The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: B

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Baptism, at a

As we read in Rom 6, baptism is an end as well as a beginning. It marks a death as well as a new life:

"Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Rom 6:3,4).
Here, in baptism, is a recognition that the end of natural life is death -- that all are under the power of the great enemy "sin" and death; and that all life's hopes and joys are under its cloud.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, who was wealthy and had experienced all that life had to offer, finally said:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!... Utterly meaningless! --
In the KJV, this reads: "Vanity of vanities... all is vanity!" -- "Everything is meaningless."

"What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?"
By itself, this sounds rather pessimistic. But it has been pointed out that they key phrase here is "under the sun". In other words, all is meaningless and vain if man lives his life seeing nothing higher in the heavens than the sun -- that is, if he does not see or recognize the one true God. This is, thankfully, not the case with us; life does have meaning, and purpose!

But notice the symbolism again in Rom 6: First there is death, and then there is... burial:

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death" (Rom 6:4).
With this we may compare Col 2:12:

"Having been buried with him (Christ) in baptism..."
This is, incidentally, the meaning of the Greek word "baptizo": literally, to immerse, to plunge under, to dye! When a garment maker wished to dye a garment, he plunged it or "baptized" it in a vat of dye.

In baptism, then, there is death, burial... and then resurrection:

"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom 6:5-7).
The death of that which is "old" must precede the birth of that which is "new", as we read also in Eph 4:

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."
The same lesson is evident in the story of the Passover. In God's plan, something (the Passover lamb, the firstborn in Egypt, the Egyptian army in the Red Sea) must die so that something else (the children of Israel, the new nation) might be "born"!

In Acts 2, the apostle Peter preaches to the Jews in Jerusalem shortly after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

"Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Act 2:22-24).
So Peter taught, as a matter of first principles, that:

Jesus was the Son of God.
You (the Jews) killed him.
But God raised him to life again.

"God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ' "The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet' " ' " (Act 2:32-35).
So Peter also taught:

This same Jesus is now in heaven.
And he will return to set up God's Kingdom on the earth.

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins' " (Act 2:37,38).
So, Peter is saying, here is what you (and we!) must do:

"Repent": that is, change your life; turn it around! In short, be "born again"!
And then, live a new life!...

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Rom 6:11-13).
The believer's life is, or should be, one of joy. Even in the midst of a world of sorrow and pain, the believer rejoices in God's gifts and God's promises.

The believer's eye is firmly set on the hope that rises like a mountain before her. There may be a "valley" (or several valleys) to walk through before she reaches that mountain peak (Psa 23:3,4). But he/she never takes his/her eye off that glorious future... and all life's little (and not-so-little) annoyances and inconveniences are seen for what they are... stepping stones en route to the Kingdom of God...

"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:4-11).
It is quite possible for the believer (esp the new believer) to become discouraged when she puts the holiness of God alongside her own failures. Then one might say:

"I'm simply not good enough to be in God's Kingdom!"
But God knows our failures, and He has promised to forgive us...if we are sincerely sorry for them, and if we keep trying to serve Him!

The only truly "unforgivable sin" is to turn one's back of God, and to go away from Him!

And, remember: God does not want to judge/punish us! He wants to save us!

"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:31-39).
It can be done! If we stand at the beginning of our probation and look right to the end, seeing Christ in his perfection, it may seem an impossible task! But even a marathon is the sum total of so many single steps, and God has commanded us to follow His Son, promising us strength all along the way. Growing up in Christ is not an immediate action; it is a slow process -- by stops and starts, most likely -- learning obedience, as our Master did, through sufferings. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, young or old, male or female, God will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, and the trials through which they pass in the "fellowship" of His Son. More and more, step by step, they will learn who Christ truly is, and become more and more conformed to that image.

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