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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lent, day 25: Baptism is judgment

While baptism is God’s work it does involve us. It involves the surrendering of our will to God’s will - we say with Jesus in the Garden, “Not my will but your will be done.” To be buried with Christ, we must die to ourselves.

Notice in Colossians 2:13-14 the judgments made against us. We were ‘dead in our sins,’ a combination of hopelessness and consequence. Hence, accepting baptism is an acknowledgment that as a result of our own transgressions we can do nothing to bring about our own well-being, let alone our salvation. Ours is an utterly hopeless condition (in terms of any natural remedy) and has been brought about by our own device. In baptism, we plead guilty. We must plead guilty or it is not Christian baptism. The gracious irony is that we are able to plead at all, that we have found any recourse given our spiritual state. We are truly speaking from the grave - yet God hears us.

We were dead not only in our sins but ‘in the uncircumcision of our flesh,’ literally ‘in the foreskin (akrobustia) of our flesh.’ Such language made little sense to non-Jews but to Jews it was crystal clear. The uncircumcised were unholy and impure–they dwelt outside the context of God’s covenant and were as such bereft of dignity. In an age where everyone is supposed to have a place at the table, where prejudice and intolerance are the worst of sins, accepting baptism means we accept that we were not the ‘right’ people, that we were the ‘them’ and not the ‘us.’ Obviously this cannot mean that we are totally without value - God loves us even as impure outsiders. But we cannot, we must not understand baptism as in anyway ‘deserved’ or ‘earned.’ It is granted to us precisely because we ‘those people’ who are not worthy of it. It is a great shame that many view baptism as something to be proud about. The God who receives us in baptism - we may boast in him. But taking pride in ourselves because we have received baptism is laughable as well as inappropriate.

A third judgment is that there stood against us a record of debts. Paul uses language that we who have credit debt know all too well. Our own actions have led us astray and we find ourselves accountable to impersonal agencies more cunning and forceful then we could ever hope to be. We are under obligation to these powers, and though in the spiritual grave we cannot escape those obligations. We have bills that still must be paid and to creditors who have long memories and terrible patience. Or so it was, before our bills (not the Old Testament, as some suggest erroneously) were nailed to the Cross of Christ. (Alas, this does not mean we should wait out our physical credit debt, hoping Jesus will return before we’ve paid them off. That’s just further forfeiting our own responsibility and, besides, he’ll wait until just after we pay them off anyway.)

To receive baptism is to acknowledge every level of our own frailty and sinfulness and culpability. It is truly humiliating. So why would we endure such a thing? See you tomorrow.

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