Posted by: Jim Black | September 22, 2008

the covenant of baptism

This past Sunday I latched on a metaphor I got from F. LaGard Smith’s book, Baptism: the believer’s wedding ceremony and tried to explore how baptism functions as that event which forever unites the penitent believer to Jesus.  He of course drew the analogy from the numerous texts in the New Testament which liken our relationship with Christ to that of a marriage.  We are “united to Christ” in baptism (cf. Rom 6) and we are called the “bride of Christ.” 

Its an analogy that works really well, I think, for a number of reasons.  One, it emphasizes the covenental aspect of baptism.  It is the “pledge of a good conscience towards God”… a promise to be faithful to him because of what he has done for us.  Two, it emphasizes that baptism is about relationship over ritual.  While some have viewed baptism simply as a command to be obeyed that God put out there just to see if we would do it.  It is more about being united to God.  Its not some hoop to jump through, a rung to be climbed or a box to be checked.  Its about entering into a joyous union with your best friend!  Third, it reveals baptism as an expression of love… not duty.  The question shouldn’t be, “Do I HAVE to be baptized in order to be saved?”  It ought to be, “You mean I GET TO be baptized?”  The Ethiopian eunuch didn’t respond to the gospel by asking, “Do I HAVE to?” but rather he saw water and said, “What is keeping me from it?”  Finally, thinking about baptism in these terms emphasizes that it is just the beginning of our Christian walk… not the goal.  Too often we forget that the newly baptized aren’t yet “full grown” and they will need help along the way… help from older brothers and sisters in the faith.  Let’s not leave them as infants to care for themselves!

Ocassionally I get a response from people to my lessons.  One response that I heard was from a lady who shared that her marriage wasn’t a good one at all and so the analogy didn’t really work for her.  I think that is so sad, but I think that it does emphasize the importance of being faithful to our baptisms.  Just as unfaithfulness in marriage can destroy those relationships, unfaithfulness to our baptism covenant with God can destroy our relationship with him.  Of course, he is never unfaithful… but sometimes we are.  In so many ways we fail to live up to that promise to always love him, always cherish, and always obey.  That may be the most powerful lesson from this metaphor that I can think of… and something that didn’t even occur to me until I heard this response.  Isn’t that the very problem that Paul was addressing in Romans 6?  The Roman Christians were continuing in their sin EVEN after their baptism and Paul scolds them by telling them that to continue in sin is contrary to the meaning of their baptism.  Thoughts?  In what ways can we demonstrate faithfulness to the covenant of baptism?

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