Friday, June 18, 2010

Baptism III: Baptism and Testimony (cont.)

"Thou are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3)

As noted already (in Baptism and Testimony II) the testimony given at Jesus' baptism was a divine testimony wherein the Father declared to His Son, "I love you and you belong to me." And it was also noted that this benediction is given to every person who receives the water of baptism. For as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, God our Father gives us "all spiritual Christ."

But note when this benediction was given to Jesus. Before Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Before Jesus' temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. And before every temptation in between the wilderness and the garden wherein he was "tempted in all points, even as we are, yet without sin."

Jesus, the perfect man and forerunner of our faith, was not required to prove himself before he received his Father's benediction. No, rather it was the Father's benediction faithfully received by Jesus that enabled him to stand up to the Devil in the wilderness and bow humbly before his Father in the garden.

God delights to frontload the Gospel equation with grace. Breathtakingly reckless grace. The Bible knows nothing of baptism contingent upon a "credible profession." Jesus baptized disciples in John 4 that he knew would desert him in droves a scant two chapters later in John 6. The apostles baptized individuals and entire households on the barest of professions of faith with zero time to examine the intensity, veracity or longevity of those professions.

Why? You ask. Because baptism was never intended to outwardly represent a pre-existing inward reality. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever denied the water of baptism to anyone until they could demonstrate that their conversions were genuine. Rather, they were given the water and its ever-present benediction as a potent and abiding testimony for the initializing and strengthening of their faith. As Martin Luther noted:

"The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Ghost to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith." (Martin Luther, Table Talk CCCLIII, 1569)

So here's the good news Christian: God's dealing with you is frontloaded with grace. Long before your trials and temptations and irrespective of your performance, God's testimony to you in your baptism is this, "I love you child, and you belong to me." This testimony is not given to you as a reward for being intelligent, good or faithful; rather it is given for the inception and increase of these things. As always, you need only receive and believe what God is saying to you.

In the divine economy, godliness is never a prerequisite for grace, and intelligence is never a prerequisite for revelation. Rather grace gives rise to godliness, and revelation begets intelligence. And, as I say often, "If this is not true then I quit yesterday."

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