Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Remember the Alamo!

Last night we watched a rented video entitled "The Alamo." It is another accounting of that famous battle for the land mass now known as Texas. To the Texans, or Texians, as they referred to themselves in the movie, it was a fight for freedom from tyranny and for a new chance in life. In the bonus material with various commentaries the director of the movie shared some information about the people portrayed in the movie. Of them he stated that they were people who had been driven out of other places as unwanted or people who had failed in some way, all of whom were looking for a new start or to be reborn. He added that what they seem to have forgotten is that in order to be reborn they must first die.

This naturally caught my attention and as I looked at my wife she heard it as well. I commented, "I wonder whether he even knows what he just said." Unlikely. Nevertheless, we both heard it in its greater context. While the director was speaking of worldly rebirth, the language was that of baptismal rebirth. Moreover, the director's comment very forthrightly depicts what many if not most Christians forget: that to be reborn, a person first must die.

Of course, this is impossible for us to accomplish. But as the Lord wondrously proclaimed, "With God, all things are possible." Not only is this miracle possible with God, but He promises to fulfill it and He does. Baptism is the rebirth of dying to sin and being reborn to the life that is in Christ Jesus. Jesus proclaims it various times and His apostles repeat it emphatically. The rebirth is a once for all time event that carries forward throughout a person's life. God works the death of the sinner and raises up to new life the saint. Through daily remembrance of this miracle worked by the Holy Spirit, the new saint daily mortifies the old sinful nature through confession and reception of God's absolution, repenting of his own actions and trusting God's good and gracious promise and actions. The effects of a person's baptism are ongoing. They continue throughout every moment of every day of the person's life. This is true as long as the person continues in the faith and new life into which he has been baptized.

However, not all who confess Christ believe that Baptism is God's work. Instead, many count Baptism as something that they do toward God, rather than something that God works toward the individual. Then, instead of being a life-giving fountain, Baptism is transformed in the person's own imagination into an initiation into a life of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness by pursuing various good works. These works include such things as: deciding to follow Jesus; accepting Jesus into one's life; committing one's life to Jesus; making Christ the center of one's life; believing in Jesus. When these things are transformed into one's own works rather than the works of the Holy Spirit that manifest themselves in the person's life, the person loses the new life of freedom that God graciously works in Baptism. The person trades one form of deception for yet another deception so that God's means of grace are merely symbolic tokens of what the person must really do for himself.

The Gospel is about freedom, freedom to live in the new life that Christ purchased for all. God promises that this new life is a life of faith, faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Thus those who through Baptism are crucified with Christ do not need to seek God's righteousness by anything that they do for themselves. God has already worked His righteousness in the person. The new life is already the possession of that person. Therefore the goodness that the person seeks is not his own goodness, but God's goodness. This truly is a rebirth or regeneration for the struggling sinner. Then hope is more than wishful thinking. The person no longer needs to wish that he were a better person. In Christ he IS perfect, even as the Father in heaven is perfect, for God has declared it in connection with Baptism. What God declares IS. The person can depend upon it.

But as the director of "The Alamo" reflected, people tend to forget that in order to be reborn that they first must die. If we cling to the old way of being righteous by our own works, we have not died. We cannot live in communion with the world and in communion with the kingdom of God simultaneously. Either we are dead to the world or we are dead to God. This is a matter of trust. This is a matter of who or what our true God is. Do we rely upon being joined in holy communion with God in Christ crucified as our confidence, or do we in some way still rely upon our own efforts and/or some other person, thing, or group?

The way of rebirth unto new life is in Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In Him we are free to live as God's beloved children, free from doubt and fear and condemnation. This is what Jesus was born to accomplish for us. He completed His mission. It is finished. He has gone ahead of us to the right hand of power to prepare our heavenly home for us.

This is the focus of the season of Advent. What a gloriously beautiful vision we behold!

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