Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

Baptism: The Christian’s Lie Detector (Jan-Feb 1993)

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by Mike Cope
January – February, 1993

9Haven’t you at times wanted a fool-proof method to detect lies? Would it have been nice to bring a trial-by-ordeal similar to Numbers 5 to the Clarence Thomas – Anita Hill conflict or the William Kennedy Smith trial? Wouldn’t you like to have a urim and thummim to tell you which of your kids is giving you the real lowdown?

For Christians there is a lie detector. It reminds them of the truth, cutting through the lies that Satan tries to press on them. It exposes the potholes of fibs and points the way back to the pavement of truth.

This lie detector is baptism. Usually when Scripture discussses baptism, it isn’t for an evangelistic purpose. Rather, it’s a trump card played by the author to remind Christ-followers of the truth they had committed themselves to. Christian living is a constant ownership of the commitment made in baptism.

Without the reminder of baptism, we are vulnterable to the trash heaped on us from below. Note how a return to the water can help expose falsehoods like these:

Salvation is the Result of Human Endeavor

Has there been a more ancient, more stubborn, more camouflaged heresy than legalism? In its baldest form, it claims that salvation is the pay given in return for good works.

But legalism rarely comes ut that way. No one wears a T-shirt proclaiming: “Legalist – and proud of it!” No, legalism is disguised by people who talk about God and his grace ut of one side of their mouths. But out of the other side they hint that a person must become a Jew through circumcision and keeping the law in order to be a full-fledged believer. Their undermining of Paul probably didn’t have a “Paul is a heretic” tone but more of a “Paul’s a good man, but he doesn’t give you the full scoop” tone.

If we could hear these false teachers instead of our stereotypes of them they owuld sound fairly orthodox, conservative, safe, and loyal. But according to Paul, they taught absolute heresy. Don’t believe it, no matter who teaches it – even if the spokesperson is an angel (Galatians 1:8). In the third chapter, Paul claims that salvation is understood not by focusing on Moses and the law but by examining Abraham and faith.

Then comes his reminder: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:26-28).

Baptism is the lie detector: we can’t be saved because of our own works, orthodoxy, or zeal. While baptism taught us that there must be obedience to receive God’s gift on God’s terms, salvation is still a free gift! Baptism showed us that we can’t earn salvation, that we can only be recipients of God’s grace.

Of course we can ruin even that beautiful truth by making all our focus on “the doctrine of baptism,” narrowly defined as its form and function. (Note several “gospel tracts” on baptism that have no mention of the cross or imputed righteousness.)

Baptism is an expression of an obedient, active faith – faith in the saving work of God in Christ. In baptism we were “clothed with Christ” – the only clothing that can cover the nakedness of our sinful lives. Whenever we witness a baptism it reminds us that we won’t be saved because of our own righteous rags but because of the wonderful wardrobe of righteousness that Jesus has offered us.

Salvation Doesn’t Impinge on Your Life

There is another lie that won’t die: that I don’t have to deal with sin in my life because I’m saved by grace. This is the lie of sloppy, lazy discipleship. It’s worded well in Romans 6:1: “What then are we to say? Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound?”

You know Paul’s unequivocal answer: “By no means!” And again baptism is the 100-watt bulb that exposes the darkness of this lie. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:3-4).

As William Willimon put it so well, “Baptism is nothing less than death and nothing less than the creation of a new being who lives by a radically different system of obedience, servanthood, and community.” Repentance is a daily return to baptism because baptism is a beginning (of a new person) as much as it is an ending (of the old person). Its goal is the reshaping of our sinful, proud selves into people who look like God intends.

God will take me “just as I am” – but he won’t leave me that way. He draws us away from the values and behavior of this world to values and behavior of the kingdom.

Whenever we see someone immersed into Christ, we are reminded that our whole life has been redefined. We now live not as we please but as God pleases.

Salvation is a Private Affair

There are all kinds of people who are willing to be children of God but have no interest in being brothers and sisters with the other children. Remember the old ditty?
To live above with saints we love –
Oh, that will be glory.
But to dwell below with saints we know –
Now, that’s another story.

Some don’t have the time; some don’t have the patience for the “unenlightened”; and others don’t have the stomach for the hypocrisy. So they try to turn the Christian voyage into a solo tour.

There’s a problem with this voyage, though: It isn’t the one you signed up for at baptism. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,” writes Paul, “so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

When the Spirit baptized us, we were grafted into a body, included in a group of believers. We belong to these other people. We have different spiritual gifts in this body – along with different octane levels, different opinions, different backgrounds, and different maturity levels. But we are still – as baptism reminds us – one body.

Your Life Doesn’t Matter

There is a perfect set-up for feelings of failure and worthlessness when a society defines success in terms of beauty, wealth, power, and control. Too many people get edged out of that formula:

  • the teenager who knows that she doesn’t have Miss America features and shapes;
  • the preacher wo works quietly but faithfully in a small, off-the-interstate church;
  • the single divorcee who wonders if she’s a bad person since her marriage didn’t last;
  • the sixty-two year-old who just took early retirement – which seemed to be the only alternative to just being laid off – even though he has always gotten his sense of self worth from his job.

“Your life doesn’t count,” Satan whispers.

But that lie is confronted by the baptismal event: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

You are not a nobody! You have been made an heir of the King of the universe! You are part of a royal family. Your identity comes not from the mirror in the bathroom but from the reflection in the water of baptism.

Without the liquid lie detector of baptism we might have no way to test the falsehoods floating around. A regular trip back to the water might be good for all of us!Wineskins Magazine

Mike Cope

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