BAPTISM AND TRANSFORMATION
A 40 year old friend who lived in open rebellion for years started going to church. He was an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery but his family life was suffering due to his neglect and abuse. He was in a last-ditch attempt to keep his family together. He hoped church would help.
After attending services and studying my friend decided to get baptized. I did a lesson on Jesus’ baptism and temptation, showing how soon after Jesus was baptized the devil assaulted him but Jesus still emerged victoriously. My friend heard the part about the devil assaulting Jesus but not the part about Jesus’ victory. He told me, "If the devil is going to attack me more AFTER I am baptized like he did Jesus, I don’t know if I want to get baptized. The devil has attacked me enough already. I can’t handle any more."
The devil has an established reputation for attacking God’s people. Satan asked God, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" (Job 1:9) and then mounted his attack against the righteous man. If Satan attacked Jesus and Job, we can expect that he will assault us when we follow Jesus.
In Acts 8 the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading Isaiah the prophet and Philip comes to study with him. After some discussion the Eunuch asks, "Look, here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?" Philip submerges the Eunuch and he comes up clean and whole. The story ends with the Eunuch going on his way rejoicing ( Acts 8:39).
But does the story does not end here. The Eunuch was happy at that moment because he was washed clean of sin. He felt the euphoria we do at our baptisms. But the story couldn’t have ended here because he goes back home. He would go back to his job. Frustrations would overwhelm him. He would get angry. Unbelievers would mock him. Greed, lust and selfishness would make their presence known. The devil would attack. The Eunuch would discover that even though he was cleansed from sin, sin was not done with him. Sin would find him. There would be a struggle. Sin would not easily give up its hold on the rejoicing Eunuch.
We know that struggle, don’t we? Paul addresses that struggle in Romans 6:1-4. "Shall we continue in sin?" Why would someone even ask that? Because of a misunderstanding of grace.
"Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20). Some people think Paul is saying that the more sin there is the more grace there is to cover that sin. So the more we sin, the more grace there is. Since grace is good, let’s go ahead and sin more so we’ll have more of the presence of God! Sounds like a great idea!
Think about cleaning up a mess on your kitchen counter. Tomato sauce, melted chocolate and ice tea have stained the white counter top. You spray a cleaner and wipe. After a little while the counter top is clean again. Imagine when you are finished someone coming in to the kitchen and saying, "Hey, I can’t believe the difference since you have cleaned! That cleaner works! The bigger the mess the more cleaner you need and the greater the cleaning job looks. Let’s spread some more sauce, chocolate and tea around, and even get some on the stove and floor, so you can really clean up. If a little cleaner is good, a lot of cleaner has to be very good." That is what some people are saying about grace in Romans five and six.
But Paul says, "No way! We have died to sin; so how can we live in it any longer!" (6:2) Dying to sin means it no longer dominates us. Sin is no longer an important factor in our lives. We now identify with Christ and live for him so we don’t dream of or live for sinful encounters. Living for fun and pleasure is something we left. We now live for Christ.
Randal is an example of someone who died to sin. Randal was a rock-n-roll musician. His band played in bars. Feeling empty, he started looking at spiritual things and was eventually baptized. Soon after he quit the rock-n-roll band and music. Why? Because he didn’t like music anymore? No. He knew that for him music was a tie in to a lifestyle he died to: the rock music, the bars, the crowd. Today Randal preaches.
How did Randal die to the sin in his life? How do we die to the sin in our lives? Romans 6:3-4 answers that. "Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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 live a new life."
In baptism we share in Christ’s death and in his resurrection. Our old man dies in baptism; we rise to live a new life. That new life will be complete at the final resurrection.
Galatians 6:6-7 makes very clear the relationship we have to sin now that we have been baptized:
- Our old self was crucified.
- The body of sin was done away.
- We are no longer slaves to sin.
- We have died, so we are free from sin.
You may be thinking, "Hey, I still struggle with sin so how can I be free from it?" Even though we are Christians sin isn’t finished with us yet. It wants to find a chink in the spiritual armor and exploit it. Sin wants to win.
But Jesus isn’t finished with us, either. "If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (6:8). "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ" (6:11). There are two opposing wills vying for our attention: sin and Christ. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ.
Notice how Paul brings this to a close in verses 12 to 14:
- "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
- "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God ... and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness."
- For sin will not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
These three verses say that the lust for pleasure no longer rules us. We now have a reason and the strength to say, "No." Whether it is gambling, lying, partying, viewing pornography, cheating, gossiping, harboring anger, nursing resentment, being jealous or envious, all of these sinful attitudes and behaviors are now repulsive to us. There is no way we can engage in any of these attitudes or behaviors and feel good about them. Guilt overwhelms us. Even as we lie or cheat we know it is wrong. Our conscience condemns us.
These three verses also combine to say that we offer our bodies to righteousness. Randal could no longer take his body into a bar where there was entertainment that could endanger his soul or others’. His conscience condemned him so he quit and instead took his body and mind to prayer, Bible study and worship. He dedicated himself to his wife and family. He gave all of his love and energy to serve people in a healthy way. Randal is alive to Christ. He has been and is being transformed from a man of the world to a man of God.
How does this happen? How can we work to keep sin at bay and live faithfully for Christ? One, realize the power of God that is at work in your life and body. You are saved and sustained by grace. Secondly, remember that you live a new life. Jesus died so you no longer have to be a slave to sin. Finally, remember that sin is disgusting and hateful. It will condemn us eternally. We want to be rid of it. So don’t desire in your heart to go back to it.
Our needs are met in Christ. A great part of our victory is found in trusting that truth.