Burial of your old self

new age with redemption

Paul told the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). He told the Romans that where sin increases, so does God’s grace. But he was sure to tell them that we shouldn’t sin more so we receive more grace: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV).

When we are baptized, we are 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” (vs. 4). Paul says that if we were united in death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (vs 5). Paul tells us that our baptism brings our old self to death and we are raised a new person. This is a work of God. When our old self dies and our new self rises out of the water, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (vs. 11).

Peter agrees. He uses the death/life language and links it directly to the waters of baptism. Peter says that through Christ’s death and resurrection he was “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). He immediately shifts to the flood waters where Noah and his family were brought safely through the water. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ” (vs 21).

What Peter says makes perfect sense because, like Noah, there is death under the water. At the same time God saves us by carrying us through the water. Christ is the vessel who carries us safely through the water as we become united with him.

Three baptisms in the New Testament

celebration of baptism of adult

In order to fully understand baptism in the New Testament, we have to begin with John’s baptism. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, calling people to repentance and baptizing them: “Then in Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6 ESV). We know that it was a baptism of repentance when Paul asked a group of new converts in Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. When Paul asked what they were baptized into, they replied, “John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 19:4). After hearing this, the new converts were re-baptized and then received the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, having no sin, was baptized by John. If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, why was Jesus baptized? When John questioned why Jesus felt the need to be baptized by him, he replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Unlike John’s other baptisms, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus immediately after his baptism (vs. 16). John prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing for repentance but Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized.

But after Jesus died and was raised, the Christian baptism now took effect. Hebrews 9:17 gives us a clue into why John’s baptism shifted after Jesus died: “For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.” We see the change in language immediately after Jesus died and was raised when Peter explained, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In order for Christ’s will to go into effect he had to both die and be raised: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Hebrews tells us that under the old covenant blood had to be shed over and over again. But when Christ died his blood covers believers completely through Christian baptism.

To Follow Jesus Into the Water

gonyuk canyon in turkey

The end of John’s gospel has a dialogue between Jesus and Peter where Jesus predicts Peter’s death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God). And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” (John 21:18, 19 ESV).

As divine fate would have it, tradition says that Peter was fleeing Rome due to the severe persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero. Peter saw the risen Jesus and pater asked, “Where are you going?” To which Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter courageously turned around and followed Jesus into the city where Peter was captured and crucified upside down. It’s a grim picture but also a very real call that Jesus gave his disciples. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Following Jesus is not supposed to be whenever it suits us. Jesus is clear about this when he said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Jesus calls us to follow him everywhere and all the way! This means we follow him into the waters of baptism. It means we follow him in the way we live our lives. And it means we follow him in his suffering and resurrection. Christians cannot write off baptism as no big deal any more than they can write off suffering as something that’s not necessary. Christ commands his disciples to follow him no matter what.

I Can Do All Things

man wearing black long sleeved shirt standing on mountain

Paul continued his encouragement to the Philippian church in his letter and mentioned God’s provision for them. He repeatedly thanked them for having concern for him. Paul said he was not in need (even though he was in prison) because “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11 ESV). Paul knows how to be brought low and how to abound (vs. 12).

He continues: “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (vs. 12, 13). Paul is clear that, in light of his determination to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, he is willing to endure any kind of trial that comes his way.

This is a very mature way to look at life. Often we feel jaded or ripped off because life keeps giving us lemons. When things go wrong repeatedly, we not only feel caught in a cycle, but we feel that the world is against us. It feels like a personal attack from God himself. But Paul didn’t view it this way. Instead, he rejoiced in any scenario that came his way. If it was plenty, he was joyful. If it was suffering, he was content. Paul was willing to take whatever life threw his way because he learned that through Christ, all things are possible!

Be Reasonable

not guilty and a gavel

When Paul continued his letter to the Philippian church, he gave a final exhortation and encouragement. The previous conversation was about straining toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul was “hunting down” this goal and intentionally forgot everything else along the way in his life. Paul was laser focused on the goal of salvation and longed to join Christ in both his suffering and resurrection.

In his final exhortation, he urged Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Whatever spat they were having was clearly a distraction for their goal. He urged the saints in Philippi to “help these women” who labored beside Paul and “whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3 ESV). Then he says something profound: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (vs. 4, 5). Paul drives his point home to imitate his example, to fix their eyes on people those who walk according to the example they had in Paul and his companions, and now he urges them to let their reasonableness be known to everyone.

The word for reasonableness is important. It means to be gentle, fair, or reasonable by way of relaxing overly strict standards in order to keep the spirit of the law. It’s going “beyond justice” by keeping in step with the spirit of the law. Put another way, don’t be uptight. We want to be known for keeping the spirit of the law, and that means exercising mercy and not being legalistic. And Paul wants them to actually have a well known reputation for being reasonable people!

Imitating Others

people walking on snow field grayscale photography

Our theme this year is straining toward the goal. The goal is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul wrote the Philippian church from prison to tell them to keep their focus on the prize of eternal life. Paul himself was straining forward and was “hunting down” the goal for the prize. This was anything but a passive living out of his faith. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Paul was very actively and strenuously working toward the goal to win the prize.

But he doesn’t just ask people to do likewise. He takes it a step farther and invites them to imitate him: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17 ESV). He is not being arrogant here. In fact, he reminds the saints, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (vs. 20, 21).

This is why we shouldn’t focus on earthly things. Those things are temporary and eternal life is forever. It’s far more valuable than anything we can possess on this earth. Paul was a man of his word and wouldn’t ask the saints to do something he was not willing to do himself.

Straining Toward the Goal

woman holding exercise ropes

Philippians was one of Paul’s prison letters and was the last known letter of Paul’s before he died. We’re not positive that Paul died by persecution but there is a good chance that he did while imprisoned in Rome. Paul’s intensity in this letter indicates that he may have had an idea that his end was near. That context makes our theme verse for this year all the more important. If Paul really knew that he was about to die, the intensity of his following statement seems especially appropriate.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14 ESV). The word that Paul uses for forgetting means to neglect something. In a very real sense, he is intentionally neglecting the past in order to “pursue” the future. Paul is straining toward (stretching, exerting himself) to what lies ahead. He presses on (pursues or hunts down) toward the goal.

As we begin a new year with a new theme, we Christians should really straining toward the same goal. If we are complacent we are comfortable. If we are comfortable we are not setting other goals to keep us focused on the goal. Nobody can do it for us. We each have to take ownership in our faith and how we are going to put that into action. Let this be a year of straining toward the goal of our upward call.