Week of May 26

New Leaf or New Life?

Read: 1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9; Romans 6

“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.”
Romans 6:4, ESV


Does your baptism reflect turning over a new leaf or the effects of receiving a new life? Christ’s baptism symbolizes for us a radical change in our lives, so much so that it has been characterized as “new life.” The implications of this life change are to affect all that we say and do. Pack this thought away in your heart today as we examine more carefully the critical importance of living a “baptized life.”

The Meaning of the Text

Moral tension between grace and sin
Paul addresses the ages-old moral tension between sin and grace (5:20). He wrote that where there is an increase in sin, there is an even greater increase in grace. This perspective obviously begs the question, “Why not sin all the more so that grace may abound?!” We do not frame this question in quite the same way today. We likely say, “I’ve got fire insurance (salvation from hell), so why not live the way I choose?” Both questions are derived from an antinomian (anti-law) error in understanding what justification by faith really means. The view provides advocates with an excuse for living in whatever way they choose. I am not going to rain all over this attitude. I intend simply for us to baptize it!
Where is the motivation not to abuse grace?
The proper use of our freedom in Christ. Jews may have wondered how on earth salvation by grace could ever encourage moral responsibility (NAC). We probably feel the same way when we see the behavior of some Christians. Let me put my ethics hat on for a moment. We may believe that as Christians we are “free” (autonomy) to do as we please, but this shows that we have not framed our moral viewpoint with proper Christian maturity.
We actually have been transferred from sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ and made entirely new by the cleansing of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3, 5-6; “unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God”). Sin means folks are spiritually dead. Listen, there should be nothing dead about someone who is alive. Let me cut straight to the chase: We are to use our newfound freedom properly by choosing a way of life that leaves sin behind (Galatians 5:16; “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”). This attitude toward sin reflects new life, not simply turning over a new leaf.
The Holy Spirit’s role in shaping our will. Christ died for sins, so our baptism should symbolize our death to sin. Does this mean that Christians are perfect and never sin? No, it does not. However, it does mean that we strive with the Spirit’s aid no longer “to obey sin’s cravings and submit to its will.” The imagery of baptism demonstrates the spiritual reality. When we are buried with Christ in baptism, it symbolizes the reality of death. It points to Christ’s literal death and burial and testifies to its effects in our own lives.

The Message for Your Heart

“When will Brother Larry wash my hair?” This statement came from a sincere youngster who had questions about baptism. She thought that I, her pastor, was helping people to wash their hair during baptism. I scheduled a time to take the young girl to the baptistry at the church and explained what took place there and what it meant to those who are baptized. I liked her question. Baptism is a symbolic washing. There is a spiritual “washing,” that encompasses the entirety of our lives. Has the Spirit washed us?
Friends, baptism is serious business! It tells the world that Jesus died for our sins and that we are dead to our former ways of life (1 Peter 1:14-15, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”). Glory be to God because baptism also signifies that we have been raised into new life! Apart from Christ we may turn over new leaves, but we will never have new lives (Ephesians 2:1). The ethics of the cross mean that our conduct changes because we are changed from the inside out. He is the literal spiritual life that we now enjoy (John 10:10). Since we are alive in Christ, we decide overwhelmingly to live the baptism lifestyle.

For Thought and Action

1. Do you recall the circumstances that surrounded your baptism? Take time to write down what you remember about it, then re-read Romans 1:1-4. Thank God for your new life in Christ.
2. What areas of the old life still cause you difficulty? I suggest seeing them as elements of your life that belong on the other side of the grave where Christ was laid following the crucifixion. Take them there and leave them. Take up the type of behavior that is a walking baptism testimony.
3. For Families: Parents, to our children, the ordinance of baptism is often a curiosity, sometimes provokes anxiety, and is even at times scary to younger ones. There are eight and nine-years olds I know who take baptism very seriously as well. A young man came recently to ask what month of the year Jesus was baptized. He wanted to do the same. Children need to know the truth of this teaching, and today’s passage and devotional explain the meaning of baptism well.

You might think about scheduling a time with your pastor or children’s minister soon to allow your child access to the baptistry. A visit in the home or office before the tour could help to allay fears, and also generate questions. Then, while at the baptistry itself, a step-by-step explanation of what happens, and what it means, can make all the difference in how your child views this sacred act of obedience.

Ask your children if they would like to have a visit like this, and make it a special day. Afterwards, your children will be more likely to open up and talk with you about their spiritual questions and concerns as they look forward to their own conversion and baptism.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock