What a great day it is for the church today. Whenever we have a baptism, it is a day of rejoicing and celebration. But what is this really all about? When you observe the procedures we go through as they have had baptism classes, as we heard their testimonies and affirmed them for baptism and church membership and now as we have a special service of baptism, it might simply look like church business. Certainly we have church structures related to what is happening here today, but that is not what the center is. The center is Jesus and before we hear the girl’s testimonies, I would like to point to that center.
Please open your Bibles to Colossians 2:6-23. There are many wonderful thoughts in this passage which point to Jesus. These thoughts are summarized in verse 6 which says, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him.”
Those who are being baptized are declaring that they have received Christ Jesus as Lord. What does that mean? Because they are being baptized, they are saying something about the life they intend to live. What does that life look like? Let us examine God’s Word to help us answer these questions.
Baptism is a way of saying to the world, “I have received Christ.” What happens when we receive Christ?
In Colossians 2:9-10 we read, "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." To have received Christ means that “…you have been given fullness in Christ…”
What good news this is! We know that we are sinners and often we loath our weaknesses and our failures. What good news to learn that we have been given fullness in Christ!
What does this fullness consist of? Don’t you hate it when you do a puzzle and find that there are pieces missing? What are the pieces that are missing in us which make us incomplete? We are incomplete in that we are sinners, but Christ died to forgive our sins. We were sinners, but now we are saints. We are incomplete in that we fall short of the glory of God, but in Christ we come to share that glory as we read in John 17:22, "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one…" The life we live is lived in weakness, but in Christ we have been given power. The life we live is often empty, but in Christ we are given abundant life as we read in John 10:10. Our bodies are subject to decay, but in Christ, we are going to receive bodies that are incorruptible. In all of these ways we have been given fullness.
That fullness is given to us in Christ. Jesus has made us complete and when you are being baptized you are saying, “Look what Jesus has done!”
How can that be when we know what we are, that we are sinners and fail to measure up to what God wants us to be? Colossians 2:11 answers that question when it says, "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…"
Circumcision is a physical surgery with an Old Testament background which came to have a spiritual meaning. That imagery assures us with somewhat violent language that sin has been removed from our life.
We have a number of Schubert Chokecherry trees in our yard. They are susceptible to black knot which is an ugly growth on the branches, which if not removed will eventually kill the tree. Every year or two, I remove the black knot wherever I find it. It is something in the nature of the tree to be susceptible to this disease. If there was something that could be done to change the nature of the tree so that black knot would not happen, that would be great, but I don’t know of any such treatment.
Black knot is like sin. It is an ugliness that shows itself in our life because it is within our nature to sin and if we don’t remove it, it will eventually kill us. This verse tells us very good news. When we receive Christ, sin has been cut off. Not just the evidences of sin, but that something within our heart that makes us susceptible to sin so that we can begin to live without the inevitability of sin. When you are being baptized, you are saying, “Yes! My sin nature has been cut off.”
Once again it is important for us to note that this removal of the sin nature has happened through Christ. It is what He has done which has made it possible for us to have our sin nature removed.
Another way of looking at what has happened is with the imagery of baptism in Colossians 2:12 where we read, "…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."
This is a very radical statement. Baptism doesn’t just imply that our life has been washed clean of sin. It isn’t even only that we have been given power tools for holy living. Baptism implies that a death has taken place. That is deep and profound. Jesus died for sin and when we are baptized, we identify with that death. When you die of cancer you beat the disease. It can no longer grow in your body. If we have died to sin, it means that sin no longer has any right to our life because we have died to it. Of course, if you die of cancer it is not only the cancer that stops growing, you stop living. But, Jesus has done something else.
Resurrection is a totally unexpected thing in terms of the human experience. Many people still doubt that Jesus rose from the dead because we don’t experience such things in this world. Just as amazing is the truth revealed in this verse. When you are being baptized, you are declaring that not only have you died, but you have also been made alive in Christ. When we look at our lives and know that we still sin, it is hard for us to grasp that we have actually been raised to a new life which is a life apart from sin. In Christ, we are participate in His resurrection. A life of holiness and obedience becomes possible because we have been raised.
But again we need to remember that this death to sin and resurrection to life happen in Christ. Death to sin and resurrection does not happen because we have lived an exemplary life or been particularly good. It happens by faith in God, as the text points out. We are alive to the new possibility of a victorious holy life only in the power and presence of Jesus in our life.
Another way of looking at what has happened when we receive Christ is found in Colossians 2:13-15 where we read, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
This adds two other aspects of what has happened in believing in Christ and which you are declaring in baptism. The phrase “…canceled the written code…” suggests that there are charges which have been laid against us. The charges against us are that we are guilty of rebellion against God, but in Christ those charges have been dropped.
The other thing which this verse assures us of is that all the powers which are against us have been disarmed. If you were held hostage and an armed person held a gun to you, you would have little chance of escape. If a stronger person came into the room and took the gun away from the hostage taker, his power would be removed and you would be free. That is what has happened. Satan was the one whose power kept us in bondage. But on the cross, Jesus Christ has taken away the power of Satan. It is removed and he has no power over us anymore.
Jesus is the stronger man. He has nailed the charges against us to the cross and He has removed the power of the enemy. What powerful truths! The most wonderful thing about these truths is that every one of them is true in Jesus! Over and over again, at least 6 times we read the phrase “in Christ” in this passage. How powerful! How wonderful.
Therefore, since we are complete in Christ, we can walk in that completeness. Since our sins have been cut off, we can walk in holiness. Since we have died to sin and been raised to new life, we can walk in resurrection. Since the debt has been cancelled and the powers against us disarmed, we can walk in freedom.
Yet there are temptations which try to derail us from living in Christ. This passage identifies those temptations. As you are baptized, you are declaring a direction for life. This passage challenges you to walk in that direction.
There is a temptation to follow “human tradition and the basic principles of this world.” There are many shows like Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray which give wisdom for living. Our government tries to make laws which make sense and they expect us to live by those laws. A lot of those ideas are wise and sound ideas, but not every idea or every philosophy or every strategy follows the wisdom of God.
We are called on to use discernment. Colossians 2:8 warns us to make sure that “no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy…rather than Christ.”
There is a lot of wisdom in this world, which follows the wisdom of God. But not everything that looks like wisdom is the wisdom which follows the worldview of Christ. For example, the world’s wisdom tells us to make as much money as we can and promises that the more money we have the more secure we will be. The wisdom that comes from God teaches us a different philosophy. It teaches us to work hard and if someone does not work, they should not eat. It teaches us that we should not depend on our strength, ability or bank account, but on God and it teaches us to be generous and care for the poor.
Everything we do in life, every philosophy we adopt or live by must be tested by the wisdom which is in Jesus Christ and only that which lines up with what He has taught and lived ought to be lived by us.
Our whole existence as Christians is based on Christ and so the way we live must also be focused on Christ every day.
Another temptation is to live our lives developing a code of conduct which we force ourselves to follow with discipline.
In Colossae, there were false teachers who were trying to introduce all kinds of rules and regulations for living the Christian life. They taught that if you did not observe certain food laws, or keep certain festivals you were not a good Christian. In Colossians 2:17, Paul calls these things a shadow. In Colossians 2:23 he indicates that “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Let me be very clear that God wants us to obey Him. God wants those who follow Jesus to be people who walk in righteousness and holiness. The problem was and still is that there are many Christians who want to walk in righteousness and live by holiness not by obedience to God, but by the power of discipline and obedience to manmade rules. As we have seen in this passage, these things are a shadow that lacks any value in helping us walk in the way God wants us to live.
Sometimes in winter on a clear cold morning, I have observed that the horizon seems to be bent upwards. It is an optical illusion, a mirage. What we see is not really there. Walking by cold discipline and hard legalism is the same thing. It is a shadow which does not lead us to where God wants us to be. We are reminded once again that “the reality is found in Christ.” The way to walk in the new life of holiness is in a deep and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. It is only when we are deeply in love with Him that we are motivated to walk in holiness. He is the only one who can show us the way to live in righteousness. He is the only one who can give us the power to live in obedience.
The Expositors Bible Commentary quotes Maclaren who says “There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ.”
Another temptation is to seek spiritual experiences for their own sake. The text speaks of those who delight in “the worship of angels” and “details about what he has seen, which sounds like a reference to visions.”
The danger is that we may come to seek spiritual experiences instead of a spiritual relationship. When we look for spiritual highs so that we can feel something or when we dwell on visions we have received as a way of proving that God loves us, we are substituting another shadow for the reality. The danger is that this can develop into spiritual arrogance. We may begin to believe, “I am so great that God has blessed me with special insight.” We may begin to desire the experiences and forget about the relationship and Paul warns in this text that such a person “has lost connection with the Head.”
So after you are baptized, the encouragement of this text is to keep connected to the Head. In our physical body the head is critical. If we lose connection to our head, we will not survive. If we are severed from Christ, we also will not live the new life. Living the Christian life has everything to do with our relationship with Jesus.
This morning, I am speaking to those who are being baptized. What a powerful thing you are saying by being baptized. You are pointing to Jesus and saying – “I am complete in Him, He has removed my sin nature, I have died and been raised with Him and there are no charges against me and no power which can defeat me.” Jesus has done all of this and we want to say to you, “Since you are making this commitment, keep on walking in Jesus. Focus on Jesus! He is the reality! Don’t lose connection to the Him!”
But this morning, I also speak to all of us. As we watch these young ladies make this commitment, let us be encouraged and reminded about the reality in Christ and live in it.