to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lent, day 24: Baptism is a work

Reading Col 2:11-15, we learn that Christian baptism finds its core meaning in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection become ours when we are baptized. English translations cannot capture the solidarity seen in the Greek words for being buried with and rising with Christ. In my translation of verses 12-13, I’ve added the Greek in transliterated English letters:

…having been buried with him (synthaptomai) in baptism, in which also you were raised with him (synegeirō) through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive (syzōopoieō) together with (syn) him, forgiving all your sins…

Notice that the four Greek words provided all begin with ‘syn’ (in the third instance, the n elides with the z), a three letter word equivalent to the English preposition ‘with.’ Paul is stressing with the repetition of this little word that God grants us access to the signature events of Jesus’ humanly existence in baptism. God is the force operative in baptism and the force he uses is the same force by which he raised Jesus from the dead.

The first of two practical points that come out of these observations is that baptism is God’s work, not ours. To claim otherwise makes as much sense as a corpse burying itself. To be sure, we present ourselves to God for the burial; we yield to him. But such yielding is the epitome of faithful trust and not self-assertion.

The second practical point is that what God has done to us and for us in our baptisms must be understood in the grandest terms possible. Christians believe that the life of Jesus and especially his death and resurrection are the apex of his humanly existence as well as that of the whole universe. In our baptism we are brought into and made a part of these cosmically defining events. We can no longer speak of Jesus dying on the cross and not also mean we have died on that cross. We can no longer speak of Jesus rising from the dead and not also mean we ourselves are raised from the dead.

If we learn nothing else from Colossians, we should lean that we must not take our baptism for granted. It is God’s work and it ties us into the greatest work of God, the self-giving and death defeating life of his Son.

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