking about being His disciple? What was the first part?
Consequently, you pick up your cross and start following Jesus. It starts with death. It’s saying no to ‘my way’ and yes to ‘His way’ of living.
That’s why Paul gives us these mental images of Baptism. There is such a strong unity between Christ’ life and ours. We really identify ourselves with His life-giving gift of grace by following His footsteps.
Unfortunately, this has been so lost! The way the gospel has been presented often, leaves believers wondering what is next. Sinful tendencies and carnal Christianity still seem to be part of the Christian walk. After all, aren’t we sinners saved by grace?
The sinner’s prayer isn’t a magical formula. Repeating a prayer and believing does not make someone necessarily a follower of Christ. Remember that there were many sympathizers in the days of Jesus. They thought He was amazing. Some came because they needed healing and He did heal them. Others were attracted to who He was. Yet, following Him, even at the expense of their own lives, was something different. That’s why Jesus said that it all begins with first denying yourself. Denying your rights to be right, denying your privileges to be someone. Your reputation, family, career, everything. For Jesus it is all in or nothing…That’s radical.
So, baptism is a symbolic act and it it points to our unity with the life of Christ. And yet, there is more to it than we think. Robert Morris, pastor of a large church in Dallas, USA wrote something interesting in his book ‘The God I never knew’. He said this about baptism:
“Water baptism is a work of grace, in and upon the heart of man. Of course, being baptized in water itself does not save us. You can be saved, die and go straight to heaven without ever being baptized in water. Rather, the act of being immersed in water is symbolic in an outward way of what has happened to us inwardly, symbolizing the death and burial of our old sinful self and the raising u; of the “New Creation”. Yet, water baptism is more than just a symbol. As it is the counterpart to the Old Covenant practice of circumcision, which was the cutting away of the flesh, in a similar way, when we obediently submit ourselves to water baptism, a work of grace happens, causing a cutting away of the carnal flesh in our hearts. A REAL change takes place.”
Baptism is about a real change! Baptism is a public declaration or testimony where the candidate says that he or she is one with Christ in death and life. It’s a contact point of faith and faith activates grace to operate in our lives. Grace is the tool of God for real transformation. That’s why I believe that both legalism and licentious living are so detrimental when it relates to baptism. We are not just following a ritual, because it’s the Christian thing to do, nor do we merely see it as a nice option. Jesus said after all ‘believe and be baptized!’ (Mark 16:16). It’s not just Christian duty or an interesting option or next step. It’s relationship! In fact, it is a privilege! We really identify ourselves with His lives and because we want to live with Him forever, we follow His footsteps.
The Good News message was always presented to others with water baptism as an integral part of it. It is the ‘natural response’ to identifying yourself as ‘death to yourself and alive to Christ’. Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19 shows us that. Baptism was a big deal!
I am afraid the church has lost that so much. Christians were never supposed to be TWEENERS. Living between the reality of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. When Christ said that the truth would really set us free, He really meant it. That’s why we can never, ever allow our ‘lack of experience in freedom’ dictate our lives. We need to become the word rather than that our human experience tells us how free we really are or not. That’s why it is also BY FAITH. We receive it by faith.
Yet, it’s one thing to KNOW this. But, as we all know very well, our faith is not only ‘knowing truths about God’ for as important as that is.
It’s also positioning ourselves in Him. Identity is so incredibly important. Knowing who we are in Christ leads to a posture of living that involves our whole being (will, thoughts and emotions). Our spirit is truly regenerated and now we daily have the choice to live that out through grace and by faith in our daily walk.
Paul goes on with making his point in verse 7-9
‘For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.’
That’s powerful. It’s different from the scene of the monkey in the movie ‘Instinct’. The gate is wide open, but the monkey still thinks he’s in prison. That’s what Tweener Christians often think. They still identify themselves so much with their sin-identity, simply because there is no revelation of who they really are; lost sons and daughters that can now truly live free lives in Him.
That’s why Paul continues this way in verse 12:
‘Therefore (referring to the fact that we died, were buried and resurrected with Christ), DO NOT let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.’
‘For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace!’ (verse 14).
Did you get that?
Apparently, Paul is very serious about really being free.
Some translations use the words to ‘reckon yourself dead to sin’. Reckon in English means ‘to consider, but the actual meaning is much more powerful than that. It means to really believe and trust that it’s a done deal. It’s not ‘feeling that you are dead to sin’ or ‘believing that you may be free to not sin’. It’s really positioning yourself in Him. It’s an act of the will and not just the head.
When you go to the bank with a cheque you received you believe that the money you received is really there. You don’t feel that it might be there. It’s there! God’s righteousness is really yours when you turn away from sin (which is the meaning also of repenting). It also means to think differently about your way of living by walking towards God instead of away from Him. Peter even went further in his first speech ever in Acts 2. Repent, be baptized for the remission of your sins and receive the Holy Spirit’. This sounds like a package deal to me.
So, we can be really free according to Paul.
And still, people wonder about this freedom. They read their life experience into scripture as if sin is still their big slave master to reckon with. I will deal with that in the third and final blog.