By Paul Koch –
People get really weirded out by the fact that we still baptize babies in our church. In fact, on those occasions when I am able to do a baptism of an adult or an adolescent and people from outside our spiritual tradition are present I usually hear something along the lines of, “Isn’t nice that they will remember their baptism,” or “Don’t you think it is more significant because they decided to take this step themselves.” Now I’m a nice guy and I usually just do a lot of nodding and smiling when I hear things like that because it’s better than pummeling them about the head and shoulders as I scream, “Are you crazy, don’t you know what is going on here?!”
The reality is baptizing a baby is pretty insulting to our humanity. We are people who love to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, a people who crave to have some control over our destiny and our parents taking us to the waters of Holy Baptism isn’t exactly in line with our idea of freedom. That is someone doing something to us, it’s downright un-American. After all we have been told from our earliest days that we can do whatever we set our minds on, we are encouraged to “Be all you can be.” We are reminded that all we really need to do is believe in ourselves. We are the ones in control; we are the ones that dictate our future, it’s called freedom and we like it.
Yet as St. Paul writes to the church in Rome this apostle sent by God has some very disturbing news about our freedom. To be honest if we value our freedom above all things then we may very well want to skip over all of chapter 6 in Romans. To hear Paul describe our situation is a bit of a downer. He doesn’t much care if you can be all you can be or if you believe in yourself for you aren’t free in the first place, you are slaves. That’s right slaves, you are in bondage. Not that you are forced to do what you don’t want to do but rather that you are bound to do what you master desires. As creatures of the Almighty we don’t exist in some sort of neutral gray area, with everyone waiting to find out what we are going to do. No, we are slaves – we are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness.
Listen to how Paul describes it; he begins by saying he is using human terms so that we might be able to understand the reality of our situation before God and with regard to our supposed freedom. He says, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Rom 6:20). So he speaks about your condition before you were claimed by the righteous deeds of Christ, you were slaves to sin and free in regard to righteousness. In other words you were bound to do exactly what you wanted to do which was sin, and sin you did. Now you were free with regard to righteousness, it had no claim on you.
We may not have known we were slaves, in fact I think there is no way we could have known but still, such was our situation.
I think it is interesting that we are still shocked when the unbelieving world commits sin. Why are we surprised when governments lie? Why are we taken aback when crime runs rampant or violence breaks out in our streets? Shouldn’t we expect sin to thrive amongst those who are slaves to it? Pornography and abuse and neglect are part of our world and will not be eradicated by legislation or public shamming. For outside of Christ people are free from works of righteousness, as slaves to sin they will produce works of destruction. Their end will be death.
“But” Paul continues, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). This I think is even more shocking, the opposite of being a slave to sin is not independence, it is not freedom. The opposite of being a slave to sin is to be a slave of God, a slave of righteousness. You see there is no gray area, no blessed in-between where we make our great decisions, where we chart our own course, where we are left up to our own devises. According to St. Paul when you are a slave of God you are then free from sin.
We are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. These two realms, or two masters, or two lords over us determine the fruit of our lives (so much for just believing in yourself and being all you can be, right?). So all this begs the question; if we are slaves then how do we move from one side to the other? How do we stop being a slave to sin and start being a slave of righteousness? Slaves don’t have control over their own destination, so how does one make the change? What is it that stands in the middle between sin and righteousness?
What stands in the middle is simple. It is so simple it is often taken for granted and underappreciated. Between sin and righteousness lays baptism. Baptism is not some grand thing that we have designed on our own; it is not a product of our cleverness to change our slavery. Baptism is an attack by God upon sinners. A friend of mine used to say that Baptism is essentially a violent act and St. Paul seems to agree. Earlier in this chapter Paul says,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4)
You see this is the great gift of our God. As slaves to sin we had to die, death was what our slavery lead to. So our God kills us graciously through his gift of baptism. There in those waters you were crucified with Christ. You have died and so have a completely new identity in Christ. The slavery of sin and the law has ended and now you are under a new slavery of God and his righteousness. I know all this sounds very strange and is certainly un-American. It doesn’t seem to give us any credit at all, and in fact that is the point. The blessing that Paul is delivering to us is the assurance of our salvation; a salvation that does not rest in even the smallest part by our own doing. Not by our works, not by our desires, not by our use of freedom, nothing – your salvation rests always in the hands of the eternal God.
And thanks be to God that it does. For we all know too well that though we are free from sin, sin still lingers, it still comes calling upon us and when it does that ancient accuser is still there whispering in your ears. He reminds us of our failures he points out our sinfulness and declares that we can’t possibly be saved for we must surely do more. He would have us doubt the promise of our baptism.
But remember we are slaves, bound to our Lord, bound to his cross, bound to his free gift of life eternal. And so you can declare that Christ is faithful though you are unfaithful, and so you remain baptized as he said when those waters poured over your head even in the face of sin. You remain his slaves, slaves of righteousness, slaves of his promises, slaves of light and life eternal. After all the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that gift is yours!