When we daily remember our baptism, we are remembering a powerful act of God, which cannot be captured in a video recording. When we recall how God has transformed our lives through baptism, a sense of gratitude spontaneously wells up within us. Gratitude is one of the greatest virtues in shaping our new life with Christ. Martin Luther referred to gratitude as, the basic Christian attitude and the very heart of the gospel. There is a large body of research to indicate that grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed-out, and more satisfied with life.
What is your experience with an attitude of gratitude?
The blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid human nature considers them, it may doubt whether they could all be true. No greater jewel can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we obtain perfect holiness and salvation. Baptism is so full of comfort and grace that heaven and earth cannot contain it. -Martin Luther
Paul’s teaching in the sixth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome explains what happens when we are baptized. Through baptism we are filled with the supernatural, spiritual power, of both Christ’s death and his resurrection. In other words, with the power of Christ’s death within us, we have his own power over sin, death, and the devil (Luther). With Christ’s power of resurrection within us, we have his own power to be loving, forgiving, and trusting in eternal life. We don’t always feel, act, or look like someone with Christ’s own power. Nevertheless, Christ’s own Spirit is fully alive within us through our baptism. That is the greatest miracle of our salvation!
What may we expect from Christ’s own Spirit living within us?
Even though the act of baptism is a once-and-for-all paramount act of God, it takes a lifetime to move to greater completion. When we were baptized, a lifelong process of transformation was set into motion to move us away from our sinful identity, toward a new life with God. It is primarily through the daily remembering of our baptismal adoption that this transformation occurs within us. Daily remembering our baptism should permeate all of the activities that are accompanied with the sign of the cross.When we remember the baptismal covenant God has made with us, we allow Christ to freely live within us. Through Christ’s death and resurrection,God sets into motion a daily process to transform us so that we will become the children he intends us to be. This transformation is made possible because at the moment of our baptism Christ begins living within us, making our bodies his temple. Although Christ lives within us through Baptism, he never forces his presence upon us. And yet, when we acknowledge Christ, through a process of remembering our baptism, it is then that his life truly becomes our life. When Christ lives within us the two most important aspects of Christ’s life become a part of our daily lives: his death and his resurrection. By his death, Christ brings death to our self-centered, sinful ways of living. Through our baptism, we are given Christ’s own capacity to bring death to the most destructive and evil force within us: our own self-centeredness, our own rebellion against God. The power of Christ’s death that we receive in baptism is the power that breaks the sin we inherited from our first parents. Christ’s death, at work within us, brings death to our inner connection to sin, death, and the devil’s evil ways. Through the power of his resurrection, Christ brings a new way to live in our relationship with God and with others. Through our daily remembering, our sinful ways are drowned and our new life with Christ is raised up just as it was on the day of our baptism, and just as it will be at the end of all time. Through our baptism, we are given Christ’s own capacity to bring about a new way to live and relate to God and to one another. The power of Christ’s resurrection, which we received in baptism, is the power to bring about love and forgiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others.
How is Christ’s death and resurrection at work within you?
Would you know who is the greatest of the saints? It is not he who studies the Scriptures and prays the most; it is not he who tries to be loving and kind to all; it is not he who has even temperance; it is also not he who fights for justice and sacrifices his life for a cause; it is not he who is the most faithful in worship; it is not he who humbles himself through confession; but, it is he who is always grateful to God and who receives everything in life as an instance of God's goodness. William Law (1686-1761)
Baptism is not a one time event, but the beginning of a special lifelong relationship with God. No one would ever expect a newborn to physically remain a baby. Likewise, God does not expect the baptized to spiritually remain the same. Our baptism is not an isolated event, but a lifetime of renewals and rememberings that strengthen our relationship with God. God promises each of us, at the font, that he will be with us every day until we reach our heavenly home. God, therefore, expects that every day we would turn away from our relationship to our old nature in order to turn toward our new nature with Christ. Daily, the Holy Spirit within us is stirred up in order to renew our relationship with Christ. It is the daily work of the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to respond to God’s gift of Christ within our souls. Day after day, we can grow in recognizing God at work within our daily lives. As we daily remember our baptism we grow in our ability to recognize the Spirit at work with our lives. Some days, the Spirit’s work in our lives is obvious and meaningful; some days it is not. Nevertheless, the work of the Holy Spirit that began in our baptism remains a powerful presence in our lives. As the Spirit conforms our faith to Christ, we are able to participate in Christ’s mission of redemption to make all things new. In his Small Catechism, Luther describes what baptism means for daily living: It means that our old sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever. When we invite the Holy Spirit to drown our old nature of sin, with all its evil deeds and desires, we are saying, I can’t save myself, I need your help! We never get too old or too righteous to not depend upon the Spirit’s help to die to self and rise to a new life with Christ. Baptism is a once-and-for-all act of God, which takes one’s whole life to finish.
In the sixth chapter of the book of Romans, St. Paul describes baptism as a process of death and rebirth: Baptism into the life of Jesus means that when we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-filled world. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve now been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God. So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom! (Rom 6:2-18).
What do you think about Paul’s description of your Baptism?
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The request of "Greeks" (non-Jews) to see Jesus signals that his hour has come, the time of the inevitable confrontation with the religious authorities. Testimony has been offered, and the hour of judgment has arrived. Jesus will be condemned--but in rejecting him, the world and the "ruler of this world" will be judged. There can no longer be illusions about human life. In bondage to sin, people have no alternative but to hang Jesus from the cross. Paradoxically, Jesus refers to this as the time of his "glorification." His death on the cross will mean his "lifting up" to draw all to himself. Jesus will not be spared the pain and humiliation of death on the cross, but we are invited to fix our attention not on the broken figure, but on the effects of that death: it will mean life for the world. The depth of Christ’s suffering is what Luther called the "theology of the cross." The theology of the cross is Luther's great contribution. Others also spoke of salvation by grace and justification by faith. But he, in a very special way, recovered the scriptural emphasis on Christ's suffering. The Scriptures are full of the theology of the cross, especially Mark, John, Peter, and Paul. Paul strikes the keynote when he speaks of the foolishness of the cross over and against the wisdom of the world in 1 Corinthians 1. The theology of the cross is not a single doctrine or a single chapter in a book. It is like an undercurrent which affects all our thinking. It is an emphasis which colors all our theology, liberating us from false assumptions. Especially in a day when we are saturated with the idea of success, we need this emphasis again. But it is very difficult because it is opposed to all of our "natural" ways of thinking.