Foundations: Better Than Bulletproof
By Jacob Ehrhard
I hate to break it to you, but it's entirely possible that your worst sin and biggest failure will happen after you're baptized. If you were baptized when you were a baby, this is certainly the case (not a whole lot to do in the first few weeks other than eat, sleep, and fill diapers). Maybe your worst sin and biggest failure is even still ahead of you. It happens to a lot of Christians. You think that being a Christian bulletproofs you against sin. Well, maybe not the little ones--we're all sinners, of course; but against those other sins. Christians never do the Big Ones. However, if you think this way you're kidding yourself and the truth is not in you.
Does this mean that Baptism has no power after all? Or, maybe its power wore off. Or, worst of all, does this mean that your sin is so bad that it's more powerful than Baptism? Can you really still sing "God's own child I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ"? Do the sins that you commit after being baptized count against you?
The Lutheran confessions address this difficult question with an amazingly comforting statement from St. Augustine, a teacher of the Church who lived around the turn of the fifth century. "Augustine speaks in the same way when he says, ‘Sin is forgiven in Baptism, not in such a way that it no longer exists, but so that it is not charged.' Here he confesses openly that sin exists. It remains, although it is not counted against us any longer" (“Apology of the Augsburg Confession” II.36).
That’s the Good News! Baptism is powerful, and its power is still at work in you. And because you are baptized even your worst sins and biggest failures, though they indeed exist, are not counted against you. Instead, the perfect righteousness and obedience of Jesus and His sacrificial death on the Cross are counted for you. This is not to say that you should keep sinning more because, hey, they don't count anyway, but rather that your sins--big or small, from your distant past or freshly minted--cannot harm you. In Christ, your life is continually being renewed. How do you know this? Because of God's Word.
"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:1-4).
So go ahead and sing it: "Sin disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!"
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church (Mayfair), Chicago, Illinois.
This article was originally published in June 2015 on the Higher Things website.
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