It's a Miracle that Baptism is Forever
The miracles celebrated in the world's Christmas aren't forever but seasonal. For most of the year the North Pole is forgotten about. Ever watch "It's a Wonderful Life" outside the Christmas season? It looses that miraculous touch. It's difficult if not impossible to tap into the Christmas spirit the world knows at any other time but Christmas. Not so you're Baptism; the miracle of Baptism is forever.
That's what Scripture says. "We were buried with Christ through Baptism into death in order that, just as He was raised from the deadwe too may live a new life." Do you think that new life has an ending? Do you think it's like a new start? A new start is over once you begin it. No so a new life. A new life is the new creation, the new man St. Paul talks about elsewhere. The new man lives from the New Testament, and that is an eternal promise.
Baptism is a miracle that lasts forever, says the Scripture. It's no miracle at all say the Reformed. No death happens to the old man and no new life comes out in Baptism for them. For your Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Episcopal friends, there's no miracle at all in the waters of Baptism. It's at best a sign, a symbol of what faith in Jesus does, or at worst Baptism is obedience to Jesus' command.
For your Catholic friends Baptism is a miracle but not forever. Baptism forgives original sin, the sin we inherit in the womb, but that's it. Baptism doesn't have any power over against sins you actually commit. No, to deal with some of these sins the Catholic must go to the treasury of the saints or their good works. To deal with mortal sins the Catholic must go to confession. For Catholics Baptism looks backward.
For Lutherans Baptism is forever. Baptism with water indicates that a new man has emerged and arisen to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. In our Large Catechism we confess, "Our Baptism abides forever" (IV, 77). Later Luther warned of falling back "into the opinion in which we were stuck for a long time" which was imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we've fallen again into sin" (IV, 80). This treats Baptism like a seasonal miracle not a forever one.
If you're not doing that how come you so infrequently appeal to Baptism? When you're sins bother you're conscience how come you don't answer it with, "I am baptized into Christ?" When Satan comes against you with an ugly accusation how come you don't demand he drop it because you're a child of paradise in Baptism? When open-eyed your grave is staring, how come you don't look it right in the eye and laugh till you cry baptismal water? Because to you Baptism is a miracle in the past of no use against present sin, Death, or Devil. That's what your old adam, your old man, your sinful nature wants you to believe.
Did you see the cover of the Good News magazine on the reading table? The cover depicts what is commonly known as Siamese Twins. It shows a man with one midsection and two heads. This physical "freak" of nature is the normal spiritual state for the baptized. We don't have two physical heads but we have two natures: a sinful nature and a holy nature. One is created in the image of fallen Adam and one is created in the image of the holy Jesus.
Be clear on this, the unbaptized do not have this neither does anyone who denies their Baptism. They have only one nature, the fallen, old adam. They don't know the struggle that you know and Paul agonized over in Romans 7. The good that I want to do I don't do but the evil I don't want to do that is what I do.
I can only imagine how life was for those Siamese Twins; mine with only one head seems much to be preferred. Likewise, the unbaptized life, or the life of one who has rejected his Baptism, won't be as conflicted, as tormented, as labored, as that of the baptized. You're new man is alive to the pricks of conscience, the stalking of Death, and the threats of the Devil. The person with only an old man is dead to these. Dead men feel no pain.
Now this two-headed condition doesn't last forever. It's till death do you part. However, that second head of yours is the Devil's beachhead in your life. Paul says in Colossians 3 to it belong: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed." In Ephesians Paul says it is "being corrupted by its deceitful desires." Jesus says out of your sinful nature comes "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders."
As the Lord warned Cain, "Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you," so I tell you your fallen nature waits for any opportunity to pounce and rule you. Surely you've experienced this? Suddenly Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde, David Banner is the Hulk, Israel is Jacob, Peter is Simon, and you think, say, and do what you can hardly believe you're capable of. Warning your sinful nature wishes to rule you. You know how in the movies the bad guy is willingly to take the good guy to death with him. Your old adam will carry you off to hell. Paul knew that and so cried, "O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Paul answers his own question with "Jesus Christ our Lord," and I answer it with the miracle of Baptism. How come? Because Galatians 3 says that by Baptism you have put on Christ; Jesus says that you're Baptized into Him, and Paul says Baptism unites you to Him. Baptism is the forever miracle that deals with the wretched man that you are by delivering you from this body of death and producing a new man, a new creation that lives before God forever. Baptism is like flood waters that rush through an area and sweep all the dead wood away and give rise to new, healthy life.
You can see, hear, smell, and taste your sinful nature, yet you don't know where to grab hold of it to pull it out of you. You can't separate it from your new man. You're like Siamese Twins. Where can you grab him that is not also you? Well, God can do what you cannot. God can distinguish what you cannot. Hebrews 4 speaks of the living Word of God being so sharp that is able to divide what no man can.
The Word of God in Baptism is able to do the miraculous thing of splitting Siamese Twins. You know how difficult that is; often when doctors try one or both die. This is the old adam's hold over us. He says, " I die you die. You don't allow me to do what I want and you're dead. You don't give into me and I will kill you. You can't kill me without also killing you." And he's right. I can't drown my sinful nature without drowning myself, but since Baptism is not ordinary water but God's Water, it can drown my old adam while releasing my new man to swim to the surface.
You must see that Baptism is a twofold miracle. It kills and makes alive. It buries and rebirths. In the font, Jesus is present. The perfect Man who is God. His perfect life and His innocent death are all in there. His power to which even the Devil must submit is in there. The One who did away with sin by allowing Himself to be nailed to the tree of the cross is in there. And so is the One who succeeded in paying for all sins and so was raised from the dead victorious over sin, Death, and the Devil. Baptism joins you to Jesus' humiliation and exaltation. It joins you to what you confess in the Apostles' Creed Jesus did. It joins you to His suffering and death and to His resurrection and ascension.
You've seen those movies where someone tries to drown another. The thrashing, the fighting, the gasping, and after the one doing the drowning thinks he's won and turns away, the person under the water comes fighting back twice as hard. That's what happens when you try to drown your sinful nature in your own strength by thinking, feeling, and acting rightly. You only enrage your sinful nature.
You can't drown your sinful nature. Jesus can and does in Baptism. You are to count on it; confess it; and live it. All your sins and evil desires are left in the font as often as you go back to it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As often as you remember your Baptism, morning and evening as our catechism says, you are to see your Old Adam floating in it.
But Baptism doesn't only join you to the death of Christ but to His life. Baptism creates out of nothing a new man, a holy righteous person. This is a renaissance not a reformation, a new creation not a recreation. Renaissance is Latin for born again. Baptism is not reforming your old adam; it's not reinventing yourself; it's not making the bad old adam into a better person.
If you approach the font as the place where you get a chance to try again or for help to be a better person, you're missing the miracle that happens there. The world's Christmas can change Scrooge into a philanthropist but it can't make him "live before God in righteousness and purity forever." It can give him a new life before men, but it can't give him a new life "just as Christ was raised from the dead."
You aren't hearing the end of Baptism IV as the new men and women you are if you hear us saying that being a new man means we have to, must, had better live before God in righteousness and purity forever. What sort of a means of grace would that be? Baptism would not be much of a miracle if it only obligated me to live better than I do. Then it would be like those contests where you win "free" stuff that costs more to ship than it's worth.
No, Baptism IV says I am to see that in Baptism God sees me before Him as righteous and pure. In Baptism, God doesn't see one spot, one wrinkle, one blemish, one sin. The Devil can accuse all he wants and Death point all it wants, but God sees not one sin. That's what we confess in Part IV, and we prove it by quoting Romans 6:4. In Baptism we live a new life "just as Christ was raised from the dead." Did Jesus rise from the dead worried about sin, Death, or the Devil? No! And as often as you rise from Baptism, you too rise that free, that forgiven, that alive.
The miracles of the world's Christmas don't last past the season. The miracle of Baptism lasts forever. As we sing, "There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!" Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers III (20101215); Baptism IV