More about the Christian life

My Naturalization

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
—Colossians 2:8-21, NIV

Occasionally people from other parts of the world emigrate to our fair land, and after they have lived here a while, they decide to become citizens. In order to receive naturalization papers, they must (among other things) go through a ceremony in which they renounce their citizenship in any other nation and swear allegiance to the United States alone.

So if we approve of that ceremony, how much more should we approve of baptism? For in baptism, we renounce all our past loyalty to the values of this perishing world and take on a new citizenship in heaven, which is eternal!

When I was 17, I had myself baptized by immersion against the wishes of my parents. They said I had been baptized when I was an infant, but I wanted a baptism I could personally remember. I told them I didn’t want to repudiate what they had done, I wanted to relieve them of the promises they had made and take personal responsibility for them. Of course, before I came to this conclusion, I had debated the issue with myself quite extensively, and even as I drove to church to be baptized, I wasn’t sure if I should go through with it. I more or less had to force myself, just to get internal peace on the issue.

It was the only time in my life I had to take an extra pair of underwear and a towel to church! Before the service, I stripped down to my underwear and put on a sort of choir robe. It gave me the same dignity as one of those hospital gowns, except that it didn’t flap open in the back. I didn’t have to walk very far in front of the crowded congregation, but it seemed like a mile. My heart pounded, and I gasped as I stepped down into the cold baptismal font. I grabbed my nose with my left hand and clenched my left forearm in my right hand. Then the pastor put one hand behind my back and grabbed on to my arms. He said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and I felt a quiet panic as he leaned me back and the water closed over my face. I had drowned only the year before and had been rescued by coincidence, so the “symbolism” of baptism as the burial of a dead body and its subsequent resurrection to a life in Christ was no symbolism to me; it was tangibly real! Then he lifted me back into a standing position. I was wet and cold, soaked to the bone, my hair was plastered against my head, I sputtered and gasped for breath, and wiped the water away from my face. All this in front of all of my friends and the whole church! Then I had to slosh my way out of the sanctuary, down an outdoor walkway, and back to the classroom where my clothes were. I dried off, changed my underwear and put my clothes back on.

It was embarrassing, awkward, and uncomfortable, but every indignity and discomfort was transformed to glory, and though I was uncertain beforehand whether I should undergo such a dramatic rite, all doubt was removed afterwards.

Now I see clearly what I could not see before: For me, the baptism recapitulated my drowning and underscored its true meaning: I really did die. I really was buried. I really was resurrected from my watery grave to a new life, which exists solely because of His grace, and which becomes meaningless whenever I stray from serving Him. That simple but somewhat melodramatic rite of baptism has become the background against which my entire life plays itself out. Whenever I fear for my life or when present troubles blind my view of eternal realities, I remember my baptism: for if I have already died, how can poverty, disease, hunger, crime, or even death affect me? Nothing can diminish the life of a dead man such as I! Even in adversity, I see gain, for aside from Jesus’ grace I have no right to be here at all.

Today we are told what we often fail to understand: There is no power or authority in this universe that Jesus does not possess. Compare these two passages:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “I have been given quite a lot of authority. I’m going to take an indefinite leave of absence, during which Satan can run wild, but when I return, he and I will duke it out.”
—Matthew 28:18, Reversed Fractured Version

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
—Matthew 28:18, New International Version

Compare also these two passages:

For in Christ we find some really good suggestions, which we should take under advisement, because he had a lot of good ideas.
—Colossians 2:9-10, Reversed Fractured Version

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
—Colossians 2:9-10, New International Version

Whatever loyalties or allegiances we have on this earth, they will pass away. Nations will fall, institutions will be changed, people will die, civilizations will pass, entire histories will be forgotten by new generations that must rediscover old wisdom as if it were new. All things in this world will finally betray and abandon us when they pass away. If we live to old age, even our bodies will betray us; we will find ourselves trapped in feeble bodies with dim eyesight, muffled hearing, condemned to eat food we can no longer taste. It’s like living in a house built of rained-on cardboard. These things will all pass away, in retrospect it will seem to have been a fleeting moment. It isn’t wise to invest our souls in such fragile transience.

Only One is eternal; only One is faithful; only to Him does it make any sense to give thanks and honor and praise and obedience and loyalty and allegiance.

So order your priorities this day! Change your mind about life! Live for Him who is eternal, and don’t get so hot and bothered about things that will soon pass away. And if you haven’t been baptized, take a courage and do it. If it is wise to submit to a rite that makes you a citizen of a nation, how much wiser is it to submit to a rite that makes you a citizen of eternity!