“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)
The season of Easter is the season of Resurrection. The foundation of our faith rests in the promise that Jesus died on the cross and was raised again in victory over the grave. Just as we acknowledge that Jesus died for us, we also bear witness that he was raised for us as well.
In the verses above from Romans 6, Paul expresses the certainty that comes from being united with Christ through baptism. Christ faced death and resurrection not just for himself, but for our sake as well. This is the confidence on which we base our future hope, knowing that even as our mortal bodies will be placed in the ground someday, that will not be the end for us. Christ will return to raise us up and gather us to himself in a new life that is everlasting. All this is most certainly true.
But when Paul wrote these words, he was not just speaking of our eternal life to come, he was speaking of our present life in faith. The new creation we experience in Christ is not just something that is yet to come, but something we get to experience here and now. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that “we too might walk in newness of life” in the here and now.
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther used these sacramental words to describe what it means to live daily as a disciple of Christ, when he talked about what Baptism means for daily living. He wrote:
“It means that our sinful self should be drowned through daily repentance, so that day after day a new self should arise to life with God in righteousness and purity forever.”
The promise we receive in baptism is more than just a stamp in some heavenly passport, reserved for the future, it is the promise of a daily life of discipleship. It is the promise that God is at work, here and now in our lives, putting the old self in us to death so that his new creation would be given life in us. In faith, we called to die to ourselves daily, letting go of our sin and failings, letting go of our selfish desires, and embracing each new opportunity we have to let God’s will reign in our hearts. This “daily dying” means that we do not pray “my will be done” but rather “thy will be done” (Luke 22:42). We pray that Christ would be glorified and not ourselves, just as John the Baptist prayed when he said “He must increase, and I must decrease!” (John 3:30). This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
One of my favorite stories in Scripture is the account of Peter’s attempt to walk water on water, from Matthew 14:22-33. Peter wanted so much to be like his master, and to following in his footsteps, that he imagined he could tread upon the waves like Lord himself. But he quickly learned what it meant to die to himself and be raised to new life, as Christ “immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him” (Matthew 14:31).
Ironically, I have often heard this lesson preached as if it were a story of human potential. We point to Peter and say, “Look what human beings can do, if only we muster up enough faith. We need not drown, if only we hold steady in our faith.” We echo to ourselves the words of the Serpent in the Garden who promised, “You will not die … you will become like God!” (Genesis 3:4-5). But that is a lie.
The promise of the Gospel is not about avoiding death and preserving our own lives. It is the promise of being drowned in the baptismal waters, and lifted up by Christ himself. The good news of Christ is not immunity to suffering and hardship and failure, it is bearing our burdens in faith, knowing that Christ walks alongside us and bears the yoke with us (Matthew 11:28-30). True discipleship is not a means to avoid the cross and bypass our death, but trusting that what happened to Jesus will happen to us. He has united us in his own death and resurrection that we might experience new life on a daily basis! For “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
May we see our lives of discipleship as the reflection of Christ own death and resurrection, following in faith the One who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.