Lenten Midweek Series
A Six Week Meditation on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism
Thought for the Day from Bulletin Cover:
In Holy Baptism we have obtained the status of being children of God…[God the Father] will sustain, preserve, and provide for us. He will never forsake us. We have also received the righteousness of Jesus Christ. All that Christ has obtained for us by his suffering and death has been given to us and made our own by Holy Baptism…He is the vine we are the branches. Through Him we obtain new strength for every good work, light, wisdom, and grace. There has been imparted to us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! He makes his home in us, sanctifies our hearts, governs our tongues and lips, and enables us to order our lives according to the Word and will of God.
Starck’s Prayer Book
Small Catechism Responsive Reading:
P: What does such baptizing with water indicate?
C: It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
P: Where is this written?
C: St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.” (Ro. 6:4)
In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!
Early in my teen years I walked the aisle of a friend’s church to receive absolution after being crushed by the Law by the preacher. He targeted my sin in the crosshairs of God’s Ten Commandments with the accuracy of an assassin. I was feeling pretty guilty about some ill-advised adventures with my pellet gun. Two of my friends who had joined me in the mischief were there, but they didn’t walk the aisle. I later realized why. When I got to front of the sanctuary I confessed my sin without implicating my two friends to the pastor. What I received was an earful of how glad the pastor was that I was changing my life and how I was going to live a better life now that I had given my heart to Jesus.
I was confused. Hadn’t I always been a Christian since my baptism? I knew I had sinned grievously, but did that mean that I was never a Christian in the first place? Was I not saved before this moment? My friend’s pastor thought so. He went on and on about how I was to live a better life now. He told me that I wouldn’t aim my air rifle at the wrong targets anymore. He kept saying that walking the aisle was my first act of obedience to Christ and now I was to live a life of obedience.
Certainly I wanted to live a better life, but wasn’t that the reason I first came up there? In my mind I didn’t walk up there so I would change my life, but because I was powerless to do so. I needed Christ to forgive me! As a young Christian I had felt the struggle with sin. Once I thought I had one sin whooped there would be another around the next corner. When he was done talking I asked him if he was going to tell me I’m forgiven by Christ. He looked at me funny and said just pray to God and ask Him to forgive you.
I left that moment with nothing to rest my conscience on. I had no where to hang my hat and know that Christ had forgiven me. I was left with the ‘ata’boy’ from the pastor for the “obedience” of walking the aisle and “committing” my life to Jesus. I was left to the uncertainty of whether I would pray sincerely enough to be forgiven my sin. In short, I was left to my works.
The Holy Spirit helped me through that dark day. Since my conscience was still pricked and I knew something was amiss in that pastor’s counsel I went to my lifelong childhood pastor. He had catechized me just a couple years before. What I received was a Catechism refresher. Every week my faithful pastor would direct me to the Word of Holy Absolution according to Christ’s command in John 20 for the assurance of my forgiveness. Christ had died for all my sin, and yes, that included the last week’s iniquitous precision pellet pelting with my gun. Likewise, my pastor encouraged me to the Lord’s Supper that I had been receiving now for about four years. There Christ gave me the fruits of His cross as the Passover lamb that takes away the sin of the world. My pastor pointed me away from uncertain things like my obedience and my weak prayers to the certainty of Christ’s salvation won for me and for you on the cross.
He didn’t stop there though. He said, “Remember that you are baptized.” He went on to remind me how I was born sinful, unrighteous, and an enemy of the Law and God himself. At Baptism God drowned that old sinner in Christ’s death, all my sin had been placed on His cross, and then God raised me from the dead in Christ’s resurrection. From that point on I am His new creature; forgiven and promised eternal life. My pastor continued and said “Now remember what the Catechism says. Baptism indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” He told me how that was the struggle I was having. The Old Adam still clings to my flesh. Confessing my sin to my pastor was drowning that Old Adam and the only true way to live a God-pleasing life. He said I was correct that I was powerless to change my life, but God in His great mercy had done everything I needed through His Son Jesus. From that repentance springs forth a life of thanksgiving and good works said my pastor, but your repenting and your doing can never save you or change you. Only our God can do that.
I share this long autobiographical story with you because my experience reflects much of what Paul was teaching in our lesson from Colossians today. Baptized into Christ it’s your experience too.
St. Paul makes it clear that you can’t save yourselves. He calls us foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. That’s what all men are before they are baptized. We are not just a little misguided and needing to change our life with the correct set of principles. We don’t just need to recommit our lives to God. We need to be chastened and killed, we need to freed and made alive again. Elsewhere the Scriptures describe as spiritually blind, God’s enemies, and dead to God. We’re as blind as Bartimeus when it comes to spiritual things. Our hearts are just as much hateful enemies of God as was Herod’s. We’re as dead as Lazarus was in the tomb. Sinners don’t need reforming we need resurrection.
That is exactly what you received in Baptism. After reminding where we came from, Paul now tells us who we are just like my pastor did when I came to him in my despair.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Not our righteousness, not our works, not our obedience, (these things cannot save us), but the loving kindness of God who according to His mercy washed us in Baptism by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. He did this so we could be justified, that is made righteous. By baptism we are spotless, clean, without the wrinkle or blemish of sin. God did this by grace Paul said, that means we can not earn it. We have nothing to boast of save for the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Reminding us where we came from through the waters of Holy Baptism Paul then encourages the faithful to good works.
“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”
It was sad to me when I realized that my friend’s church really was a case of getting the cart before the horse. They encouraged good works at the loss of the gospel of forgiveness. I do not doubt that they loved Jesus. Yet, they were so concerned with the problem of sin they turned the gospel into behavior modification instead of the proclamation of Christ’s forgiveness to broken sinners; even Christian broken sinners.
Our Catechism Responsary this evening reminds us that faithful Christianity does not make the opposite mistake. Genuine Christianity does not encourage gospel forgiveness at the expense of good works. The old Adam is daily drowned in us by Baptism that we might emerge to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. We can see from Paul’s letter to the Colossians the gospel encourages us to good works. He even wants all believers to “be careful” in devoting themselves to good works. That means God intends for us to be intentional and thoughtful about what we do for our neighbor and God’s creation. That meant I need to be intentional about what was in my sight when I shot my gun. As I repented for my sin my pastor was not remiss in reminding me about my struggle with sin and encouraging me to live a God-pleasing life. He reminded me that the Old Adam was gone, the new creation had come. Even our repentance is a sign that God’s activity of regenerating and renewing us sinners is happening. If God the Holy Spirit was not in work in us by our Baptism in Christ we wouldn’t repent.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ remember who you were once were (foolish, disobedient, led astray). Remember who you are (washed, regenerated, renewed, forgiven). Remember the trustworthy gift of Christ that you received in Baptism. Remember that none of your salvation is done or earned by you but by Christ’s grace. Together in thanksgiving this Lent we repent, let’s remember our baptism, and in thanksgiving be careful to devote ourselves to good works. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
SDG – Rev. Eric M. Estes