Wednesday Trinity 23 – Colossians 2:6-19

Wednesday Trinity 23 – Colossians 2:6-19 November 5, 2013

Colossians 2:6-19

“God is absolutely sovereign, and man is accountable before Him.”

This is such a major theme of the Bible that it appears in just about every nook and cranny of God’s revelation.  It’s an important truth to keep in mind as we look at baptism this morning.

Baptism is, first of all, the work and initiative of God.  It is a sign and seal of the good work He has done in us, and not primarily a sign of our belief.  It is, in fact, the Christian rite of initiation into the Body of Christ and union with Christ, just like circumcision in the Old Covenant.

Paul says in verse 11 that we were circumcised with the circumcision not made with hands, by the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism.  In the Old Covenant, circumcision was the means of entrance into a covenant with God through participation in Israel.  If someone wanted to be counted part of Israel, God’s Elect Lady, he needed to be circumcised.  So important was this initiation into God’s covenant with Israel that when holy Moses forgot to circumcise his own son, God hunted him down and was about to execute him, until his wife had the wisdom to figure out that Moses should keep the Law God had given him.  If someone wanted to become an Israelite and obtain all the blessings of being in a covenantal relationship with God through Israel, he had to be circumcised.

Circumcision was normally performed on baby boys when they were eight days old, and so obviously circumcision was a sign of what God was doing in the life of the child, and not a sign of what the child had done.  In the New Covenant, circumcision is replaced by baptism, only now God has expanded the range of recipients to include females as well.  But baptism is still a sign of what God has done to and for us, and not what we have done (except in a secondary way), for salvation is all of grace and not of the work of man.

Baptism is also a Sacrament, and one that was ordained by Jesus Christ Himself.  Remembering that a Sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us.”  Grace, being the free gift of God, can’t be caused by our faith, or else we would have to initiate the relationship with God even before He has called us.  Grace precedes faith.  God is always the origin of a relationship with Him, and so it makes sense that God can begin a relationship even with those who are young.

Baptism, therefore, brings us into a covenantal union with God by being united to Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.

I know that some of you will have different beliefs about baptism and the grace that God gives in it.  My point is not to argue for a position but to help us wonder at the grace of God and to learn what our response is to be to this grace.

When I say, therefore, that baptism brings us into God’s covenant and makes us an heir of His blessings, I know there will be some objections.  I think what most people want to make sure of, when discussing the fact that God truly gives grace in baptism and truly initiates a relationship with man, is that I am not saying that baptism by itself saves a person.  Baptism, by itself never saved anyone.  Being united to Jesus Christ does.

But can God use baptism to initiate a covenantal relationship with Him?  Of course!  He did it in the Old Covenant – why would it be impossible or unthinkable in the New, where the grace of God is even greater?

So God is absolutely sovereign, and He is always the one who first loves us and begins the new life in us.  But if it’s true that in baptism we are buried with Christ and die to ourselves and are raised with Christ to new life, this new life in Christ must be kept alive.  This is where the other side of God’s truth must be affirmed: that man is accountable before God, accountable in this case to continue in the grace He has given.  After receiving God’s grace and after God has planted a new life in us, we have a part to play.  It was God who planted the Garden of Eden and planted the seeds and trees in it:  but Adam was to guard and cultivate the good work God had begun.

Our lives are our own Garden of Eden.  God has planted a new life in us, but we must cultivate and guard this life.  This is why being baptized, without a life of faith and faithfulness, can never save a man.  Baptism may bring that person into a new spiritual life or sphere, but it cannot sustain it without faith.  Even before baptism, we may see the grace of God at work in the lives of our kids.  Does this mean that they don’t have to lift a finger to continue in that grace?  Of course not!

For this reason, even though Paul speaks highly of baptism, he consistently warns us to walk in Christ as we have received Him (verse 6.)  There is nothing automatic about faith or salvation: we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in us both to do and to will for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13.)  Even Jesus Christ Himself had to not only be circumcised (and then be baptized) but also had to obey God.  Though Jesus Christ was God Himself and had the Holy Spirit in Him, the human Christ had to actively choose to obey.

Baptism is a visible reminder of the grace of God in our lives that He began even before we desired Him.  It reminds us that our life is hidden in Jesus Christ and that we are in a relationship with Him.  While we were still dead in our sins, Jesus Christ chose us and wiped out the judgment of God’s holy Law against us (verse 14.)  He took on the principalities and powers of this world and made a public spectacle of His victory over them (verse 15.)

This is what God has done for you.  What are you doing for God?

I encourage each of you to look back at the vows you took at baptism.  A covenant is a two-way street.  God promises to bless those who love Him and keep His commandments.  When you were baptized, you also promised God certain things.  It is a good idea to review them at least once a year.

In the Book of Common Prayer Holy Baptism service, a Christian vows to: “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh.”  The Christian also vows to “obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days” of his life.  If it is a child being baptized, the parents or sponsors vow to teach the child the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments and “all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.”  Finally, the Christian is charged to not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified but to manfully fight under His banner and to continue His faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.

I might add as well that at baptism each Christian is anointed as a priest of God and is commissioned as a minister of the Lord.

The grace and love of God given at baptism and throughout our lives is immeasurable.  No gift we could ever give in return could be an adequate response.

But there is one thing God does ask of you: that you be a whole burnt offering to Him and that you love and serve Him with all your body and all your mind and all your soul.

Resolution:  I resolve to celebrate the grace of God in my life and examine my vows before Him today.

Prayer:  All praise be to you, heavenly Father, because you first loved me and sent Your only-begotten Son.  Thank You, Lord Jesus, for living and dying for me.   Assist me with the continual grace of Your Holy Spirit that I may fulfill my holy vows before You to serve You all the days of my life.  Amen. 

Points for Meditation:

1.  Find one way to celebrate the grace of God in your life.

2.  Slowly meditate upon the things that a Christian vows in baptism (listed above.)  Spend enough time on each one to honestly evaluate the condition of your soul before God. 

© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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