Joined with Christ - Romans 6:3-14

Many generations ago, Confucius spoke to the need to define our terms. He was a Chinese ruler and philosopher to whom many sayings have been attributed across the centuries. This saying, was of great importance if for nothing else that the Chinese language and people as we know them were in effect a conglomeration of a thousand languages and peoples. Across the cultural and social milieu, words were ripe with disparate meanings from one culture to the next. Communication across social and cultural divides called for close scrutiny of what one meant by the words one chose. Confucius was wise enough to recognize that we do not always mean the same thing with the same word, and therefore we need to take the time to define our meanings in order to communicate effectively.

We sometimes get hung up on terminology in a way that abuses the use of those terms. When it comes to the Bible, the problem is greater, as we give special ritual or sacramental value to certain terms, even or especially ones we don't actually understand. One of these words that has become sorely abused and misused is the term baptism. We have a problem with it because it is the term we use for a specific rite of the church. Then again, it has a basic meaning of immersing something or someone in water. On the other hand, it can also mean to join one thing to another or our lives with that of Christ.

That is what we find here in Romans 6 when Paul uses the term. The whole passage details that we are joined with Christ Jesus through baptism. He then goes on to expound upon that. It is in our being joined with Christ in his death that we are also joined in his resurrection from the dead. Then end result is that the entire scope of our living is to be joined with Christ Jesus.

This joining of our lives to Christ Jesus should be understood as a present reality, just as much as it is a future reality we await in the heavenly realm. John Wesley treated the issue as becoming truly Christian. It is an inseparable part of the process of sanctification, whereby our lives are to be transformed by the abounding presence of Christ Jesus in our lives.

Paul starts this passage on baptism off by tracing the image of baptism as being joined in death, the death of Jesus. The plunging on one under the waters of baptism was a picture of being buried in the tomb with Jesus, for Paul here a picture of leaving a sinful existence behind in order to embrace a new life beyond the reach of death along with Jesus in his resurrection to a new existence.

While Paul was obviously focused upon baptism as a rite of conversion for adults who were making a conscious transition to following Christ Jesus as Lord, the point he makes applies to all believers coming to recognize our need for personal transformation in following Christ. While the mode of baptism is not the focus, the mode he pictured here was important in what it symbolizes for us. Surrendering our lives to the service of Christ Jesus requires an element of death and self-denial. It requires a determined transformation in which we begin life anew. It requires that we expressly give up our selves to following the path set forth by Jesus. More than that, Paul says it requires that we actually participate or join Jesus in his death on the cross that we might begin life anew.

Paul was not calling for mass Christian suicide. He was, however, calling for us to let go of all that would inhibit the joining of our lives with the life of Christ Jesus. He fully expected that we would let go of earthly entanglements in order to begin new lives in full fellowship with Christ Jesus in such a way that Jesus might fully live in and through us.

This is what baptism or conversion meant to Paul. It reflected the transformation of one's life in all its different aspects. Nothing could be more consistent with this way of thinking that what we see in Paul's own life.

He had grown up in classic Judaism, gone to the best schools of Jewish thought available. He was the spokesman for many Jews, proving in his actions to be the fulfillment of all the highest expectations for a Jew zealous for keeping and proclaiming all the most tightly held of religious traditions. He had gone so far as to lead the charge in persecuting those who were following Jesus' reforms of Jewish thought and religious practice. He was present at Stephen's death and was en route to further increase the power of the religious establishment when Christ called him to embrace a new direction.

Paul had set aside all the legalism of his former religious life to embrace a new concept of God's grace as preached by Jesus and available to all, especially to those who were not Jews. This was a radical shift in life and purpose. It required a harsh and honest reassessment of all those things he had held dear. It required him to leave behind the security of his received traditions to embark upon a new life direction.

Accepting Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah meant giving up so many things as to render his old life dead. As Paul traveled without a wife, but would have been expected to be married to have become a rabbi, he most likely ended up divorced as a result of accepting the way of Jesus. He cut himself off from all those who had been his support group and allowed his new faith in Jesus to radically transform his habits, traditions, and purposes. This was necessary in order for Jesus to truly live in him, for his life to be joined with Christ.

It is to this quality of transformation that Paul call us. It is not that we should necessarily leave our families, but that we should allow the good news of God in Christ Jesus to radically transform our lives in allowing God to live in and through us. In accepting the good news of Jesus, we are joined in baptism to the life of Christ Jesus living in us. We have access to God's very presence, indeed living in the fullness of God if we appropriate what the gospel declares to be ours.

This is not simply a message of death to an old life. It is the appropriation of a new life. It is both burial to an old life an resurrection to a new life in exchange. While sin once interfered in our connection with God, the good news is that sin has lost its power over us, for God has reached beyond its limitations to offer us life in full fellowship with the Almighty.

Sin has been taken out of the picture. It has no more hold upon those who have released their lives into fellowship with Christ. That is not to say we no longer sin, but that sin does not have the power to keep us at a distance from God. Through Christ Jesus and our identification with Christ, sin has lost its power, except for that power we relinquish out of our own will. It is God's will, however, that we live in full fellowship with God. That is why Jesus came and why we have been offered full access to the life of God and life with God.

Rather than worry so much about sin, we are now free in Christ to offer our lives to God. We are free to live with Christ. Through Christ, we are free to live as children of God, not simply in name, but in deed and in action. We are made alive to the purposes of God for us and for all of creation. We have been redeemed and reconciled in order that our living and breathing may extend the presence and ministry of Christ Jesus into the society in which we live and move.

Of all of this and more, baptism is a symbol. It is our entry into the life of God in Christ Jesus in order that God might live fully and completely in and through us. As we are joined to the life of God in Christ through baptism, so also through baptism God lives in us and desires to live through us.

©Copyright 2018, Christopher B. Harbin 


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