5 September 2016

Baptism and Newness of Life

baptismOver the summer I was preaching on Isaiah 63-65. One of the themes I drew out was the importance of our response to God’s grace in his covenant promises. God has called his people to be his servants, to be a light to the nations – and yet here in these chapters we are brought face to face with the moral and religious failure of God’s people in Isaiah’s time and their failure to repent. In applying this, I spoke on the importance of our response to our baptism, the event which marks our receiving of the promises of God in Jesus Christ. I referred to Romans 6:4, where Paul writes:

We were buried therefore with him into death by baptism, 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.

Paul is saying that baptism marks an identification (‘with him’). The identification is with Jesus Christ – as the one who has died. Our baptism is not the place or time where we are buried with him, it’s the means by which we are identified with his burial in history (as Moo points out: Romans, 361, 364-5). And, since we are identified with him in his death, we are also to identify with him in his risen life. Baptism marks our identification with Jesus Christ, an identification to which we need to respond. Theologically, I would argue that this identification is a covenant identification – it is based on God’s promises, not our faith.

The point I made about baptism during the Isaiah series was this:

Baptism is a symbol of cleansing, of holiness. It is a symbol of dying to one way of life and entering into a new way of life in a new community. As we are made members of the vine through baptism, there must always be a response to baptism - the response of faith. We are too accustomed to thinking of baptism as something that points backwards - that it shows something that has happened in the past - our coming to faith. Baptism does point back to something – to the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but also points forward, calling us to faith and to faithful living each and every day.

In Romans 6:4, baptism demands a response: that we walk in newness of life. For Paul, this newness of life springs from faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11). And so, baptism demands the response of faith – it is a call to faith, to a life of faith. Too many of us think too little of our baptism. We ought to reflect upon our status as baptised people. Our baptism (whether we remember it or not, we remember the fact of our being baptised) calls us to holy living. This is reflected in our membership questions here at Kilmallie & Ardnamurchan, one of which goes like this:

Remembering your baptism, do you humbly promise to do your best to live as a holy disciple of Jesus Christ, relying on God’s grace through the Holy Spirit?

The response to baptism also ought to have a clear goal. Our faith ought to have a strong future component (we don’t often think about this, despite Hebrews 11). This is clear in Romans 6:5:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Here’s the connection to Isaiah 65, which describes prophetically this resurrection life. The clearer we are about this goal, the clearer we will be about what our response looks like in this life. After I preached on this, I remembered a blog post from a couple of years ago, which can be found here. It makes the same point in a slightly different way and brings out the connections between the experiences of the OT people of God, our response to baptism, and the future hope to which we’re called – this time from 1 Corinthians 10.