Category: Baptism (page 1 of 6)

Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?

Peace,

Allan

Baptism: Unity In Christ

You’re not baptized by yourself. Baptism is not a private deal. When you’re baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, you’re baptized into his community. You become part of God’s eternal people. It’s not only unity for you with Christ, it’s also unity in Christ will all baptized followers of our Lord.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

This is a bold, radical, mind-blowing claim for any Christian living in America in 2018. Because whatever our society is, it cannot be called “one” in anything. It’s almost impossible to find unity anywhere. There are more and more options, which means more and more opinions, and more and more platforms to declare those more and more opinions. We’re inventing new ways to disagree with each other. We’re identifying new ways we’re different from each other. We can’t find unity in a country or in a family or in a neighborhood or in a middle school choir. There’s only one place to experience the realities of unity and togetherness and community: through baptism into Christ.

We are not baptized into a nation or a political party. We’re not baptized into a denomination or a faith tradition. We’re not baptized into an economic brackets or a language or a skin color or a blood type. We are all baptized into Christ.

Baptism is not just about an individual’s conversion. It’s also very much about being initiated into a community. Baptism allows you to participate in the Gospel and it makes you a member of God’s eternal people. Baptism creates an eternal unity with all followers of Jesus. There are no divisions at all among baptized disciples.

When there were divisions in that church in Corinth and people were dividing between rich and poor, men and women, tongue speakers and prophesyers, favorite preachers and teachers — yes, just like today, people divide and pick sides and decide who’s right and who’s wrong and split up accordingly — Paul addresses it head-on. Right out of the gate in 1 Corinthians:

“Hey, this is Paul. How’s it going? What’s the matter with you?!? Is Christ divided?!? Was Paul crucified for you?!? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?!?

When the unity of the church and the integrity of the Gospel is at stake, Paul reminds them of their baptisms. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, Paul writes, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Which, by the way, sounds a lot like Ephesians 4:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

And that sounds a lot like Galatians 3.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, Texan nor Mexican, American nor Syrian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither slave nor free, Republican nor Democrat, Church of Christ nor Presbyterian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither male nor female, black nor white, old nor young, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For some reason, our Lord chose you. And he chose me. And he has united us to him forever and he has inseparably united us to one another in him. In baptism. What a gift. What a challenge.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism: Unity With Christ

When you pass your drivers license test at 16-years-old, you become a person who drives. You belong now to the community of people who operate motor vehicles and you share the privileges and responsibilities of that group. You have a freedom you’ve never had before and you also have to pick your little brother up from practice. And go to the store for laundry detergent and milk. It’s really the only reason we have kids — we hope one day they’ll go to the store for us.

Your seventh grade Texas History class qualifies you as a true Texan. When you come out of that required course you know the difference between the Alamo and San Jacinto, you can talk knowledgably about cattle drives and cotton farming, and you’re better able to look down on and feel sorry for the millions of people who live in the other 49 states. Rightly so.

Graduating from high school makes you a lifelong alumnus of that institution  and confers on you a unity with all that school’s alumni for all time. Once a Sandie, always a Sandie, they say.

There are certain rituals that shape your identity in the Stanglin family. We have first day of school rituals that include an obnoxious song, awkward group photos, and invasive questions at dinner. We have Christmas rituals in our family that include certain holiday movies and certain holiday foods on certain nights. We have summer vacation rituals in which we stack everything we’ve packed by a certain door the night before, we stockpile our favorite snacks, we play rock, paper, scissors for the preferred seats in the van, we get up early and say a prayer in the living room, and something on the car breaks down as we’re pulling out of the driveway.

These are rites of passage. These rituals form us and give us our identity.

Baptism is a ritual and a rite of passage that places one into a brand new community and give one a brand new identity. Christian baptism radically changes where you are and who you are.

And we need this gift from God. We need this ritual. As our Western society becomes more and more a world of disconnected and lonely individuals, we need this ritual. We need this gift of baptism as an anchor driven deep into the solid foundation of a saving faith in God.

For the rest of this week, I’d like to post some simple baptism theology here. We’re wrapping up a twelve-weeks Bible class and sermon series here at Central on the sacraments of the Church. And I’d like to share some quick thoughts on baptism in this space.

If the Gospel is that the Son of God lived a perfect life, he was crucified, and then because of his perfect life God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, and because he did this for us we, too, can be saved and raised and exalted exactly like Jesus if we are connected to him, how do we get connected to him? If that’s the Good News, how do I participate in that? How do I get in on it?

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is unity with Christ. Baptism is a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus WITH Jesus. It connects us to Jesus, it makes us one with Christ. We die with Jesus, we are resurrected with Jesus in baptism.

Now, that’s a strong statement, it’s a very positive statement about what God does for sinners in baptism. Jesus was recognized as the Savior and declared the Lord because of his death, burial, and resurrection. And the Bible says we get in on all that — all three of those things — with Jesus in baptism.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” ~Colossians 2:9-12

Again, baptism connects us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it unifies us with the saving work of the Son of God. The very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the grave belongs to us in baptism. So does his righteousness and holiness and peace. His sinlessness belongs to the baptized. His perfect status belongs to the baptized. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is applied to all of us at baptism.

Theology doesn’t have to be complicated. More tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan

Rising and Dying

Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, the forty days followers of Jesus use to prepare their hearts and souls in anticipation of Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is typically a day of fasting and prayer, a day for renewing vows and making promises. Lent is generally a period of fasting and prayer, six weeks of focusing on purity and cleanliness.  A putting away. A taking off. A solemn burial of the habits and issues that get between us and a complete commitment to our crucified and risen Lord.

I’ve suggested in the past that if Lent is for putting things away, then Easter is for taking up new activities in service of Christ. You shouldn’t rid your life of damaging attitudes and practices and not replace them with helpful habits and perspectives. If Lent is dying with Christ, Easter is certainly rising with Christ.

But, I’d like to revise my recommendation.

Don’t wait until Easter to start those new habits. Don’t wait until Resurrection Day to take up that new something that will draw you closer to our Lord.

Every day is a dying and rising with Christ. Every day is a taking off and putting on with Jesus. Living under his exclusive lordship  requires that we die to ourselves and rise to walk with him every hour. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life. It begins with our baptisms — dying and rising with Christ — and continues as our habit, our daily routine. Clothe yourselves with Christ. Put off and take on. Be buried and rise again. Every morning and throughout your day.

In unity with all my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, I’m fasting and praying today. I’ll attend the Ash Wednesday service down the street at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening. And I’ll not wait until Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus who gives us new life today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.

Peace,

Allan

Faith and Water

Since the mid-1500s, as a result of the Reformation, an increased focus on individual interpretation and the freedom to split up and start our own churches, Christians are all over the map on baptism. The specific beliefs and practices concerning baptism are diverse. Some Christians immerse in water, some Christians pour the water, and some merely sprinkle. Some Christians only baptize confessing adults and other Christians baptize babies and children. Some are baptized for the forgiveness of sin and others are considered saved first and baptized later. Some of us baptize for more reasons than we can count.

Regardless of method or belief regarding the conversion model, baptism is the common denominator in every Christian tradition throughout the history of God’s Church. It’s the one thing that unifies all disciples of our Lord Jesus. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with all who are baptized into his name.

In Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, he’s proclaiming the total deliverance and restoration of God’s people to a transformed Holy Spirit relationship with God and with one another. The question “What shall we do?” was not primarily focused on a personal decision. Peter was preaching about the whole world being turned upside down. He called those at the feast to more than individual salvation, he called them to the Kingdom rule of God, to a transformed relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And about three-thousand that day took the plunge.

Some Christians, though, obsess about baptism so much they’ve turned away from the essential transforming truths of the sacrament to questions about technicalities and methods. They turn to condemning diatribes against Christians who don’t believe or practice baptism in the same ways they do.

We uphold what we are convinced are the Scriptural and historical beliefs and practices. But we all agree that all Christians are also doing what they sincerely, and in faith, believe is right. The reason we have misunderstandings and differences is not because anybody’s stubborn or willfully rejecting Scripture. Not everybody who believes or practices baptism different than you is living in rebellion against God.

All Christians agree that baptism is a vital part of the Christian faith. The disagreements are about methods and about the specific role baptism plays in the conversion process. Those are hermeneutical issues, not heart issues. It’s about interpretation. The tensions we feel are the result of centuries of tradition and debates over particular Scriptures. We all have to approach these conversations with humility. We have to recognize we, too, are also influenced by our traditions and debates. We’re all open to criticism.

People ask me: How do we treat Christians who don’t share our exact understanding of conversion? They affirm baptism, but they do it differently? Or the believe differently about what happens at baptism? Do we treat them as genuine or as false brothers and sisters?

Well, let me ask you: How should they treat us? Especially if they see our views as legalistic and sectarian?

The question is: How do we all treat each other?

Salvation is not just about forgiveness of sins. That’s not the goal, it’s not the end game. The goal is transformation to the image of God, the end is a holy relationship with God in Christ and with his people. When baptism becomes a legal technical line in the sand, we’ve turned it into something God never intended. We reduce his transforming work into a legal detail, like a person’s eternal destiny hangs or falls on perfectly understanding and obeying this one command exactly right. We exalt the means over the end. We misconstrue the heart of God. We make God into a judge of legal technicalities instead of a God who transforms us through love and grace. God is our Father who lovingly pursues us and is gracious with our mistakes.

We do well to remember it’s always heart over ritual. It’s Hezekiah’s Passover in 2 Chronicles 30. Unclean people are eating the Passover in the temple. They hadn’t been properly consecrated. This was a clear violation of God’s Law. But Hezekiah appealed to the grace and mercy of our loving God:

“‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the Lord, the God of his fathers — even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” ~2 Chronicles 30:18-20

It’s David and his men eating the bread in the tabernacle because they were hungry. It’s Jesus and his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees call them out: Hey, you’re not doing that right! Technically, this goes against the religious codes. But Jesus points them back to David and his men eating the consecrated bread. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for even needing the example he gave them. If you know what God’s all about, Jesus says, you wouldn’t have even questioned us. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Sacrifice and Sabbath are essential and necessary. They’re not unimportant, they’re not optional. But they’re both subordinate to the big picture principle of mercy and grace. The ritual is not the most important thing. The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Rituals serve the ends, the goals, for which God designed them. They were not given to deny mercy to the heart that is seeking him.

What are the greatest commands? Love God and love others. That’s more important than ritual. That’s more important than sacrifice and Sabbath and, yes, even the technicalities of one’s baptism. We have to put things in the proper order — the big picture, Story of God order — or we exalt the details of baptism over the love of God.

We do not draw lines around God’s grace. We do not box in God’s mercy. And we don’t put limits on God’s eternal love and faithfulness.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ with all who have been baptized into his name.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism and Faith

Peter and the apostles are announcing, they’re proclaiming in Acts 2, that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus has inaugurated the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah! This holy one you killed but God has now raised to eternal life, this Jesus, is the bringer of God’s salvation for all people and he is now both Lord and Christ!

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!” ~Acts 2:37-38

Forgiveness happens at baptism. So does God’s Holy Spirit taking up residence in your soul. Peter says “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” just like John the Baptist said “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” In both cases, people are being cleansed on the inside and being made holy. People are being prepared for the coming presence of God.

That’s how people are saved: baptism. It’s a critical part of the Christian conversion process. The conversion stories in the New Testament are soaked with baptism. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor — they hear the Good News, they believe it, and they’re baptized.

That’s what we believe and practice regarding baptism. We believe that is the biblical view: baptism is the time and place one is united with the crucified and risen Lord and receives eternal forgiveness of all sin and the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit.

But there’s something else we believe about baptism that we don’t talk about as much or as well. We believe it, we just don’t make it clear. So, let me be very, very clear: Baptism only works by faith in what God through Jesus has done and is doing for the sake of the world.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” ~Colossians 2:10-13

God made us alive with Christ and forgave our sins when we were buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God. Baptism is faith — faith is baptism. Baptism is not effectual for salvation because we believe in baptism or because of what we believe about baptism or because of how we believe baptism ought to be practiced. It’s got nothing to do with that. Baptism works through our faith in the work of God in Christ. It’s effectual only by faith. Otherwise, it’s just a quick bath; you’re just getting wet.

Baptism is God’s work, not ours, not yours. God is the One doing everything. It’s got nothing to do with my goodness or correctness or the right words being said or the right amount of water being used or how much or how little I know about what’s going on. Baptism is a divine act of pure grace. And anything that undermines that or adds to it is legalism and denies the Gospel of Christ.

Wait. But isn’t baptism itself legalistic? If we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, why is baptism necessary? That’s a human work, right? Surely we’re not saved by human works.

Boy, those are all great questions. Thank you for asking them in that way.

Martin Luther, during the Reformation in the 1500s, gave us the language of saved by grace only through faith in Christ only. He taught and preached that human works have nothing to do with our salvation — it’s 100% faith and 0% works. He was so hard-core about that, he wanted to have the book of James struck from the New Testament. But Luther put baptism in the category of faith, not works. He called faith “the beggar’s hand.” It’s how we receive God’s gifts. And baptism is where we do the receiving. Luther put it in his church catechism in 1529:

“As our would-be wise new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in any of us is of any avail but faith. But faith must have something it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. Thus, faith clings to the water and believes that it is baptism in where there is pure salvation and life.”

Baptism is an expression of faith. It’s only effective through faith. In baptism we die and are raised with Christ, through faith. In baptism, we can’t do anything, we don’t accomplish anything or effect anything. In baptism, we receive everything.

Peace,

Allan

Older posts