The Epistle Romans 6 V 3
Brethren: Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him; that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ; we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God; through Jesus Christ our Lord..
You may recall that in a previous sermon I told you about a man whom I knew from my previous secular occupation, who claimed to be a “Christian”. This was the same man who challenged me to explain to him the difference between “Christians” and “Catholics”. Now I will admit that while I was amused by his ignorance, still, there were certain aspects of his faith that were somewhat disturbing; in particular, his belief in his ideas about the Salvation of Christ.
You see, from this mans’ perspective, once he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and (most importantly in his church) made a public proclamation to that effect; then his Salvation was assured; and from that point forward, there was nothing that he could do that could cause him to lose his Salvation.
Now as you might imagine my question for this man was rather obvious; “so, you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; and you have been assured of your Salvation; What then”?
Of course, he didn’t know what I was getting at, so I attempted to clarify for him; “after you have made this public proclamation of your acceptance of Christ, does this mean that you will never again commit sin? Does this mean that from now on your earthly existence will be lived out in perfect love and witness to Our Lord? Does this mean that you will always care for and be charitable to all of God’s Creation”? In other words, “is it your public pronouncement that guarantees your Salvation, or is it the life you lead from that point forward that not only guarantees, but also witnesses to the assurance of that Salvation”?
You see, from the earliest days of the Church there has always been this thought that all one needs to do is say “OK, I admit it; I have sinned”; and that as a result they would receive the forgiveness of God; and that this was as far as anyone needed to go.
The problem with this picture, of course, is that it also allows one to go on committing any and all kinds of sins, whatever they may be, because they no longer matter; “I have accepted Jesus, and he has forgiven all my sins; and so he will continue to go on forgiving all my sins, no matter how many I may commit in the future.
I think that you can see the vicious circle here. But this line of reasoning fails to take into account the commitment that we make at our Baptism. It fails to remind us of our status as a people who have been incorporated into the Body of Christ. It fails to address the fact that from our Baptism we are a people who are “regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church” (BCP, pg. 280). It fails to address the fact that we are a people who have been baptized into the death of Christ, and raised up again in his Glory; so that we may “walk in newness of life“.
This was the point that I tried to impart to my friend. He thought that all he needed to do was to stand up in front of his congregation and confess his belief in Jesus Christ, and from there on it would no longer matter how he conducted his life. He was convinced that as long as he fulfilled the requirements set forth by his pastor (which, of course, included a continuous and generous monetary commitment to the parish), then he could never lose his Salvation. But he was astonished, taken aback, when I suggested that the only real proof of his Salvation would be evident in the way in which he lived his life from that point forward.
“Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death“. When we declare that we are disciples of Christ, we are not simply acknowledging our past discrepancies; we are admitting that, to that point, our whole lives had been lived in darkness and sin. We are therefore giving up our former sinful life, and committing to the end of that life in concurrence with the Death of Christ on the Cross.
But by the Grace of God, we are also raised up from death; but for a particular purpose; “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life“. We are not raised up so that we may continue on as before. We are not made regenerate so that we may repeat the sins and offenses of our former selves. We have not been granted the Grace of God’s Salvation so that we may continue to sin in the false hope of inspiring that same Grace to repeat itself over and over again in the future.
We have been granted the Grace of God so that we may always and ever “renounce the devil and all his works”. We have been granted the Grace of God so that we may resist “the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same”. By the Grace of God, we have been granted the strength to “renounce them all; and by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them”. By the Grace of God we have been made regenerate in His Kingdom; and by the Grace of God, “we also should walk in newness of life“.
This is the promise that is made by us, or for us, at our Baptism; it is also, and is ever always, our own continuing choice as well. We may accept and commit to this promise, or we may reject it; it’s really up to us.
And so you may believe, as did my friend that the only necessary thing was for him to declare his belief in Christ; and that his behavior, the way in which he lived his life from that point on, made no difference. But if you choose this path, then I must remind you once again of the words of St. Paul; “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life“.
At our Baptism, when we made that commitment to Christ, we died; our former, sinful selves, ceased to exist. At the same time, through that same Baptism, our commitment as a people made regenerate in the Body Christ, also required that we “walk in newness of life“. This was the point that my friend had missed. This is also the point that we all tend to miss far too often.
It is not only by the public proclamation of our Faith that we will be known for our Faith. It is not only by our attendance at Church that our Faith shall be recognized. It is only in how we live our lives, in the way that we interact with people, in the way that we personally witness the Gospel, in the way that we “walk in newness of life“, that we will be known as followers of Christ.
And so, in an admittedly uncharitable attempt to further confuse my friend I told him, “you know, you’re right; just as it is not possible for us to gain our Salvation without the Sacrifice of Christ, so to is it impossible for us to lose our Salvation once we have received it by the Grace of Christ. But once again, how is it that you prove that you have indeed received His Grace”?
As you no doubt have guessed by now, the key point of my argument was this; as followers of Christ, as someone who has declared that we have accepted Christ as Our Lord and Savior, we are required to live our lives as a people who have received a Grace that cannot be rescinded nor forfeited. My friend had missed this point; and sadly, all too often, many of us do so as well.
It is our responsibility not only to publicly declare our Faith in Christ, but to also be living examples of how we have been changed because of our Faith. It is our responsibility to show how our former sinful selves have ceased to exist because of our Faith. It is our responsibility to proclaim that we have likewise been raised up with Christ by the Glory of the Father. And it is our responsibility to affirm our Faith by the way in which we live every day; it is our responsibility to “walk in newness of life“.