Resurrection Requires Death.
This week our church will gather on the backside of the Fulk's Run Park for baptism. Baptism Sunday is always one of the highlights of the year for our congregation and for me as a pastor. There is always a different feeling to the day as we celebrate together. It is always a joy to see all of the people coming to make a public declaration of faith. It is also a great delight to worship with some guests in our midst. The parents, grandparents, friends, and other family of those being baptized come with great joy and anticipation for the moments that lie ahead. But baptism is not just a celebration of life- it is also a celebration of death. Because after all, there can be no resurrection if there is no death.
In Romans 6:4 Paul writes "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."
In order to walk in new life, we must put the old life- the life of sin- to death. Perhaps that is something mainstream Christianity has not talked enough about. The message of Christ is not just a message of life, but a message of death. Yes, we are called to life and life to the full (John 10:10), but in order to live that life of fullness we first must crucify ourselves and our sinful desires (Galatians 5:24). Or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ...When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."*
I wonder, have we lost that sense of self denial and death to the world and its passions in the current Christian culture? Is that why so many Christians struggle with beliefs around homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, greed, and idolatry? Has the message of Christ been so focused on the hope of resurrection that we have lost the truth that resurrection requires death? The truth is that there are desires in each of us that are not conducive to following Christ, and thus they need to die for the life of Christ to fully impact our lives.
The life we are offered in Christ is not a life to supplement the life the world offers- it is a substitute. We are not called to continue to hold onto all the things of this life and add Christ to it; but to surrender all in exchange for the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).
There are desires in each of us that must die in order for Christ to live fully in us. Some of us carry desires of power, greed, lust, or pride. Some desires are worn like a banner for all to see, while other desires are hidden and only fulfilled in our most secretive moments. But make no mistake, we all have desires and sin that must die (Romans 3:23). And might I bluntly say that a Gospel that does not require me to give up any desires, passions, attachments, or pleasures for the cause of Christ seems like a pretty cheap and self-centered Gospel to me. In fact, Jesus himself said that those who follow him needed to be willing to give up everything to carry their cross (Luke 14:25-33).
So, we must descend into the water- we must be lowered under the waves. Why? To show our community of faith our commitment to die. To signal to all around us that like Christ we too will give our lives. We go under the water in order to rise up again, to remind us of the living hope we have that when we die, then we will live (1 Peter 1:3).
You cannot resurrect what has not died. Are there things in you that need to die? Are there desires, sins, and passions at work in you that strive to choke out the Spirit of God in you today? Maybe today you need a mini-baptism, a recommitment not merely to the resurrection of Christ, but the death of your sinful nature.
*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1948/2001), 44.