Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Baptized life: between two worlds

In a recent post I wrote about the dawn of Jesus’ first coming, the new day into which we’ve been transferred (Colossians 1:12-14). “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8; cf. 2:17). The tricky thing is that the darkness is not yet gone; the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2) has not yet reached its zenith. We still live in “this present evil age [aeon; also translated frequently as world]” (Galatians 1:4). The new age of God’s kingdom, the age of the Second Adam has begun, and its brightness shall surely reign (Revelation 11:15 ff.), but the age of the First Adam has not yet disappeared.

I feel this tension in my own life.

As a friend keenly observed, Christ’s Resurrection put an end to all powers and authorities of this age, including death, sin, and all personal and systematic evil. They no longer have mastery over the Messiah-King and those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:24-27; cf. Romans 6:9; 2 Timothy 1:10). For us, to hear and trustingly receiving the message of Jesus, of the manger and Calvary and the empty tomb, means to hear the message that the old aeon, the “world as we know it,” is judged and doomed. It is to be eradicated along with its ruler (Revelation 12; 20:11-15). In Jesus Christ, however, as pointed to by his miracles, something decisively new has come; the “age to come” has arrived.

In baptism and through faith, we have had the Holy Spirit poured out on us and have been joined to this New Man. We are made partakers of and participants in “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5; cf. Romans 6:3-11). “Now to be baptized and so buried with Christ into His death is, in union with Him,” writes Richard Jungkuntz, “to have received and accepted God’s verdict of guilty and His cataclysmic judgment of death on the whole old aeon to which a sinful man belongs. Baptism therefore means the end of the old aeon” (The Gospel of Baptism, 2nd ed., p. 62). And this death—of the old age and of the power and guilt of sin in our lives—happens nowhere else than at the Cross.

It is precisely because of the Cross that our lives look so sin-plagued and lackluster: the victory is a hidden one. Sinful men, following the reign of Satan and Religion and Rome, put Jesus to death, his “circumcision” and his “baptism” (Mark 10:39; Luke 12:50; Colossians 2:11). But it was precisely here that he put them to open shame, triumphing over the “powers” and stripping them of their sham authority (Colossians 2:15; John 12:31 f.). The victory is masked in the dying and shame, the victory that has brought this already-but-not-yet kingdom. Likewise, if the Christ-death and Christ-rising are to take place in our lives, if the kingdom is to come in us, then it must take the form of the Cross. We don’t see blazing defeat of sin left and right; but we must trust that the victory is ours.

We who are baptized, who trust in the Rescuer, live between two worlds; both are present inside us as long as we live in “this body of death” (Romans 7:24). The question is, Which reality will we choose to live in? Will we continue to believe in the powers of the old world, or will we believe that Christ as Lord has effected a radically different order, one that lasts eternally (1 John 2:17)? Now the kingdom lies hidden, and we must go to it where it is found: in dying to ourselves, embracing God’s judgment on our sinful nature, and taking those painful yet liberating steps to walk in newness of life. As Jesus died and triumphed through a shameful public death, we participate in the Cross by confession, bringing our shameful sins to the light before God and others. And so, one day soon, though our eternal life and righteousness are hidden with our Savior, “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

“Being dipped under the water and emerging from it indicate the power and effect of Baptism, which is simply the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new man, both of which actions must continue in us our whole life long. Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever continued.” (Luther’s Large Catechism, IV, 65)


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I'm not sure I'm following you.

Do you, or Luther for that matter, mean "the power and effect of Baptism" are in the actual physical act of baptism itself as though somehow mystical, or because it outwardly represents an inward change of allegiance, or rebirth through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit through His baptism - or something else entirely?

Andrew said...

I think we've gone over this before. For starters, baptism is NOT an outward sign of the believer's faith, his choice to follow Christ. Baptism doesn't show and seal my faith; it shows and seals God's promises of grace. The fact that we ARE BAPTIZED (passive) and do not baptize ourselves shows that someone is doing something to us; I do not proclaim or do something myself in baptism. "Repent and BE BAPTIZED, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins . . ." (Acts 2:38-39).

I believe that baptism, like circumcision before it, is a visual confirmation of the promises of God to cleanse and renew all who trust in him for salvation. When the waters are placed upon us and the name of the triune God is invoked, regardless of our age, we can know that his grace is truly offered to us. In that way, baptism is not only an offer, but also something that gives us assurance that God saves ME.

The Bible overwhelmingly teaches that a radical change is effected in baptism, so far as for Paul to say we actually die with Christ and are united to his death and resurrection in it (Rom. 6:3-4; cf Gal 3:26-27; Col 2:11-12) and are washed and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:26; Tit 3:5).

Baptism actually delivers what it promises, namely, forgiveness and regeneration, but only for those who receive it in faith (Col. 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). Because only those who are predestined by God for salvation through Christ are given faith by the Spirit--MAN CANNOT BELIEVE ON HIS OWN!--therefore the gifts of baptism are only received by the elect, for only they are able to truly see Christ and trust in him. Because faith isn't necessarily tied to the moment of baptism, the reception of baptism's promises aren't received at the moment of baptism (say, as an infant). But God follows through on his promise, giving renewal and faith to all he has chosen to call (Acts 2:39).

Kim said...

Thanks, Drew. I needed that kick to choose to live in His life and not wallow in my death.

Ted M. Gossard said...


Well, I guess, I'll tag team with Susan on this, and hopefully I'll learn something from it.

Alot of good here I say "Amen" to. And our lives in Christ are lives of living out the meaning of our baptisms and the reality of it, which is because of Jesus and his once for all work of salvation for us.

But I don't like the language of Luther (and for that matter, Calvin) on water baptism. I do think the Anabaptists had them on that, though at the same time I don't think evangelicals as a rule see the place water baptism is given in the New Testament in relation to salvation.

Here's one quote from Luther, taken from his works: "You can believe even though you are not baptized, for baptism is nothing more than an external sign which reminds us of the divine promise." (WA 10/3, p. 142) Of course Luther still wants to retain what Timothy George in his book, "Theology of the Reformers" calls the objective character of the sacraments. Something like they in themselves convey something of God's grace, at least potentially, and I think throughout. But doesn't only grace through faith secure salvation? Baptism may be an expression of it; Paul was told to arise and be baptized, and while baptism was done to him, he still had to, in faith, arise and submit to it.

Let's take one passage that might seem to indicate a work of the Spirit through water baptism, but I think actually does not:

"...baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 3).

If indeed this applies to baptismal regeneration than what can we make of "the pledge of a clear (or, good) conscience toward God"? I think it requires special pleading to make that anything other than believer's baptism. (see Scot McKnight's recent work on this on "Jesus Creed" (Jan 10, 8 etc. on baptism) In other words baptism saves there, only because faith of the one baptized is present.

Let me add to that that no one HAS to be water baptized to be saved. The New Testament simply does not know of such a believer, post-Pentecost, I believe. It simply takes for granted that believers will be water baptized.

And while I've read one good argument for tying circumcision from the Colossians 2 (I believe it is) passage to NT water baptism, that is another matter.

Contra Calvin, I don't believe circumcision also rested on a good conscience. That to me is more than a stretch. The pledge of a good conscience would seem to me to mean faith, and the work of the Spirit.

John 3, of water and the Spirit, one being born from above, is likely linking John the Baptizer's baptism with the regenerative work of the Spirit. Thus Jesus can question Nicodemus for not understanding this. Nicodemus needed to submit to John's baptism of repentance. (See Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary- John). If this position is correct than the Reformers position that it refers to water baptism would be wrong, I would think.

But the crux of the matter for me is that, indeed, nothing magical happens at water baptism. It's a pledge of a believer to God, an act of obedience and faith.

Too long a comment; sorry about that.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Maybe, Andrew, you're not defending baptismal regeneration, but that baptism conveys a work of grace from God which secures salvation for those chosen.

Well, New Testament language seems to make baptism something that people in faith are to submit to. That would make baptism itself subsequent or contingent on faith, not simultaneous or prior to. And then New Testament can simply put baptism with salvation, as in all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ- without the issue of just when each takes place.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

if we did, discuss it before that is, I surely did not get as clear a picture of what you believe as I did this time, so thank you for repeating.

Andrew said...

Ted, thanks for the challenging insights. At Olivia's prompting, I think I'm actually going to start a series of posts on what I see baptism is, what God does for us with it (baptism itself does nothing), and what it means in the believer's life.

Andrew said...

By the way, I don't believe in "baptismal regeneration" as a matter of course, nor did Calvin.

Ted M. Gossard said...


I look forward to reading that. I think there are great baptismal insights that come from people who think more in a Lutheran theological framework.

And you're right. I understand Calvin's belief (not read up on it lately) to have to do with the infant in baptism undergoing a New Covenant kind of circumcision through water baptism (Colossians) so as to have some inclusion, or be included I believe, in the Christian covenant community. And of course, that repentance and faith is required for regeneration, which comes later, of course. But you may be correcting or sharpening me on that. I may have been mixing apples and oranges on my first comment. Calvin would not fit into a discussion on baptismal regeneration.

At the same time, Timothy George's words echo teachings of the church, I think, which still remain to this day among those who hold to faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone: "Calvin called baptism 'our entrance into the Church and the symbol of our engrafting into Christ.' He interpreted the phrase 'the washing of regeneration' in Titus 3:5 as baptism by water, noting that 'God does not play games with us with empty figures [perhaps a swipe at Zwingli?] but inwardly accomplishes by His own power the thing He shows us by the outward sign.' For Calvin baptism was designed to confirm faith in the elect, a view characterized by Karl Barth as 'cognitive sacramentalism.' Nonetheless, Calvin required that baptism be applied indiscriminately to everyone in the visible church."

This is different than baptismal regeneration, of course, but the language makes one not sufficiently trained in theology, think it may be baptismal regeneration.

I do appreciate both Luther and Calvin as outstanding in their theology, even if I don't buy all of it, or really get all of it.

In Book IV Calvin calls baptism a token of, for example, "mortification and renewal in Christ." He also insists: "...the Lord sets out for us...that baptism should be a token and proof of our cleansing; or (the better to explain what I mean) it is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can against us. For he wills that all who believe be baptized for the remission of sins [Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38]. Accordingly, they who regard baptism as nothing but a token and mark by which we confess oour religion before a mark of their profession, have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to receive baptism with this promise: 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved' (Mark 16:16]." from "Institutes of the Christian Religion"- Book IV, chapter XV, point 1. To be fair to Calvin's position one has to read on, there.

So he seems to say it's a token, yet more than a mere token in that, with faith, it effects the salvation God brings to the elect. So that when one does put their faith in Christ, their baptism brings about the new life by the Spirit's working of regeneration. My interpretation, so well may be off. George's book is quite good, and you would really enjoy it, I think.

And as to you and baptismal regeneration, I'm not sure what prompted me to be working on that in my first comment. My recollection may be off somewhere (not surprising, as tired as I am) but I think my second shorter comment hits more at what you're actually saying, while at the same time my initial comment does counter a Lutheran or Calvinist view with an Anabaptist view. But I did not believe at all that you believed in baptismal regeneration.

I do like the way you put it, and I was thinking that as well. It's a work of God according to his promise in your view, I believe.

I look forward to what you share and I'm confident you're a fast reader when need be, so will let this overly long comment go.

Ted M. Gossard said...

By the way, I would hold to the passage in Hebrews talking about our bodies being washed by pure water (my memory here- yes Heb 10:22) as referring, probably, to water baptism. So Scripture language includes baptism in ways that may not fit well into the normal way of thinking and practice among most evangelicals, I would guess. To even make water baptism optional, or when the believer is ready, so as to downplay it as not being salvific (saving us, or instrumental in doing so) is certainly in err, I believe.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I mean on my last comment that these churches are mistakenly making baptism optional- more or less, so as to guard against any thought of baptismal regeneration, or that baptism itself is necessary with faith, for salvation.

All this gets kind of tiring and even confusing for me. Glad you are young, Andrew. -Wow, I didn't know what I was getting myself into! :)

Ted M. Gossard said...

And just to be sure with all these comments, that I'm favorable towards baptismal regeneration- certainly not! no way! (I'm amazed at how unclear I can be at times)

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm amazed at how I worded that last comment. I should have said: :"just to be sure (it's understood)...that I'm NOT favorable...." But then there's the double negative, and we're back to square one. Too many words, too many books, not enough sleep.

Andrew said...

You're clearly more well-read on Calvin and others than I am. I think YOU should go and write about baptism! (Just kidding. Well, sort of.) But I think what you wrote as far as Calvin's saying that God accomplishes in his elect that which is portrayed and promised in his sacraments is pretty spot-on, considering the strength with which the scriptures speak connecting the Supper and forgiveness, Baptism and union to Christ.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I think you're both over my head since I am not well-read on most of what you are talking about - Calvin/Luther, etc

So, I will plan on following your conversations and postings with interest - and a cup of coffee as I think it will take me a bit of thinking and note-taking to get through them!

Andrew said...

I think a problem can also come along in the ambiguity of what "regeneration" is, precisely. Most of us assume--and certainly in the Reformed camp--that it is the rebirth from above (John 3:5-8) that breaks the power of sin and enlightens someone to see his need for a Savior and Christ Jesus as the perfect provision thereof. But could it be that "regeneration/rebirth" and "renewal" as in Titus 3:5 denotes simply that something radically different has occurred through our entrance into the church--that we become new in our identity as members of an eschatological body of those whom God has called out of this world? I suppose this is one possibility . . .

. . . but I doubt it. The context of mercy, forgiveness, grace vs works, and justification in Titus 3 , along with the passive/divine action of birth conveys that this is indeed the work of the Spirit in making the elect new men as they are united to the New Man, Jesus Christ. Again, union with Christ is the primary meaning of baptism pointed to here. I really need to learn more about salvation as union with Christ (Michael Horton, I hear, has a helpful new book) as the meaning of salvation.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, Andrew. I think union with Christ with reference to salvation is probably more central than justification by faith. That salvation is in Christ, by grace through faith. And that the result is that one is "in Christ". I've read that, maybe from Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed, and it makes sense to me when reading Scripture.

I believe I'm in agreement with what you say on your last comment. Certainly we are an eschatological people, living in a future reality by the Spirit, even in the present. And nothing less than a new birth from above.

Baptism is indeed essentially about union with Christ. Good point.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I missed your earlier kind comment, somehow, on my comments on baptism, and even mentioning me writing a book! Most kind of you. To write well about that would mean so much more reading, and ongoing reading.

But yes, Scripture does seem to me to put more weight on baptism in relation to salvation than most of us evangelicals so. However I still doubt that that makes the reformed position (actually varied reformed positions) and practice better than a solid anabaptist position. Though both are viable interpretations from Scripture, I believe. And so much more to say on that, but will stop...