There is an optimistic worldview that believes people are inherently good. Most of us have experienced goodness from complete strangers, goodness undeserved and unasked for, and we are moved by it. Many years ago, I took my younger children with me to Target, the one where they have an escalator outside to get in. I was with Rose, Naomi, and my youngest, Titus, who could not have been more than a few years old. While we were leaving, Naomi and I stepped on the escalator with Rose and Titus behind us. As we were heading down, at the last moment, Titus hesitated and did not get on the escalator. There was my son still standing at the top while we were heading down. At the bottom, I handed our bag to Naomi and told her to stay there as I ran up the up escalator to get him. In the meantime, Rose had tried to go back up the down escalator to get him at which time she tripped cutting a huge gash in her leg. So, as I was going up, she was going down, bleeding all over the place. I grabbed my son’s hand and stepped on to the down escalator. By the time I got to the bottom there were two sweet ladies already attending to my daughter. One had produced some napkins from her purse to keep pressure on the wound and the other was already pulling out some Band-Aids. It was a scene which would tend to support the idea that people are inherently good. Their kindness, mercy, and care were evident.
We extrapolate from this instance of goodness how that is the typical order of things. People will consistently choose the compassionate and kind action over whatever is self-serving or self-promoting. Over my years as a pastor, I have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion. But the terrible truth is this is not the whole picture. Perhaps it is the part we want to focus on, but in reality, there is no place so holy, no group of people so righteous that sin does not run rampant throughout their interactions, motives, and desires. Sin is more common to humanity than goodness. It is not what we want to focus on, and I get that, we need those stories of goodness to give us some hope. But the reality is we are surrounded by sin. In fact, we are infected with sin. Every week we confess we have sinned in thoughts, words, and deeds. We have sinned by what we do and by what we avoid doing. This is not to take away from the goodness we experience but to see things as they really are. Sin is a real, ubiquitous problem.
But sin is not only acts of obscene evil. Sin can be found even in the simple frustrations of our lives, the doubts and fears which plague us, the frustrations of our hopes and dreams. Sin is felt in broken relationships where things have been said that cannot be taken back, where good things are thrown away in a moment of passion. This reality of sin is known by all. Even the most optimistic of people experience the nagging tug, reminding them everything is not all right. And humanity throughout history has tried to find a way to overcome or to escape the reality of sin. Most religions promise some pathway to keep sin in check: A way or method of living to move beyond the sins which so easily entangles us, to lift us up to some elevated way to live.
This always sounds good to begin with. It is enticing to think we have finally found the way to overcome much of what plagues our lives. But try as we may, we know that in the end the sin we sought to run from is never really gone. Perhaps we shift from the more grievous sins, the ones others can see from the outside, but it means we cling all the more to the internal sins, the sins of pride and self-justification. The promised pathway to righteousness built upon our own works turns out to be a dangerous path where we trust all the more in ourselves. There our sin is even more deadly for it is hidden within and dealt with alone.
Your faith then, the gift you have been given is not just another pathway out of the muck and mire of your sinful life. It is not about offering you a better morality to strive towards to shake off the shackles of sin. No, your faith is about salvation. Now that may sound obvious, but it bears repeating. Your faith is the gift of salvation, and this salvation is not a pathway or journey towards more holy living. Salvation is final, complete. It is deliverance.
Today, we remember the Baptism of Jesus. We know John the Baptist was preparing the way of the Lord. He was baptizing people in the Jordan river as they repented of their sins. Although, if that were to be their way to salvation, how often would they have to return to those waters? I mean, he commands them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. So, when they inevitably fail, do they return to John and go through the ritual again? This is a system, a path toward righteousness, but it was not the end. It was to lead the repentant to the final solution, to the salvation, to the Lamb of God who takes aways the sins of the world. Which is why it is a big dela that Jesus gets in those waters and Himself is baptized. He repents, but what sins does He have to repent of? None, at least none of His own. He repents perfectly for your sins. He claims them in those waters as His own. This is the working of your salvation.
Therefore, Jesus is the author and perfector of your salvation. He is not about giving you a pathway by which you might climb up to deliverance. No, He does the work for you. He removes the doubts and imperfections and delivers salvation free and true for you. To be connected to Christ is to be connected to the gift of salvation, and with it comes real, absolute deliverance from sin. You see, Jesus takes your sins upon Himself. He perfectly repents of them never returning to them again. Then He pays the price for all of them. On the cross of Calvary Jesus is crucified for the sins of the world. The wages of sin is death and so He dies. He dies to overcome sin, to beat it once for all, to give salvation without hesitation to all who call upon His name.
So, your baptism is a connection into all Christ has done. Everything He accomplished is given to you. Each of His promises He has promised to you. 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.” Just as Christ died, so by baptism we die with Him. His cross becomes your cross. This is why Paul can confidently say, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Set free from sin, which is what you are; not given a pathway to overcome sin, or to hopefully beat sin in your life. No, you are free from it. You have died to sin for you have died with Christ.
Now does sin still exist in our lives? Of course, it does. It still plagues us and clings to us. As long as this fallen age remains so does sin. But you have already died to it. Salvation is now yours in Christ. Of course, this will not stop the accusation. The Devil and all his minions will constantly surround the people of God and point out your sins. He will remind you to look at your mess, look at what you have done or what you have left undone. You are no saint, no child of God. You are a sinner through and through. You need to do better if you are to be saved, work harder, do more, give more, pray more. But in Christ you are given assurance and hope. You can look the Devil in the face and say, “Yes, those are my sins but who cares, for I have already died to them in Christ my Lord. He is my champion. He alone is my deliverer.” So, my friends, I repeat to you Paul’s words, “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.”