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07. Pledge to God from a Good Conscience

Baptism: The Pledge of Allegiance to God from a Good Conscience

Baptism Message No. 7
1 Peter 3:21
Eric H.H. Chang
Montreal, September 20, 1981

 

A great problem for many Christians who have been baptized is that they often don’t really know what they are doing in the spiritual life. I have discovered that in many cases in this church, the problems originated from somewhere else, that is, they were baptized somewhere else without understanding what it is they were doing. Perhaps they thought that bap­tism is a ceremonial rite of initiation into a club or a society. As a result they carry their spiritual problems with them for many years, and I often have to counsel people whose spiritual problems make their “Christian” lives un­happy. The churches today are full of nominal Christians, phony Christians, half Christians, quarter Christians, or whatever they may be. The result is defeat and unhappiness, and that is not what a Christian life is about.

Today I would like to expound something from Scripture so that every­one may be perfectly clear about the spiritual meaning of bap­tism. And I would like to do this under four headings. In none of this will I give you my own opinions, for I would like you to carefully examine what the Word of God really says in order to understand what baptism really means.

1. Baptism: A pledge of allegiance to God from a good conscience

Let us look at 1 Peter 3:21-22, reading from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) even though it does not give a good translation of the verse, as I will explain in a moment:

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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (RSV)

In verse 21, “this” (see underlined) refers to the whole event of the flood in the days of Noah, with particular reference to the ark by which eight people were saved (v.20). In that whole generation only eight survived; the salvation was accom­plished by means of the ark and through faith.

It is important to understand what is being said here. The RSV says that baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” This translation is problematic, but fortunately we do have a good and correct translation in the New International Version (NIV) which says that baptism is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God”. This translation is accurate, as I will briefly explain.

Here the word “appeal” translates the Greek word eperōtēma, for which the full and unabridged Liddell-Scott Greek-English lexicon gives three defin­itions. The first meaning of eperōtēma is a question. The second meaning is an answer to a question, especially an affirm­ative answer to a question, hence having the sense of sanction or approval. The third meaning is equivalent to the Latin stipulatio, which means an obligation, a contract, a commitment, or a pledge. This meaning is also supported by Moulton and Milligan’s The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. I cite these refer­ences for those who are familiar with the technical aspects of the matter.

You will notice that this standard Greek lexicon never defines eperōtēma as “appeal”. An appeal and a question are by no means one and the same thing. In fact they are quite different. But eperōtēma rarely even has the sense of a question. In fact, the word generally means a specific response to a question. From this comes the mean­ing contract, commitment, pledge. Those who would like to study this technically can refer to E.G. Selwyn’s standard commentary on the Greek text of First Peter, which gives a careful discussion on this matter.

I won’t go into the linguistic details. It suffices to say that I have found no linguistic evidence for the meaning given here as “appeal”. Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives “appeal” as a possible definition of eperōtēma, but fails to give any citational evidence for this meaning, contrary to their usual practice. They do not provide any evidence because, as I have said, there is simply no linguistic evidence for such a meaning of eperōtēma.

It means that eperōtēma, as I have said, is correctly tran­slated in the NIV as “pledge”. Baptism is a pledge. It is a commitment to God.

What is more, the genitive in the Greek text is correctly translated as the pledge of a good conscience, not for a good conscience. In other words, baptism is a pledge made to God from a good conscience. And how do we have a good conscience? By repenting of our sins when we genuinely and honestly and sincerely make the pledge with no double-mindedness, no deceitfulness, no fraud, no lie, no untruthfulness. You cannot have a good conscience when you are being untruthful or not wholly truthful. Baptism then is a pledge to God made from a good conscience. At baptism I make my pledge to God with a genuine heart and a right attitude.

The word eperōtēma is particularly interesting because it implies a question and a response. In baptism, you make the pledge in answer to a question. The response amounts to a commitment, a pledge. When a person says “I do” at his baptism, it is a pledge and a commitment in response to the questions posed to them.

It was the practice of the early church to ask the baptismal candidates certain specific questions which they must answer in the affirmative before they can receive baptism. We have noted that eperōtēma is not just an answer but an answer in the affirmative. Hence the reasons for Peter’s use of the word eperōtēma become very clear.

A sacrament

This is the reason that baptism in the church was called—and is still called—a sacrament. In the church we have basically two sacraments: the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of commun­ion, also known as the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. What does a sacrament mean? It comes from the Latin sacramentum. The English sacrament is simply a transliteration of the Latin sacramentum, as can be verified with a Latin dictionary. The basic meaning of a sacrament is an oath, an obligation, a vow. In legal termino­logy, it is a pledge. For example, it may refer to the money deposited by the parties before a legal suit, that is, you make a pledge in the form of the money paid before a legal case.

But this word had a specific meaning. It was used of the military oath of allegiance. Roman armies would make a military oath of allegiance, called a sacra­mentum, to their country and their emperor. They sometimes did this by raising their hands, as also seen today when the president make an oath or when a person makes an oath in a court of law, signifying that he or she is doing this in all truth and honesty, and with a good conscience. They may declare, “I will speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Sometimes it is done with a clenched fist over the heart, again representing a good conscience, a pure heart. At other times it could be done with a drawn sword, as the soldiers commit their swords and their lives to their nation and their emperor. In fact, the Germans made great use of this, for the Nazis required of every German soldier the military oath of allegiance, the sacrament­um. This is often seen in documentaries on the Nazis: soldiers put to attention, raised their arms, and said “ich schwören” to express: “I swear to the country and to the need of the country, to the Führer (leader)”.

Why is baptism called a sacrament? Precisely because of the baptismal pledge, our oath of allegiance to God as our king. We crown Him king of our lives. At baptism, we owe Him our loyalty once and for all. It is a pledge made to God from a good conscience. It is important that the conscience is “good”. You must sever your allegiance to the old life, for how can you serve God while serving the world? How can you serve God and mammon? Your heart would be divided if it was not from a pure heart, a true and good conscience, that you made the oath of allegiance to God at baptism.

I mentioned in passing that the Lord’s Supper is also a sacrament. There was an early Roman military governor who reported to the emperor that upon interrogating certain Christians whom he had arrested, presumably under torture, he got from them that at the communion, they renewed their vows to God to love Him and to live a life of holi­ness; and they renewed their vows to one another, to love one another. So the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, also contains the essence of commitment to God. Every time we take the communion, it is a renewal of our com­mitment. We seem to have forgotten this aspect today, which is why we hardly know that it is called a sacrament.

Baptism saves: Confession by the mouth from a good conscience based on faith

The early church attached great importance to baptism, and we too must grasp its vital importance. Baptism is not something that you can take it or leave it. Many people today think of baptism in this way because they have neither understood the Scriptural teaching on baptism nor understood the early church’s stress on the importance of baptism. Look again at these words of Peter: “Baptism now saves you” (1Pet.3:21). Yes, those are sign­ificant words indeed! That is where the teaching of baptismal regeneration comes from. We are born of water and the Spirit, as we read in John 3:5. Not only the water but also the Spirit, not only the Spirit but also the water, for the pledge, the commitment, was made in the water.

Theologians today are beginning to see the great importance of baptism in Scriptural teaching as well as in the history of the early church. Recently, a friend of mine called Robert Banks, now teaching at a university in Sydney, wrote a book called, The Idea of Community in Paul. And this is what he says in page 82 of that book:

“Paul’s linking of faith with baptism suggests that it was by means of baptism that the individual actually committed himself to God.”

Bank’s statement, that it was by means of baptism that one commits himself to God, is quite accurate and close to the Scriptural teaching. I don’t mean that in citing my friend’s book, I fully agree with everything he says in it. But on this point, he is certainly very much in line with Scripture.

Two important things, not just one, are said by Paul in Romans 10:10, both of which are essential to salvation (and explains why Peter says that baptism saves):

“For a man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” (Romans 10:10)

Two things to note in this verse: he believes with his heart and so is justified, and confesses with his lips and so is saved. When did he make his confess­ion? In the early church, the confession was made at baptism in response to a question placed before him, to which he replied, “I do. I confess Jesus as Lord.” By the mouth he made confession, and through the confession he is saved. There must be faith in the heart, yet there must also be confession. It is important to understand that this is no ordinary confession, but a pledge made at baptism, the military oath of allegiance made to God and Jesus Christ.

Baptism itself does not save, let us be clear about this. There must be the faith and the confession from a good conscience. Conscience is of the heart. You cannot make a confession just with the mouth, for there must also be a good conscience that is based on faith.

The pledge to God is a legally binding vow when confessed at baptism

You may ask, “Well, didn’t I already confess Jesus before baptism?” Indeed you did, but that is not the same as the oath of allegiance. As for the Roman soldier who made his oath of allegiance, did he not already love his emperor and his country before he made the oath? Indeed he did. But it is in making the formal oath that the commitment takes on a legal aspect and becomes a binding vow. He places himself under oath, hence the sacramentum. Up to that point, he loved his emperor and his country, but he hadn’t made any vow or commitment or pledge.

But in baptism, the Christian makes his oath of allegiance to his God and King. I hope you understand this clearly. It’s like the situation of two persons who love each other before marriage, but they have not made a commitment in a legal sense until they declare their marriage vows, their marriage pledges. Of course they loved each other before that, and have some sort of commitment, but that commitment becomes legal only at the wedding.

In the same way, at baptism, your commitment becomes, as it were, legal in God’s sight, established forever in the heavens. You have pledged your oath of allegiance, and have committed yourself wholly to God as your King.

This is the first point I would like to make clear to you, so that you may understand what you are doing at baptism. Anyone who is not clear about this should withdraw from baptism for now.

So the first meaning of baptism is that it is a pledge. It is truly a legally binding pledge, every bit as binding as a marriage, every bit as binding as the military oath of allegiance. A soldier who turns back on his oath of allegiance will understand and accept the penalty that his emperor and his country will impose upon him for breach of loyalty, for being a traitor to his country and his people.

The soldier makes the oath of allegiance voluntarily, and not because he was compelled to. But once he makes the oath, he will stand by it unto death, just as at the wedding, the couple says, “Till death do us part.” This is the first point.

2. Baptism: United with Christ

The second point on the meaning of baptism is that we are united with Christ at baptism:

“We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

We will consider the second part of this verse a little later. The first part says that we were buried with Christ by baptism. Note the words “with Christ”—not just for Christ but “with” Christ. In my past message on the Lord’s statement, “he who is not with me is against me,” I explained that there is a world of difference between those two positions, being “for Christ” versus being “with Christ”.

“For Christ” versus “with Christ”

Many people are “for Christ,” but not many are “with Christ”. Being “for” somebody means to cheer him on. You see your football team on the field and you cheer them on, saying, “Hurray! Come on! You’re going to win!” This can be described as being “for” them. Or you see two boxers in the arena, and you root for one of them: “Come on! Knock him down! Show him what you can do!” You are for him, but you are not with him. If you are with him, you would be in the ring and you wouldn’t have time to open your month to say “Hurray!” You would be ducking punches and running for your life, for if you are with him, you will be right there in the ring with him, fighting together with him. When two teams compete in a stadium, the crowds are shouting for this party or that party, cheering for their heroes. But of course they are safe and secure in the stands, where no one can tackle them or knock them out.

Today lots of people are for Christ. What about you? Where do you stand in relation to Christ? Are you for him, or with him? Do you merely say, “Christ is good. We need Christianity! It’s good to have some religion because the world is getting corrupt. We need a little morality, but it is not for me. A bit of religion is good for you, but don’t get me into this!”

Many people send their children to Sunday school, to instill some good and clean thinking into their brains: “Religion is very good for the children.” But when asked, “Why don’t you come to church?” they would say, “Oh, no! Just my children.”

Our church in Liverpool had a bus, and we went around picking up children. The parents didn’t come to church, but they were happy to send the children to church. Maybe your parents also sent you to Sunday school. Yes, they are all for it. Christianity is good. And what about them­selves? No, it’s good for others, not for them. That is to be “for” Christ.

But to be “with” Christ is to be with him on the battlefield, not just cheering him on, but standing beside him, fighting for victory with him and getting injured along the way. Spectators, on the other hand, are unlikely to get hurt except by accident, as when a baseball flies up to the stands and lands on someone who is munching his sandwich. That is an accident that injures a spectator who is not actually on the field.

But Romans 6:5 speaks of something that is done “with” Christ: we are “buried with him” through our pledge and commitment. At bap­tism, we have stopped being spectators who cheer Jesus on, and are now united with him—and ultimately with God. We have identified ourselves with him publicly.

To die with Christ and be buried with him

Your friends may snicker at you: “What happened to you? You’re turning religious? Is your conscience bothering you? Why don’t you see a psycholo­gist? Maybe he can put you right. But instead of seeing a psychologist, you’re getting all religious!” When you face the snickering, you feel bad and your faith weakens. You might be a casualty. If you were merely cheering Christ on, nobody would bat an eye. But now that you have taken your stand with Christ, to die with him and to be buried with him, the situation has changed. You become the object of scorn, or at least puzzlement.

I was a worldly guy in my time. Many of my friends were also worldly, and spent a lot of their time on the dance floor with pretty girls. So when I became a Christian, they scratched their heads, thinking: “What hap­pened to him? How come he left us? Why has he become a Christian?” None of them actually laughed at me. I think they were more shocked than amused that I had become a Christian. They were puzzled, and would give me a strange look, trying to figure out what had happened to me.

My friends could not imagine seeing me inside a church. They could not imagine that this guy, Eric Chang, could be a Christian. It is the opposite today: You can imagine me in church, but it may be hard for you to imagine what a worldly fellow I was. You see me as a pastor, as a “religious” man, though I don’t wear—and don’t like to wear—a black gown or a religious collar or any ceremonial apparel. I have never converted to religion.

I remember a long conversation I had with a close friend of mine. This handsome fellow, very popular with the girls, said to me, “What happened to you? Why did you become a Christian?” He was slumped on the sofa, with his legs bent, trying to figure out why I had become a Christian. He was deep in thought as he tried to figure it out. He fired questions at me which I didn’t know how to answer because I had only just be­come a Christian. He kept saying, “Why did you become a Christian? I don’t understand this!”

Well, two or three months later, he himself became a Christian! I guess he finally figured it out. This time it was his turn to be quest­ioned by his friends: “What happened to you?” At first he was not “for Christ” but he gradually became “for Christ” very slowly and gingerly. Then the big day came when he took his stand to be “with Christ”. What a great joy it was for this dear friend of mine, whom I love very much, to take his stand with Christ!

It is in being buried with Christ at baptism that we take the first step of becom­ing united with him. Romans 6:5 makes this point clear:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The whole of Romans chapter 6 is about baptism. The only way you can be united with Christ in resurrection to a new life is to be united with him in his death. Paul makes this point very plain. In this verse, the phrase “united with him” occurs twice. It is with him, not just for him. In all of this, our part is to die with him of our own free choice. No one will compel us to do this. I didn’t become a Christian because I was afraid to die. For some reason, I was never afraid to die. Fear of death is never part of my makeup. I don’t know why some people are terribly afraid of death. Nobody can frighten me into the kingdom with God by talk of death or ghosts. I have never been afraid of ghosts or death. Rather, I had come to know the truth, and out of my own free choice made my commitment to the truth, in order to be freed from the slavery of sin. Then God on His part raises us up by His power, by His grace, to the new life in Christ.

United with Christ: God’s resurrection life in you!

I would like to stress one more point about being united with Christ. Only when you are united “with” Christ—and not merely cheering him on, doing this “for” him—does God’s life in Christ begin to flow into you. If you know what this means from experience, you would know what John 15:4 means (“Abide in me and I in you”). God’s life in Christ will flow into you, and you will bear much fruit.

 You can read these the words but without experiencing them. Have you truly experienced God’s life in Christ flowing into you, perhaps gently and quietly? It transforms you surely and powerfully, and even transforms others through you. When I was talking with my worldly friend whom I just mentioned, I did not know the Bible or any theology, yet my stumbling words spoke to him. Something in this new life flowed through me and reached out to him. And this worldly man who had spent much time on the dance floor with pretty girls was transformed. Somehow God’s life in Christ flowed through me to him. I don’t understand how my answers touched him, because I didn’t even know how to answer his questions. I didn’t know enough about the Christian life, but all that mattered was that God’s life was flowing through me. And not only him but also several of my friends were transformed, one by one.

Another dear friend of mine was willing to forgo a university career under the Communists. He became a Christian and was denied entrance to university. He was willing to accept that cost because he had experienced something even more valuable. Such was the power of the new life in him. That new life, coming from God’s Holy Spirit who dwells in us, is something very beautiful.

The Bible says that God gives us the Holy Spirit as an earnest, as a pledge, as a first down payment. When we make our pledge to God in baptism, God will also makes His pledge to us by giving us His life and His Holy Spirit. That is not something that you philosophize about, but something that you experience. It is not a question of philosophy but of the reality of life. If I don’t experience this new life, I am only talking philosophy. I don’t want to talk philosophy, for I have no interest in it.

Some Christians are even willing to lay down their lives for God. Has it ever puzzled you that they do this joyfully, as Christ did? One of the early martyrs, Poly­carp, who was beyond the age of 90, was able to say, “I cannot deny Him. I have known Him and experienced Him in all these 80 years, so I cannot deny Him.” The Roman govern­or tried to get him to deny God so that he could spare this old man, but Polycarp said, “Get on with the execution! There is no way I can deny God!”

You cannot die for a philosophy. It is not easy to die for a philosophy. But the true Christian has conviction because of the reality of the new life. In baptism you have pledged yourself to God, and God pledges Himself to you in giving you the Holy Spirit. This is the beauty of God’s way.

3. Baptism: Incorporated into the body of Christ by the Spirit

We have seen that baptism is a pledge, a committing of ourselves to God. In baptism we are united with Christ. Let us now look at the third important point, that in baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ.

As I have said, the church is not a religious club or society whose mem­bership is obtained by a fancy rite called baptism. You can join a church and get church membership, but that does not make you a member of the body of Christ. Many church members today are not members of the body of Christ and are not Christians in the Biblical sense.

You see, the body of Christ is a spiritual reality, not an organizat­ion. It is not a human society but a spiritual reality. The only way you can be a member of the body of Christ is through the work of the Holy Spirit in your life:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor.12:13)

We Christians “were all baptized into one body”. Notice carefully that it does not speak of being baptized into the Holy Spirit. It is not talking about baptism in the Spirit, with the Spirit symbolized by the water of our baptism. Here the Spirit is not passive but active. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. This is very important to grasp.

I won’t spend too much time in the technical and exegetical details, but suffice it to say that it is rather unusual of Paul to use the word “baptized” here. If he only meant to say that we were placed into the body of Christ, the word “baptized” does not, in itself, bring out that action, for it simply means to dip or to immerse. And generally, if Paul simply wanted to say that the Holy Spirit placed us into the body of Christ, he could have used the Greek word for “place” or “put,” or he could have said that we were “grafted” into the body of Christ. But he uses the word “baptized,” which is rather curious because this word generally means to place something into a liquid. If you would like to study the technical details, see the book by T.C. Conant called The Meaning and Use of Baptizein. Baptizein is the Greek word from which the English “baptize” comes, and it gener­ally means placing something into a liquid, not a solid. Hence it is rather curious that Paul uses baptizein to express that something or someone is being placed into a body.

Sometimes the word baptizein is used figuratively of a plunging of a sword into a body, with the idea that the sword is being plunged into the blood of the victim. This cannot be the meaning that Paul has in mind. He cannot be talking about plunging a sword into the church or into the body of Christ. It does not fit the context here, as it would be destructive rather than constructive to the body. Sometimes baptizein expresses being over­whelmed by problems such as a flood, but this meaning does not apply here.

The only remaining reason for Paul to use the word “baptized” is to make an allusion to baptism: as we are placed into the water of baptism, analogously the Holy Spirit places us, baptizes us, into the body through this act, with commitment on our part and God’s power on His part. As a result, not only we are baptized through water but we are also baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.

At what point do we become members of the body of Christ, the spiritual entity of the church? At what point does the Holy Spirit put us so that we become members of the body of Christ, the church of the New Testament? Paul indicates that it is at baptism, when we make our pledge to God from a good conscience.

4. Baptism: Death to the old life, and entering the resurrection life

We come to our fourth and last point: Already early in the New Testament, baptism symbolizes death. In fact it often represents martyrdom, not simply death. We find this already in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. For example, in Mark 10:38-39 and Luke 12:50, he says, “I have a baptism with which I am baptized.” In speaking of the bap­tism he must undergo, he is referring to the death he must die. So, already early in his ministry, Jesus is using the word “baptism” to represent death.

Why this stress on death? What is important about death? Death is not a nice subject, so why do we talk about it? The reason is simple, as we see from a well-known verse:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2Cor.5:17)

Why the stress on death? It is because if the old does not pass away, the new cannot come. This is precisely the problem with many Christians. The old has not passed away, so the new cannot come. Therefore they cannot exper­ience what Romans chapter 6 is talking about because the old is still in their lives. They entered into baptism, but not with a good conscience, or perhaps because they were not properly taught about what is involved.

I would like this point to be clear in your minds. I beg of you to under­stand, especially if you are a Christian, that if the old is still around in your life, if you are still holding on to your old sins, to your old mentality, and to your old way of thinking, the new cannot come.

What does it mean to die?

If I held on to my old thinking when I became a Christian, I could never have experienced the fullness of the Christian life. If I still held on to my former military ambitions, with the thought of making myself great in the world, leading my own army, and looking out for “number one,” I could not have become a true Christian. I had to renounce this old way of life and all my selfish ambitions. Ambitions are not necessarily wrong in themselves, but we need to watch out for selfish ambitions. There are spiritual ambitions and there are selfish ambitions, and mine were certainly selfish. If I had held on to that old way of life, I could never have become a true Christian.

I wrestled over this for over two months. Such bitter wrest­ling! I wanted to hang on to my ambitions because they meant so much to me. For years I lived in those ambitions, disciplining myself and getting up early in the morning for physical training. I was very muscular in those days. But look at my bony condition now, with only ribs to show, whereas I used to have a Bullworker for building up muscles which were bulging everywhere!

I took particular delight in shaking hands with big, strong men, and then watching their faces. I would take a guy’s hand and squeeze it hard. His pride prevents him from showing it, but you could see his facial muscles twisting.

Every day I worked at martial arts with my Japanese teacher, and would go through disciplined training early in the morning. I studied hard to train the mind, working at mathematics which was my best subject. The only thing I was really good at was mathematics. I loved it because I took it as a mental disci­pline. My whole life was geared to my ambition. I didn’t just dream about it, I constantly worked at it. I was systematic and disciplined. For years I lived for my dream and military ambition. I cultivated my think­ing, even deliberately removing any fear of death from it.

But when I came to God, all these selfish ambitions had to go. What a struggle it was! Today I am amazed that people can come to God so easily! I fought and struggled and wrestled and kicked. But finally, I had to give in to God, saying, “Okay, I know I cannot have two conflicting lives, or be wishy washy. I cannot be a true Christian if I bring this kind of mentality into the Christ­ian life.” Please understand that God’s new life cannot come unless the old life passes away.

Now your problem might not be the same as my problem. You might not think of worldly grandeur in the same way. Maybe your problem is the love of money. I myself was not particularly interested in money. I don’t think any true soldier is interested in money. If anyone is interested in money, he cannot be much of a soldier. A true soldier is committed to his military ambitions, so money doesn’t interest him. But many Christians are absorbed with money. Unless you forsake this mentality, you cannot be a true Christ­ian. Jesus plainly says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt.6:24). Many Christians are trying to do this very thing, and justifying it under a spiritual cloak, but you will only deceive yourself in the end.

So why this stress on death? Why does baptism signify death? Why is this death so important? Simply because unless the old passes away, you will never fully experience the resurrection life. That is the root of the matter. In Romans 6:7, Paul says,

“For he who has died is freed from sin.”

Understand this very clearly. Maybe at baptism you are afraid to die. I must say that death is one thing that never scared me. I feel that if I have to die, then so be it. Even on the spiritual level, if death is the way to finish with the old life, so be it. The reason many Christians are not fully com­mitted is that they don’t really want to let go of the old life. The Scriptures speak of total commitment because without it, death cannot take place.

In China, when many of us became Christians, we had this as our motto: “Loyal to God unto death”. That is total commitment. When every Roman soldier made the military oath of allegiance, he not only pledged allegi­ance to the emperor, he understood that the oath as loyalty unto death. In the same way, every Christian must understand that the pledge of alleg­iance at baptism is the pledge of loyalty to God unto death, of faithfulness to God to the end, following the steps of Christ. Death is always total. You cannot be half dead. If you are half dead, you haven’t really died. Maybe because many Christians are half dead, they are only half alive.

That kind of Christian life is not worth living. Do you enjoy being half dead? Have you seen someone half dead and half alive? He is lying there, moaning and too weak to move. He doesn’t know where he is. Is this kind of life the Christian life? Those who are half dead are living in the most wretched state!

I say to you that if you want to die only half way, just go be a non-Christian and soak in whatever the world has to give you. There is no point being a half dead Christian. It is a wretched state to be in. Just go out in the world, soak yourself in sin to the hilt, die with it, and accept hell for all eternity. Don’t linger in “half way”. Don’t drag your feet into the church. We don’t need that in the church and neither do you.

I have pleaded time and again that if this is the way you’re going to end up, the only sensible thing is not to be a Christian at all. What is the point of being neither here nor there, struggling to live a Christian life and falling down. Then you will wonder to yourself, “Where is the victory? How come the old life is still there? I thought I was going to experience freedom. But what do I get? Constant defeat.” You might as well go to the dance hall and dance your feet off. Enjoy yourself. If you like to drink, drink yourself into the ground. At least you enjoy yourself to the hilt. Live it up! Eat and drink because you are going to die tomorrow!

What kind of a Christian are you? If you are neither here nor there, if you are a Christian with a sour face, if you find the Christian life so hard that you complain to yourself, “How did I get myself into this?,” then forget it! Go into the world, and enjoy yourself in your remaining time on earth. Then take the consequences forever.

Or else die! Die to your old way of life. Die to the love of the world once and for all! Finish with this whole business and enjoy the Christian life! Do many Christians enjoy the Christian life? I look around at Christians, and I wonder sometimes. But in fact the Christian life is worth enjoying! Yes, it is tough, as tough as a soldier’s life. A soldier goes to battle, and he gets wounds and scars, but there is the glory. Why do soldiers voluntarily enlist in the army? To get killed? No, they do this for a cause they cherish, and for a king they love.

Roman soldiers refuse to surrender even when they are surrounded, outnum­bered, wounded, and bleeding. They stand by their alle­giance. They stand to the last man. No surrendering! They are still triumphant and still rejoicing even unto to death. That’s wonderful! Do you understand the joy of the Christian life? These Roman soldiers don’t even have God with them. They are fighting for an ideal. Some Communist soldiers have charged into machine gun fire, running straight into a spray of bullets. They plead with their unit commander, “Please give me the privilege to go!”

And we say to them, “What’s the matter with you? Are you crazy?” No, it is because they have a vision for which they are willing to live and die. But we Christians have more than a vision. If the Communists are prepared to die for a vision, what about us? I was prepared to die for a military vision, an ideal. Now I begin to realize my foolishness, after discovering the reality: Now I have God and Christ, not just a vision or an ideal. Now I’ve got the reality of a new life from God to live for and, if God so permits, to die for.

Baptism: A commitment to die to the old way of life

What does baptism mean? Baptism is a commitment to die to the old way of life, so that we may enjoy freedom from sin, and have the power to serve God fully and effectively. Enjoy the Christian life! If you can’t enjoy the Christian life, what is the point of being a Christian? Do we like to torture ourselves? Maybe some people like to sleep on a bed of nails, but not me! I don’t particularly care to sleep on a bed of nails. If I see that something is the truth, I will go all the way! If it is not the truth, forget it! I will go to the dance hall and out-dance everybody else. I also know how to dance. Or we can go the opposite way, and say once and for all, “I am finished with this old way of life. God, let this new life come into me!”

Summary

Let us summarize. Only he who has wholly died can be wholly resurrected. By definition, you cannot be resurrected unless you are dead. You cannot be resurrected if you are half-dead. It is only when you die that you can be resurrected. It is only when you “put off the body of flesh” in baptism (Col. 2:11-12) that you will be born of the Spirit.

Putting off the body of flesh means that your thinking is no longer dominated by the flesh, but by God, and you are living wholly for Him. Only when you are determined to put off the body of flesh will you be born of the Spirit. Only when you are faithful unto death will you receive the crown of life (Rev.2:10).

In summary, what does baptism mean? First, baptism is a pledge—made from a good conscience—of allegiance to God our Lord and King. Secondly, we are united with Christ through baptism. Thirdly, we are in­corporated into the body of Christ through baptism. Fourthly, baptism involves death. At baptism, we die to our old life. Death through baptism is the only way for us to enter into the God-given resurrection life like that of Christ.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church