Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A New Year, A New Day, A New Start...AKA Embracing Holy Baptism

I was bemoaning to one of my girlfriends recently how many things I'd like to change in my life and how frustrating it is to me when such things are resistant to change.

This is the story of my life and sometimes it drives me crazy.  Sometimes it makes me bitter.  Sometimes it just plain gets me down.
  • I want a more peaceful home.
  • I want my kids to be kind to each other and stop the physical  assaults they seem to perpetually rain down upon each other.
  • I want to re-establish the idea of inside voices.
  • I want to have family time and read aloud each evening.
  • I want to be able to finish a sentence with one child before having to listen to the next three coming at me from other directions.
  • I want to more consistently administer discipline in my home.
  • I want to allow my older kids to do some teenager type things, but without any disruption to our family life.
  • I want to feel less angry when such things do disrupt.
  • I want more concentration.
  • I want more energy.
  • I want more self-control.
  • I want to have more patience when I deal with my kids.
  • I want to love my husband better, and to think of him, and his needs and wishes, before myself and my own.
I don't ask much, really?  OK, well maybe I do.  But they're all good and wholesome things for which to wish and pray, right?

But in this sinful world, even such good and wholesome things do not happen simply because I want them to.  Even if I pray earnestly for them. In some of these things I may see gradual improvement over time; I may see periodic temporary improvements in others.  I may even eventually conquer one or two items on this list.  But most likely it would soon be replaced with another desire to fix something else that is broken in my life, family, or personality.

And that's because of the somewhat depressing reality that I am a broken creature.  We are all broken.  We will never attain perfection.  Never.  Most of us never even come close.

According to St. Paul in Romans 7:13-25, speaking of the Law of God and how it works in our lives,
Has then what is good become death to me?
Certainly not!
For we know that the law is spiritual,
but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For what I am doing, I do not understand.
For what I will to do, that I do not practice;
but what I hate, that I do.

If, then, I do what I will not to do,
I agree with the law that it is good.
But now, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells in me.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh)
nothing good dwells;
for to will is present with me,
but how to perform what is good I do not find.

For the good that I will to do, I do not do;
but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

Now if I do what I will not to do,
it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me,
the one who wills to do good.

For I delight in the law of God
according to the inward man.
But I see another law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind,
and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin
which is in my members.

O wretched man that I am!
Who will deliver me from this body of death?
I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with the mind
I myself serve the law of God,
but with the flesh the law of sin.
I've heard people, people who who do not fully understand Christianity, say of Christians that we are focused on guilt.  I suppose one might say that after reading what I've just written.  But my purpose for writing such is not to dwell on my guilt.  Although there are moments of weakness in which I feel to an extreme degree the burden of my guilt, generally it does not rule me.

I know that in spite of having a such a sin-filled nature, every inclination of which is only evil continually, (Genesis 6:5) I have a clean slate before God.

St. Paul continues in the very next chapter, Romans 8:1-4,
There is therefore now no condemnation
to those who are in Christ Jesus,
who do not walk according to the flesh,
but according to the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
has made me free from the law of sin and death.

For what the law could not do
in that it was weak through the flesh,
God did by sending His own Son
in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin:
He condemned sin in the flesh,
that the righteous requirement of the law
might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh
but according to the Spirit.
And further on in the same chapter, Romans 8:31-39
What then shall we say to these things?
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all,
how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?
It is God who justifies.
Who is he who condemns?
It is Christ who died,
and furthermore is also risen,
who is even at the right hand of God,
who also makes intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written:
“ For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things
we are more than conquerors
through Him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life,
nor angels nor principalities nor powers,
nor things present nor things to come,
nor height nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now we have that straight.  That's a relief.  And I don't mean that flippantly.  I know that I'll be in heaven someday.  That's wonderful news!  The best news, truly.

But if you're like me, it still doesn't help much with the whole daily living thing.   I mean, I'm still a poor housekeeper.  I tend toward laziness.  I run out of patience and yell at my kids.  I snap at my husband.  I get busy with something and forget to make supper.  Yeah.  Really.  Sad, but true.

All my battles are still with me.  There is still this temporal life to be lived.

This is where I find it helpful to remember my baptism.  Remember back at the beginning of this post I mentioned a friend to whom I had been expressing my frustration over such things.  This is what she replied, "The Gospel means a constant new start, which, frankly, is mind-blowing and difficult to really absorb into the places that need it."

Yes. Mind-blowing. And difficult to absorb.

But this comment reminded me of what I memorized during my Sunday school days, and what I teach my children during theirs, from the section on Baptism in Luther's Small Catechism,
Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
And Luther continues as is typical, with a Bible citation to back up that truth,
St. Paul writes, Romans 6:4: “We are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
When I first learned this, I tended to think primarily in terms of God's Law.  Everything I was taught seemed like more work for me.  More things I had to be able to do.  It was a bit daunting.

So too, this section from Luther's catechism and the included Scriptural quotation, seemed like more work for me.  Something I have to accomplish.  I have to get up each day and bury my old Adam.  I have to somehow dredge up this illusive new man and carry him around all day without dropping him.


But what I've learned since then is that I don't have to do it.  Really.   Not only does baptism work faith in the hearts of those little babies who are given the Sacrament.  It also gives us, perpetually and continually, the blessings of baptism.  It's not a command but a gift!


My baptism gives me daily contrition and repentance.  For me it drowns and kills all sins and evil lusts.  And it brings to life for me and in me that new man who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  It's not a command but a blessing.  A gift.  A promise.

Not a threat, but a comfort.

I'm still not perfect.  Believe me, my old Adam can cook up enough temptation and sin to keep my New Man hopping.  But in faith, I cling to the knowledge that it's all good.  Through Jesus, through His perfect life and sacrificial death, I am given purity.  I am righteous before God.  I am a new creature.

Mind-blowing.  But true.

(Edited at 4:35pm: coincidentally, Lutheran hymn writer extraordinaire, Mark Preus posted a new baptism hymn today on his Lutheran Hymn Revival blog. Check it out.)

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