The Trinity Season is all about growth! It is the logical outcome of all the other eight ecclesiastical seasons before it – the Birth of Jesus at Christmas... His appearance to the Magi of old during Epiphany... His suffering during Lent... His Easter Resurrection... His Ascension... the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost...
The Epistle Lesson read together this morning goes to the very root of our new life in Christ – baptism – and examines it thoroughly! And we discover that the “root” of our faith governs the “fruit” of our faith!
Four brief observations to understand and take with us this morning if we would grow healthy and strong in the Christian Faith this Trinity Season...
First, baptism is mandatory. Verse 3: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Our entire understanding of the Christian life and our abhorrence of sin is governed by our understanding of baptism. St. Paul was baptized for the “washing away” of his sins (as described in Acts 22:16), but from his phraseology it would appear that not everyone else was baptized! Listen to what he wrote… Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ… If this is true,we must ask ourselves a question... Why would someone not be baptized? Why would a thirsty man in the desert refuse a large glass of cool, refreshing ice water? Why would a terminally-ill patient refuse medication to heal and restore health? Why would a prisoner refuse clemency? Because fallen man is blind and foolish and weak.
Years ago, we were interviewing a young woman for a teaching position at the Christian School we were serving. During the interview, she asked if we believed in baptism. I remember thinking to myself, “What a strange question.” We replied, “Why yes. Jesus said in His Great Commission: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…”
She proceeded to explain that she and her husband did not believe baptism was any longer mandatory (they were Dispensational) – because the Bible says: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.
This approach to God’s Word – the smorgasbord approach, where you pick what you like and reject what does not “appeal” to you -- has, I am sorry to say, become so embedded and enmeshed so much in the warp and woof of much of Christianity that it is producing an insipid and tasteless “faith” which reflects much more the thinking of man than that of God.
Can we see how easy it is to get “off track”? The principle of “picking and choosing” what we like or dislike… The principle of “picking and choosing” what we prefer to believe or not to believe… can never replace the historical practice of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Truth is found in the Sacred Scriptures and faithful interpretation and application according to Apostolic Tradition. When asked on the Day of Pentecost, “What must we do to be saved?” St. Peter replied, Repent, and be baptized. That is a command!
We should remember that even Jesus Himself was baptized in order to show us just how important He considers it to be for His people.
Second, baptism’s meaning. Verse 4: We are buried with him by baptism into death... I will never forget the first time I really came to understand the magnificence of this statement! Here we find the meaning of baptism. Something incredibly important takes place during baptism. That is why baptism has been termed (as in Anglican circles) a sacrament (which means “sacred thing”)! Now there are churches today that avoid using the term sacrament in favor of the milder term ordinance. But an ordinance does not carry with it the same miraculous connotation as does the term sacrament. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace instituted by Christ! When those of us who were baptized were baptized, St. Paul reminds us, we shared in Christ’s death to sin! He died, never to suffer from sin again. A n d s o d i d w e!
When Jesus died on the Cross with the sins of the world heaped upon His shoulders, we died with Him (in principle through our baptism)! We died with Christ in order to be dead to sin. Sin can command us all it wants, sin can bark out orders all day long -- but as dear old Origen (A.D. 184-254, early Christian theologian and scholar) pointed out: “Nor does a dead man lust or get angry or have passions or steal what is not his. Therefore, if we suppress all these desires in our bodies they may be said to be dead to sin.”
Two natures beat within my breast,
The one is foul, the other blessed.
The one I love. The other I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.
Third, baptism’s purpose – an even deeper understanding of the mystery of baptism! Not only does the Apostle explain what happened to us at baptism – he explains why it had to happen! Verse 6: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him…
Here we find the core of St. Paul’s argument. Our “old man,” our “old nature,” our “old sorry and sin-laden self” was crucified with Christ!
I have always been mesmerized by the title of a book I once saw advertised – Remove the Thorn and the Hand Will Heal! Some things are that simple in life! In our case, crucify our old natures and the sinning will cease!
The serpent… the tempter… the beguiler… the devil… entered our race, as it were, through our fallen nature – when our first parents sinned. Eve trusted the serpent more than she trusted God!
And Adam trusted the word of his wife (Eve) more than he trusted the Word of God! And sin entered the human race. And our first parents were lost! Adam, where are you?
The only way out of our sins for us as sinners, of course, is through the death of Christ. Through baptism, our old natures are nailed to the Cross with Him. They scream… they cry… they wheedle... they beg…that we might release them, bow down to them, and follow them once again.
But God through St. Paul says “Do not do it!” You have died to sin with Christ in baptism! And your old natures are crucified with Him.
Therefore, sin is not an option to us as Christians! Baptism has rightly been called the funeral service for our old natures. It has also rightly been called the inauguration service for our new lives in Christ!
Fourth, the outcome of baptism takes time and effort (a lifetime of it)! Verse 11. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.
This outcome does not take place overnight! It requires a lifetime and lots of effort. We are told elsewhere that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And dear St. Peter adds, Make your calling and election sure.
St. James adds for our benefit these words: Faith without works is dead.
The Christian life is not a passive entertainment! It is as engaging as could possibly be imagined! Even the Apostle Paul later in this epistle would write, O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
We are not the same people we once were! Nor are we yet the people we are destined to become! The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of man might become the sons of God!
First the blade, taught our Lord... then the ear, He continued, then the full corn in the ear! Plants do not grow overnight! Rome was not built overnight. Our faith does not become fully mature overnight!
When St. Paul says reckon (the Old English for our more contemporary word “consider”) he was using the Greek term logizomai from which we derive our English word “logic.” We all get impatient with our progress (or lack thereof) and St. Paul reminds us to “reckon” – to not forget the logic of it all! There is a reason for the struggling and the wrestling! There is a God-ordained reason for everything in life!
This is how moral growth and development occur in Christ’s School of Learning! And it is how a caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly! If you have ever watched a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis you will agree that lots of work is required. Struggling... then rest. Energy expended... then relief. Over and over again! This is how God’s masterful design pumps fluids into the capillaries of the butterfly’s new wings. Without the struggle, there is no fluid. Without the fluid, there is no flight. Without the flight there is no butterfly!
A man once saw this miracle underway and felt sorry for the emerging butterfly, so he stepped forward to help! A knowledgeable friend halted him and told him to consider (reckon) – think about -- the logic of it all! And he did... and the butterfly was left alone and soon flew on its way!
So it is with us in our Christian lives. Moral exercise is required! Where are we this day? Reckon… yourselves… dead indeed unto sin.
This is the word of the Lord. Amen.