by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
What really is baptism into relationship with God?
Alright now, it is time to tell the truth. Let’s get really honest about this, people. There are billions of us over the life of this planet laying claim to faith in Jesus Christ as our one and only Savior. How many of us from the first until now, have fully immersed themselves into the life that is all it can be in relationship with God through his son? Who among us is actually living in the fullness of the joy of our Lord Jesus? Who is walking on the water of this life, driven and elevated by the power and authority of almighty God, to get the most out of this opportunity to experience the ride of a lifetime?
Does it feel a bit abstract as a “concept” or absurd to believe it’s actually possible?
It’s not a judgment, but our reality as believers that we struggle to realize experimentally the fullness of the joy in relationship with the one we call Lord; which in this context means ‘master.’ For me the issue is daily, if not moment by moment, surrender. In western culture it tends to be surrendering my will to convenience and laziness as I settle for less than God’s best; choosing comfort over full-time participation in the ministry of what God has no doubt called me to do. I tend to be a part-timer, at best. God won’t condemn me for that. But I reap what I sow. If I am only willing to immerse myself part way in the river of service that leads to blessing and joy, then all I’ll reap is “part-way” blessing and joy.
Why is that?
When people have to admit to themselves that they are flawed by the selfishness of their flesh, and prayerfully confess their sin to God, recognizing that he is merciful, they have done so acknowledging their position before him. Broken and powerless, they believe that God is the one to reconcile their brokenness into something better, or why approach God in their condition in the first place? They understand their need to commit their brokenness into the hands of the healer in order to be restored into something better; empowered to be someone better. This is indeed the conversion experience; from someone broken into someone restored… made whole… empowered to be more of who they were always meant for.
In the meantime, even as believers in the saving power of Jesus Christ, there is the tendency to settle for less. How many of us as believers squander opportunity because we both struggle to realize who we are as children of the creator of all things and all men? How many of us squander opportunity to experience the fullness of joy in relationship with the son of Almighty God because we struggle to realize the joy that is meant to be experienced, not only in the life to come when the perfect comes, but in this life today… right now?
I don’t say this as an indictment against myself or anyone else. God is no less God because we may not know and understand who we are as his heirs. We’re like children of the wealthiest parents on earth, not having a clue about who we are or what we have as heirs to our inheritance until we grow in knowledge and understanding. And even, having grown up, we may not realize it until we are desperate enough to recognize that without our parents, we don’t really have anything. At that point, should we leave the nest, go our own way to make it on our own, do we come to realize that without the promise of the inheritance and resource we have at home, we will struggle just to survive.
What would happen if we left the safety and security of all we know as kids at home? We wander into this idea that somehow we might be better off on our own; you know, wanting to explore the world and all. Even though we have been living in the best life has to offer, we take on this notion that we are missing out on something; sort of like Adam and Eve. There must be something more.
Why is that? We have it so good but then someone comes along and persuades us to believe that something is missing. Adam and Eve lived with God in the glory of his creation, and yet it wasn’t good enough for them. How could that be? How is that possible?
They went their own way and the rest is history.
Should we go our own way, having strayed from the path we wander in the wilderness of our lives, lost without direction. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s out of control. Most certainly, it’s out of our control. It can feel like being caught in a blizzard, wondering if we will ever be able to dig our way out. It can get so cold we can’t feel our face. We’re desperate to find ourselves refuge somewhere. But then in our suffering, we think of home. It’s warm there. It’s easier there. We are supported and able to find rest there. There is a calm there; peace and contentment. But we feel as though we’re a million miles away.
How would we ever escape this blizzard that our life has become since leaving the safety and security—the sure thing—we had at home with our family?
Where is home?
How do we get back there?
Imagine for a moment that your parents own the Hawaiian Islands. They have sovereign authority; meaning that nothing happens there unless they allow it to. They have sovereign authority; meaning that nothing happens, unless they allow it to. Even the animals on land and in the sea are subject to them. Every need is met to sustain the highest standard of life and living. The homes there are like that of pristine palaces. No one living there is wanting for anything. Nothing anywhere on these islands came together at anyone else’s expense. Everything made was from a heart of love and generosity. It isn’t heaven. It’s a place on earth. The people living there will make mistakes. It is not yet perfection, all though the day of perfection in this place is near. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of time.* But mercy abounds and is endless. Love is the standard by which all things originate and are experienced. Everyone is loved fearlessly by these parents without measure or reservation.
You live there with your family. You’re welcomed to invite your friends and their families. Your parents are so inclusive that way. There are, of course, common sense expectations for living there. It is paradise, and must always remain paradise. There is an order to life there; not to restrict or stifle creativity and exploration of all that it is to live there, but to ensure that the best and highest quality of life is preserved. This place is a place of peace, love, and contentment… FREEDOM. Your parents created this life, so it makes sense and it’s understood that they are the patriarchs of the inhabitants of these islands. What is so awesome about this union between father and mother is how much they love each other with such sweet fellowship together. And then they extend the same love and generosity they have for each other to their children. Wow! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
This parental tandem never demeans or belittles anyone. No, just the opposite. They are loving and merciful. They want so much for everyone to experience the joy of life on these islands. The reality, though, is that each of their children living there have their own minds and can choose for themselves how to fully enjoy their experience. Should they choose foolishly, they are subject to correction and encouragement. However, it is not meant for judgment, but to implore this loving, harmonious family to live in their own best interest, which in turn is for the good of their home environment. Their parents may be critical of poor behavioral choices, but only because these gracious parents know the predictable (undesired) outcomes when their children mistakes. It is understood that until all is made right throughout the world, mercy will be extended within and throughout the family.
Even though the children of these parents have been nurtured in perfect love growing up, they can certainly think for themselves. They may be influenced by some notion that they’d be better off on their own. Caught up in the imagination of doing their own thing their own way, they hop on a boat and leave to fend for themselves for awhile, somewhere else. While on its surface, it may seem ridiculous, how much these kids have to lose, the problem is that these grown-up kids do not really understand what they have, and take it for granted. It isn’t until it is eradicated from their lives that they finally appreciate what that had, now that they realize what they are missing. But until then, well…
What they are missing is relationship with the ones who can supply every need until they are wanting more than anything what their parents want for them; for their own good. What is wrong with these kids that they don’t (can’t?) get it?
These kids who have grown up and left the paradise of their experience, move far enough away that they no longer sense the presence and influence of their parents. On their own, they are finding the seas to be treacherous. They come to find that there are predators in the water. When they were on the islands, the animals of the sea were subject to them under the sovereign authority of dad and mom. In these waters, distant from their home, there are sharks in the water only wanting one thing… to eat them. At home, there was an ease to swimming in calm waters. Away from home, the force of the waves and current is devastating, wanting to pull them under. They could and will likely drown unless they are rescued.
When kids grow up and take off, they come to appreciate what they had. They didn’t really know what they had until they left. With difficulty and disappointment came pain. Enough pain and fear sets in. Pain and fear are the opposite of freedom and joy. Kids don’t really know how to measure that until they experience pain and fear as contrast (discrepancy) to what felt so good and right by any standard. Then it all becomes more clear and finally makes sense.
When we go on our own, independent from who we are and what we have in relationship with our heavenly father, it’s the same deal. We walk in the reality and experience of who we are in Christ, or we settle for less and struggle to merely survive our life experience.
This is the justice of God. With him, in relationship with Jesus, we have it all. Without him, we have nothing. With Jesus, when we willingly fellowship with him, investing in the relationship, we ought to grow in the fullness of our joy in the relationship. The less we are in fellowship with Jesus, having been distracted by selfish folly, the less we experience joy, and the more we take on the predictable outcomes of serving ourselves.
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. Galatians 6:7-8 (NLT)
What is the message of this passage of Scripture concerning the justice of God?
This statement from Apostle Paul comes just after he wrote about helping brothers and sisters in the faith whose burden is heavy; thinking of the needs of others, careful to not be too comfortable with, and perhaps distracted by, our own prosperity to the point that we lose focus on what the Gospel of Christ is all about.
When people are hurting and we’re to preoccupied to see it, there is a problem.
We were all once broken in our sin and hurting. God sent his son into the world to share in our experience and then die as a ransom for what each and every one of us have in common… sin. In our fallen condition due to sin, we fell short of the standard for the life we are meant to experience as God’s begotten children.
Jesus went all the way from his position as God, to being made into the likeness of sinful flesh, to a horrible death experience at the cross and beyond. (I say beyond because we cannot really know what occurred, and the hell Jesus may have experienced those three days between his death and resurrection.)
Without this transforming event that changed history, we were all bound for the ultimate in poverty, suffering, and struggle… an eternity’s worth. What Jesus did for us changed all that.
So, because of what Jesus did to heal our broken condition, and redeem us from the pit of despair, we have been reconciled and restored into right relationship with God as full heirs into best of the riches God wants and has for us.
God desires that we be cleansed of all unrighteousness; having made choices in our independence to do what we want; settling for less than his best. We have been declared innocent and given the chance for a fresh beginning; to be baptized into something new.
Considering God’s mercy, we have been presented with a choice. We can align ourselves with our carnal flesh and sink into the depths of our sin nature; or, we can bury that life in the sacrifice of our Savior and rise with him, restored into the best of new life.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 (NKJV)
If we confess our sins, God is what?
Faithful & JUST?
“Just” is reference to the justice of God. Apostle John wrote that since the ransom for sin has been paid in the ultimate blood sacrifice, when we confess our sin, God, by his own decree, has to forgive our sin. This is a phenomenal statement from John.
Remember that John walked with Jesus both pre- and post-crucifixion and resurrection. John was very close to Jesus, like a confidant and best friend. By the time John wrote this passage of scripture, John had suffered severe torture and hardship in the name of his friend and Savior. John had seen resurrected Jesus in the blaze of his glory and fell as dead, he said, in his master’s presence.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 1 John 1:1-4 (NKJV)
John writes that he wants for anyone reading his words to participate in the fellowship of those same experiences he had being in the presence of Christ. Have you ever attempted to express to someone the meaning of something you experienced, and when the person expresses that hint of doubt about it, you say, “Trust me, it’s true. I was there. I was right in the middle of it. I saw it. I heard it. I felt it. It really is just as I said.” So John is saying, “Trust that what I am telling you is true. I am telling you this, first hand. Believe it!”
So, here it is.
When John writes that the confession of sin mandates the justice of mercy, it carries the full weight of his Lord’s message of truth about reconcilation and redemption.
Once it is understood what the justice of God is and means for each of us, who are we to reject the gracious gift of mercy, favoring the flesh? Who are we to say we have embraced the grace of God, but then refuse to extend that grace to our brothers and sisters that are hurting an in need when we have it to give?
It is just. It is fair. It’s only right that we share what’s been given freely to us.
As the Scripture decrees, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God.”
As I read this passage from Galatians chapter 6, I gleaned a bit of insight into the truth about both the spirit and experience of baptism.
I was baptized in water (immersion) April, 1978 at 18 years of age. I still remember the spiritual awakening I experienced that night. I had grown up in church but don’t recall being particularly spiritual. In fact, it was only a couple of months prior that it bothered me terribly that I could not recall a specific conversion experience; a time when I reached out and admitted to God my condition before him, needing God to be merciful to me. I had been told that I was six or seven years old when I confessed I was a sinner and asked for forgiveness of sin. I didn’t remember. I laid in my bed one winter night and again prayed a prayer of repentance. I experienced something exciting within me that night that moved me in a profound way.
I believe today that is was then that I was baptized into something more profoundly revelating concerning my faith. Prior to that experience, I had been reluctant to step up into being baptized in water as a testimony of faith. But having been baptized into faith that February night, by April it was easy for me to take the next step without reservation. And something happened to me as I was raised up out of the water. I liken it to the dove coming down to rest on the head of Jesus. Jesus was born full of the Holy Spirit, but there was something also to his being immersed in the river that affected him and prepared for him for ministry.
Some ten years later, I would experience another kind of baptism regarding the Holy Spirit that was life-changing for me. It did not include praying in another tongue, initially, but involved the unveiling of knowledge and insight into God’s Word that has grown immeasurably ever since. You might say that I was delivered from being timid about testifying openly about my spiritual experience and what I know about the good news of the Savior, Jesus Christ. I was emboldened to speak the words as I was inspired to have them.
I will say, though, that a spiritual prayer language would come a couple of years hence that would come to fortify my prayer life (until I began taking that blessed gift for granted over the years). It was and continues to be a personally private experience that has elevated my prayer life; that is, as long as I don’t get lazy about it. It is a blessing to apply to my praying experience but, with full disclosure, I have a tendency to take it for granted. Therefore, everything I am saying to you here, applies to me. All of it. Shame on me for having this knowledge of truth that I am sharing with you, only to too often squander it.
So then, what really is baptism, anyway, that it can be such a powerful—even transcendent—experiential reality for those who are open to substantial growth and boldness in their spiritual experience with Jesus?
How ’bout we get into it a bit?
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:7-9 (NKJV)
What does it mean, “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption?”
I found some commentary that I would like to present to you here, and then I will share my thoughts as it relates to this presentation.
“The one who sows to the flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption.” Sowing to the flesh means to carry out the deeds of the flesh. Pail lists them as “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorceries, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these… those who practice such things shall not enter the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21). The word “corruption” is from the Greek word “phthoran” (yqoran). It means “destruction, ruin, deterioration, loss”. It would be used to speak of someone whose health and been ruined by a disease. The idea of a continuous process of deterioration is connected with this word, such as the ongoing decay of the physical world (Romans 8:21). The sinner destroys himself spiritually by corrupting his soul, and eternally by consigning himself to the eternal, ultimate ruin and depravity prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41). —The Expository Files
What I want to highlight is the original meaning for the word “corruption” in the text. The concept of sowing and reaping is familiar to likely everyone who will read this. It’s been around forever. Do unto others as you would have done to you. What goes around comes around. It is behind the formula for investing and the return on your investment. It is economics 101.
When Adam lost focus on what mattered and bit into the apple, all of the dominoes came crashing down. The apple was rotten, as it turned out, and destroyed the entire batch. The apples look so good, don’t they? We do not realize biting into them that they have worms in them. They have been corrupted. Having been born into the orchard of rotten apples, we have been corrupted.
By the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross, and through his resurrection from the dead, we who choose to invest in relationship with him, have been redeemed; resurrected from corruption to be replanted into new incorruptible life.
As I said, we can sow the seed of new life in relationship with Jesus Christ, or we can sow the seed of corruptible sin, which leads to our destruction and death, eternally speaking. Jesus originally planted the seed of new life when he took our selfish sin into the depths of eternal darkness. I believe that Jesus suffered most in that darkness.
Jesus said himself that his death experience would be like that of Jonah in the belly of the great fish that Jonah was swallowed into. Jonah did not sleep those three days. He didn’t battle the fish from its insides. Jonah describes his three-day experience as a torturous dark death (Jonah 2), but that he survived it experiencing God’s very real presence when he cried to him. Jesus cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” For those three days of Christ’s experience between good Friday and resurrection Sunday, Jesus did not sense God’s presence. At least, not until death spit him up as the stone rolled away.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 1 Corinthians 15:42 (NKJV)
The blood sacrifice of Jesus sown into the depths, sealed the deal. Jesus was resurrected into the newness of life. New life in Jesus is the harvest. All that is left for you and me to do is to sow the seed of our corrupted existence into the field that is the life of Christ. We do that by identifying as the corrupted people we are while independent of the will of God; separated from relationship with God. As we confess to God our flaws as selfish sinful people, we are sowing that seed into the sacrificial death of God’s son. The Bible tells us that what has perished corruptible, is raised incorruptible. Our souls are restored, reconciled into right relationship with God. God is faithful and just to forgive us, unconditionally.
Reconciled into right relationship with God, we then reap—to gather, obtain, win—the harvest of new life. As sons and daughters of God himself, we are whole as we bask in the light of the new day, soaked in the righteousness—meaning the best of—everything that God wants and has for us. It’s guaranteed!
When someone then is baptized in water, especially through the act of immersion, it is not only a testimony of entering into the baptism of faith (sowing and reaping), it is the experience of sowing the seed of the corrupted life into fertile ground, and then rising up through the water is the experience of reaping the harvest into new life, both from within you and through you.
Of course, there is more to the experience of baptism. I don’t believe baptism to be these singular actions and expressions. There is the matter of baptism concerning the Holy Spirit of God that tends to trigger controversy and conflict within the community of believers. The institution of religion can be polarized when it comes to this. How and why something so precious and substantive in the life of believers can at the same time be so divisive, ranges from disappointment to tragedy.
What changed for me when it came to the plurality of the baptism experience, was when I stopped engaging in the conflict and quarreling against it at that time, to simply wanting to experience and grow into the fullness of every blessing God wanted and had for me. Once I did that, and actually told God that I wanted it all (If it’s in the Bible to be part of the faith experience, then I want it) and if it was God wanted and had for me, then I’d receive it. Once I let go of my fears, reservations, and apprehensions, God opened up the treasure chest and just poured it into my experience.
The only formula or prerequisite to be showered in the gifts of God’s grace is… yep… surrender into obedience. There had to be a catch, right? I don’t even like writing this part. YUCK!
Surrender is Obedience is…
Surrender is obedience, is trusting in what we believe in, is the gateway into realizing the fullness of the plurality of the baptism experience. Obedience is the sort of dirty word that subtracts from the attraction of the Christian life. The reason for that, in my opinion, is that what obedience means for the believer has been, for centuries, subjugated by the self-appointed pillars of institutionalized religion.
Obedience is tied to the matter of sin. To obey is to not sin… not too badly anyway.
I am not implying that it’s alright to live some licentious, hedonistic “Christian” life. All I am saying is that even church communities laying claim not to be religious still can be exclusive in their treatment of “immoral” sinners. Jesus reached out with compassion to sinners by way of relationship, so that they would have a sense for the life they were missing, and through relationship would be affected by conviction to repent of their sin. Jesus was inclusive that way, moving and prevailing against what he knew to be the mountain of religion.
The baptized life is all about relationship, and the authentic transformation of God’s children through relationship. Obedience then does not focus on the problem of sin, but rather on the solution that is investment in real relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.
Religion versus relationship and the struggle for context when it comes to a passage like this concerning the problem of sin and the promise of inheritance:
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:16-26 (NKJV)
I have not killed anyone. Drinking isn’t my thing, so not a problem for me. Sorcery? Not a problem for me. If revelries are along the lines of debauchery and depravity, I don’t think I have had much issue with that one either. But how one defines most of the rest of those behaviors identified in verses 19-21, to one degree or another, well… it’s not as cut and dried. I have confessed my sin, and I understand that I have been forgiven. The promise of the Old Testament Psalm is that my sin is as removed as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
So what about “those who practice such things”? I have struggled with lusts of the flesh. I have battled selfish ambition at times. I have been contentious over things that are not worth jeopardizing quality of relationships personally and professionally. I have had issue with holding resentments with those I love most in my life (dissensions). I have probably given things way more attention and priority than I have the things of God, and what I know to be the calling on my life (idolatry?).
In all these things, conviction about licentious behavior for the believer is between the believer and God. But what religion has done is demonize, not only behaviors, but the perpetrators of “licentious” behavior. Religion will easily demonize the transgender or homosexual sinner, but when heterosexual couples engaging in premarital sex walk through the doors into a church service, no one bats an eye. How would we know?
The truth is that sin is sin. We are all guilty. In relationship with Jesus, we are no longer subject to the law of sin. Now, it is about relationship. There are people who will tell you they love Jesus, with whom they believe heart and soul, is the atoner of their sin, that continue to willfully engage in sinful behavior. Are they disqualified from loving Jesus?
Religious people will often say that because they willfully sin, that they are “disqualified,” suggesting that these folks were never really qualified to begin with. They were never really saved… never really born again… never really in relationship with God.
Because they still drink and swear, and smoke cigarettes and weed, and have sex with people they’re not married to; especially if the ones they are having sex with are of the same gender… you know… willfully sinning. They are judged to be disqualified from genuine relationship.
I am not intending to say who has right relationship with God, and who does not. I am intending to say that I am not God and neither is anyone else. It is not my place to condemn anyone. It is not place to determine who is willfully sinning… that is, not until I am willing to look into the mirror and start with me. I can only judge me. I can pray for those I fear have not experienced baptism into relationship with God by faith. I can convey to them my experience in relationship with God through shared testimony. But in spite of my suspicions and assumptions, I have no standing to judge or condemn anyone. Once again, the justice of God will in no way be mocked.
It is easy to determine what willful sin is when it is obvious. But what about when it’s not so obvious?
What about the scores of people who may never see heaven because I was too afraid or too lazy to do something about it; with words, or service in the name of Jesus? What about behavior that I know, whether immediately or in hindsight, was selfish and irresponsible? What about the television time, regardless of my justifications for what is on? What about how I spend my money, and what and who I invest my time and money on?
Again, when we put it through the filter of justification, we can rationalize anything. Then we can convince ourselves that our sin, if it is sin, is not willful.
It may feel to you that I have digressed, but I ask you to consider the relevance of it as it pertains to experiencing the fullness of the authentically baptized life.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them. Ephesians 5:1-7 (NKJV)
15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 (NLT)
What is really going on here is that Apostle Paul is not accusing his brothers and sisters of faith; friends of his that have come into relationship with Jesus, have been baptized in water, and baptized into more of the spiritual blessing into power and boldness; but rather to draw a clear contrast between how they live, and how those outside of relationship with God live. He is telling them that the baptized life is not tied to a baptism event, but is a continuous baptism experience through a life invested in everything God wants and has for all of us. It is not a matter of what God wants for us, the matter at hand is… What do I want from God in my relationship with him? What do you want from God in relationship with him?
“There is a sorrow that the soul must go through in letting go of what it thought it loved. We have to come to the place where we truly get it that what God wants for us is GOOD. To some degree, our resistance to His will reveals that we do not really believe it is good—at least not the kind of ‘good’ we want.” —Fran Leeman
Religion has determined for us that baptism, whether it be a sprinkling of the forehead at birth, or immersion into water, or baptism into the Holy Spirit speaking in another tongue, are singular events that somehow define the believer in the eyes of God and the church. I believe what truly is scriptural about baptism is its plurality; a continual, fluid experience.
That being the case, surrender is not a matter of submission as a matter of honoring the master under the “law” of obedience, so much as it is surrendered obedience as an investment into the fullness of the fluid baptism experience.
It may be the difference between living in Hawaii and the experience of walking along the beach everyday and going for a swim, enjoying the experience whenever you want; and the experience of swimming with dolphins from island to island, and flying with the birds above the rainforest, and sliding down a rainbow. If you’re old like me, you might be content with the view. But once you know what you’re be missing, well… who knows?
What We Get & What We Get To
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)
There is what we get in our baptism experience, and there is what we get to do through our baptism experience.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)
We might have this whole obedience thing out of context. We (including me) tend to see obedience to God as something we have to do. Burnt offerings and sacrifices were what was required under the old covenant. Sacrifice was required. But since then, Jesus made himself the sacrifice. Not that it isn’t appreciated, but what does that say about any sacrifice we can make?
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Hebrews 10:5-6 (NKJV)
For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Hebrews 10:10 (NLT)
For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14 (NLT)
And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:18-23 (NLT)
Please be sure to have read these verses of Scripture penned by the writer of Hebrews. Being immersed into the life God intended for us is to live out the experience “forever made perfect those who are being made perfect.” The Word of God mandates that having been baptized into relationship with God as heirs to all the God is and has for us is the essence of new life.
We are forgiven! The only sacrifice God accepts from us is our willingness to fully enter in to the life availed to us, thanks to the sacrifice made for us that opened the gate for us. All we need to do is let go of the old life that is in fact perishing—dead already—and surrender this new life afford to us into the care of him who is all, and has it all.
Surrendering my will and life over to God is not for his benefit. God does not need me or you to get the work done. He chooses us for this purpose because of what it does for us. Healthy, loving parents understand this to be true. Notice with young children how delighted they are with the opportunity to please mom and dad through service. It’s a privilege. And when mom and dad are proud of their kids and honor them in love, the children reciprocate. Young children in healthy relationships with parents don’t see obedience as a chore, but rather as an opportunity. It’s a beautiful thing!
People of faith in unhealthy relationships within a religious context, can feel as though serving God is a chore; as something they are obligated to do. People of faith who are less about religious obligation, and more about experiencing the joy of serving God, get to feel the generous favor of their Lord in ways that are deep and profound. Surrendered obedience is not a chore at all, it’s a beautiful thing! Glorious, even.
It’s what obedience is really all about. Not what we have to do, but what we get to do. The more I commit to investing in what I get to do for God through prayer and service, the more I experience spiritual blessing on a level that is transcendent, compared to worldly delight. I experience a joy from within that pierces through my greatest challenges and hardships. It’s beyond expression.
The principle of sowing and reaping tends to smell of the negative connotation attached to it. You know… “What goes around, comes around!” But really, it is a promise that we reap a harvest when we plant the seed of serving—ministry through generosity—and taking the opportunity to do good; not because we have to, but because we get to. Maybe, because we love to. How about that?
Being baptized into faith in Christ, in all of its wonder, is essentially this: We have died to the way things were pursuing our wants and needs according to selfish desires of the flesh, and have risen with Christ into this new way of life, pursuing what God wants, not because we have to, but because we get to. Once we have experienced this inexplicable joy in the Spirit of God from the inside out; this prevailing joy that pierces through whatever challenges and hardships we face and endure; joy that lives in and through us from the inside out; once in this transcendent reality of experience, there is no going back.
Why go back? If this truly is the experience of the baptized life, who wouldn’t want this?
13 If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:13-21 (NLT)
This baptism into new life compels us to be an offering with what we have and what we do. For some, it’s the power and boldness to speak from places of divine insight and, dare I say, inspiration. For others, it’s generosity with time and resources from places of divine fellowship and, again, inspiration. For others still, it’s deep compassion and charity of heart, to be gracious and comforting from places of empathy and sensitivity, as moved in the inspiration of the life-giving Savior to rescue those hurting and broken. There are listeners gifted with discernment who hear the unseen pain of those shameful, wounded, and contrite in their desperate need for mercy and healing.
This is the principle of sowing the seed of new life into the field. Scripture tells us that there are those that work the land, making the ground fertile. Then there are those that plant the seed into the fertile ground. Then there are those that water the seed. And so often this takes place without anyone knowing how the other ministers play their role in the ministry of the harvest. When we altogether sow the seed of new life into the field, it is written that God will spring up a harvest that will flourish and grow beyond anything we could ever think of or dare to ask or imagine.
This is really what baptism is really all about.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:18-20 (NLT)
*”It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of time.” I stole this line from the movie, Matrix: Reloaded.