The Death in Baptism
"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:1-4 ESV)
As we have been going through the series Death of Me, exploring the call of dying to self as it relates to the me-centric culture in which our churches are being formed, it’s appropriate that we will pause on August 28th to celebrate with members of our church as they follow Christ in baptism. I say it’s appropriate because baptism has always been meant to be a declaration to all that I am embracing the death of me. That we are saying not simply that we are following Christ by that we are dying to self. That we are no longer serving selfish wants and desires but being given over completely to Jesus.
To really understand how deep that commitment went in the first century, when Paul wrote this to the Roman church, you have to understand the deep meaning of baptism in that day. Too often tradition and ritual become devoid of their meaning over time and being reminded of the depth of baptism’s historical significance on the eve of this event is helpful.
Robin M. Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity: Ritual, Visual, and Theological Dimensions writes that there were five truths being expressed by the church in early baptism: First, baptism cleansed from sin and sickness, “washing away external impurities and internal ones.” Second, baptism conveyed the gift of the Spirit and his illuminating and sanctifying roles. Third, baptism proclaimed the church’s hope for restoration in the new creation. Fourth, in being baptized, the new Christian experienced death (to self) and rebirth. And finally, baptism symbolized entrance into the community of saints, the church. In baptism, Christians became part of an “exclusive group that functioned like a family and provided them with spiritual nurture and support.
The last expression, the symbolization of entrance into the community of saints, is the one which has most lost it’s meaning for the American church and that we must most reflect on as we see baptism as an expression of dying to self. You see, in the first century publicly declaring your commitment to Christ and the church was an announcement that would not only symbolize your spiritual death to self but might also bring about your physical death. Entrance into the church was a dangerous business, a fact the Paul the former persecutor of the church was well aware of as he wrote Romans 6.
There was no question to those being baptized that this was a selfless act initiated by the work of the Holy Spirit as it revealed to the heart of the elect the inescapable truth of Christ as Lord and King. That in spite of the personal cost there was no choice but to be joined with the Body of Christ because He is Truth, He is life and He is Savior. That no matter the personal sacrifice, even if it meant the sacrifice of life, Jesus represented the greatest hope of real Salvation.
As we contemplate the coming baptism service may we reflect on our own baptism and renew the depth of that commitment which calls us to completely and utterly die to self. In the midst of a culture that cherishes self realization and self actualization may we who are baptized into Christ’s death stand as expressions of selfless sacrifice for the sake of the Cross regardless of the cost. In this way we truly emulate the work begun by the church 2000 years ago and bring about the death of me.