Romans 6:3-4 “3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
This week’s Epistle deals with some very important issues. It speaks of one of the chief sacraments of the Christian Church, and it speaks of the necessity of endurance in the Christian life.
Baptism is an area of great discussion in the Christian church. Great differences exist in its understanding, sacramental nature, and application. Since the Protestant Reformation, these discussions have continued, and probably will until Christ returns.
What is baptism? It depends what branch of the Church from which you come. Sacramental bodies, like Anglicans, Romans, and the Orthodox, believe it is a true sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself. It was not the baptism of John, which was primarily one of repentance for the coming judgment. Christian baptism is a sacramental entrance into the Christian life. It supercedes the covenant of circumcision under Abraham and is the entrance rite of Christianity. In the Anglican view, Baptism allows the recipient to receive the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ. Salvation is not guaranteed by baptism, yet one cannot be saved without it. With this understanding, we baptize infants, accepting their sponsors’ commitment for their training in the Christian faith. We later hear the child’s verbal commitment to follow Jesus in the rite of Confirmation.
What then, does baptism do? Once again, it depends which branch of the Church you call home. We Anglicans, along with the Roman and Eastern Communions, believe that there is a mystical washing away of sin. Whose sin? Our first parents’ sin, Adam and Eve. Original sin is washed away and the subject becomes fit for the promises of Christ. During the rite of Baptism, we pray the Holy Spirit be given, that sin be removed, and that everlasting life be granted through Christ. All things noted, it is an amazing rite.
After St. Paul addresses baptism, the second point of this lesson concerns the necessity of continuance in the Christian life. We are told: (Romans 6:6): “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
Note here that St. Paul does not say that we will not sin after baptism. That is a fond hope, vainly imagined. We all sin, every day. Anyone who says differently is sadly mistaken. Yet, the word used here is “douleo”, coming from the Greek “doulos”, or slave. Thus, we are not to serve sin, in the sense that the slave serves his master. We are not to give ourselves over to sin, or as Strong says, “to become slaves to some base power.”[i] Instead, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin. It is no longer our master, although for all Christians, it rears its ugly head from time to time. Does that mean we ‘serve’ sin? No.
It means that sin achieves a momentary victory over us from time to time. This victory is shortlived, however. Once we recognize our sin and ask the Father for forgiveness through Christ, this victory becomes defeat for the mystery of iniquity. Whatever impulse, prompted by whatever spirit, is defeated.
Thus, take heart, Christians….yes, we all sin; but it is not our native state anymore. Instead, we “…reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We have discussions with many people who are confused about Christianity and the Church. Some people think that they must be perfect to be a Christian. Would God that were so! Yet, how impossible it is. Some people stay away from the Church, either because of a sense of their own unworthiness, or because of the rampant hypocrisy so easily engendered by a mindset of pretended perfection. Let us all admit it. We are not perfect. We never will be, except in the final perfection of our natures in Heaven. Yet, with recognition of our condition and frequent confession to Christ, we can be better, much better.
Our job is to love Christ with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Our job is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We also strive daily against sin, knowing that we cannot avoid it completely, but we can avoid serving it.
With this attitude, we can maintain our sanity, and our growth in holiness, day by day.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.