Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution

Audio here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after” (LC, Baptism). Once, a woman asked me why I spend so much time talking about baptism—which seemed disproportionate compared to what she had experienced in the past. The fact is, we cannot emphasize baptism too much. That would be the same as saying we emphasize Jesus too much. Because, the fact is, baptism—if it is a Christian baptism—is nothing other than Jesus, in His death and resurrection, given to sinners. If it were only an initiation, or only the entrance to the church; or if it were your outward action showing that you had become a Christian inwardly—then it might be possible to overemphasize baptism. But we didn’t just step into the baptismal water and then leave it behind; we walk in that water throughout our entire lives. Paul is not giving us a metaphor in Romans 6 when he says that we were buried with Christ by baptism into death. He never says that baptism is like that, or is a pretty good picture of that. He says that baptism does that. Baptism puts you into Christ, who was crucified and buried and raised from the dead on the third day. So it is literally not possible for baptism to be an event that ended when the water that was put on you dried up. Baptism means your life in that crucified and risen Lord. You are baptized. I am baptized. The Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.

Thus, baptism is your reality; it is the word that God spoke and continues to speak: a word that is completed when you, like Christ, die and are raised from the dead. Until that point, baptism is the daily drowning of your sinful nature, which you have from Adam. That old nature is “irascible, spiteful, envious, unchaste, greedy, lazy, proud—yes—and unbelieving; it is beset with all vices and by nature has nothing good in it” (LC, Baptism). The right use of baptism is not to let that old nature have free reign; it is not to sin all the more so that grace may all the more abound. It is to hate that old nature and daily confess the truth about it, and Christ in His mercy and by the Holy Spirit, grants us daily the forgiving word so that the old Adam is driven and harassed and disciplined and fought until we die; then, in death—and only in death—we will be free of that sinful flesh that still clings to us. The corruption daily decreases so that we become “more gentle, patient, and meek…and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride” (LC, Baptism). This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us in baptism, and it is by faith, not by sight. This happens only as we are turned more and more to Jesus; the irony of our dual nature is that the more we focus on how we’re doing, the less like Jesus we become; the more we hear Jesus’ words, the more that faith is strengthened, and the more we do good works for the sake of others. The sinful nature would rather we did good works to make ourselves better and improve our standing with God and for the sake of human recognition and reward. That must die as well.

So baptism points us in two directions: death and resurrection; the old man and the new; the outer nature and the inner. By baptism, God kills and makes alive. Baptism drives us, on the one hand, to confession, to repentance; and it drives us to Christ, our rock and refuge. So confession and absolution is really just the way that God continues to work out our baptism on and for us. Confession is nothing more than acknowledging the truth of our old, hateful, greedy, selfish, unbelieving nature; absolution is the delivery of the same promise given by God in baptism: that, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, your sins are forgiven and you are still dying and living in Christ. “What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into a new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and exercises it. In baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and strength to suppress the old creature so that the new may come forth and grow strong” (LC, Baptism). “Therefore,” Luther says, “when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian. … For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42[:1] says, ‘As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.’ That is, as a deer trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word or absolution and for the sacrament, etc.” (LC, A Brief Exhortation to Confession).

In yourself by birth, you are a sinner who must and will die. In Christ by faith, you are a holy child of God, without any sin at all, because you have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places. Your life is in Christ, hidden with Him in God; one day, when your baptism is completed, your life will appear, and you will live forever in this body, upon which God put His holy Name. “Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new. If we want to be Christians, we must practice the work that makes us Christians, and let those who fall away return to it. As Christ, the mercy seat, does not withdraw from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain. As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old creature around our necks” (LC, Baptism). Thus, a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/14/16

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