What does Baptism mean for daily living? It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance, that day after day, a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever. (Luther’s Small Catechism)
For many Christians today, it is a sad fact that Baptism has little or no meaning for daily living in faith. Even for those who talk much about Baptism, or include reference to it in much of their religious language, Baptism seems to have little practical connection to the life of discipleship – at least, not in the way that Luther describes it above.
For example, in the traditional liturgy for weekly worship, one of the places in the service where “death to self and rising to new life” was more clearly proclaimed was in the Order for Confession and Forgiveness. But for many, even this was considered an “optional” part of their regular encounter with God.
In some recent hymnals, an alternative to confession and absolution has been provided in what is called a rite of Thanksgiving for Baptism. The congregation is led to praise God for the “gifts of Baptism” and being “clothed with mercy and forgiveness”* — without any reference to sin and without mentioning any reason for which we, as individuals, are in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Baptism is treated as little more than a stamp in one’s heavenly passport, a past event that has nothing to do with the daily struggle against sin.
On the other extreme, many among the churches of evangelical Protestantism tend to dismiss the Sacraments altogether. Treated as little more than quaint human ceremonies where God is merely a spectator, the Sacraments are not seen as having any real meaning for one’s personal life of discipleship on a day to day basis.
Luther taught something quite different from either of these views. He understood from the Scriptures that the Sacraments are means through which God acts in our lives – not just on a one-time basis, as a past event, but as a divine Word which invades our lives, on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute basis. The promise of Baptism, and its meaning for our everyday lives, is more than simply getting the title of disciple, but doing the job of a disciple.
Baptism is more than just an event we recall from our past, it actually means something in our present day life of faith. Baptism means that God is at work putting us to death each day through repentance and lifting us up again by his grace, so that we may truly die to sin and live to Christ alone (Romans 6). It is in this way and for this reason that God himself “disciples us” daily through our Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28) and teaches us to actually engage in a life of discipleship, led by his Word.
– Rev. Steven E. King
* Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.97