"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
My teenage daughter recently confessed Christ in the waters of baptism. It was an absolute pleasure to know that The Lord had opened her heart by the Gospel, prompting her to willingly make a public declaration that she believes in, and will be a devoted follower of, the Son of God. I'm also thrilled by the fact that her youth will not be squandered, but that the life ahead of her will be regulated by God's grace, and lived in submission to His will. Indeed, if I would have had an authentic profession at that age, the course of my life would have been different. (But I digress, and can thankfully say that God has, nonetheless, preserved me.)
A few days after my daughter's baptism, we were together in the car, listening to the introduction of my radio show, where I made mention of it. During my opening comments, I described her baptism as indicative of a clean slate before God; a picture of sins being washed away. In response to those comments, she asked a very good question: "If my sins are gone, and I have a new life, what happens when I sin?"
First, I must say that I was encouraged by the fact that she, several days after her baptism, was still giving some thoughtful consideration to it; pondering these things seriously, with sobriety of mind. Rather than resting on the ceremonial laurels of the past event, she desired to grow in her understanding of its significance. It seemed that she had some awareness that her baptism came with meaningful ramifications for her life. Thus, I was delighted to answer her, and afterward, she was visibly encouraged by my reply.
I hoped to meet her good question with a good answer, straight from my heart, and according to the Scriptures. My reply included language along the following lines:
I. Sin's Reality and Remedy
I started by explaining that as long as we are fallen creatures, dwelling on this cursed planet (Genesis 3), we are always going to be sinners, and commit sin. However, in Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8). The penalty for our sin has been removed, so that we do have a clean slate before God. Our entire relationship with God is founded upon Christ, and the blood that He shed. We desire to please God, and we recognize that we fall short. The Good News is that Christ was punished in our place, so that we don't have a cloud of wrath looming over our head, for our failures. We are loved and helped by God, who knows our frame and understands our infirmities (Psalm 103, Hebrews 4). We are constantly confessing our sin, and receiving forgiveness by the Gospel. By the same Gospel, we are constantly repenting of our sin, and receiving cleansing (1 John 1).
It's not that we minimize the severity of our sinfulness and make an effort to do and be good, in our own strength. It's that we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess and forsake our sins, and obtain mercy (Proverbs 28:13). With this mercy comes the power to walk with God, in newness of life and uprightness of character (John 8:11, Romans 12:1-2 ).
I shared an illustration that I once heard about the difference between a cat who falls into some mud, and a pig who falls into it. The cat may fall into the slop, but its nature is to immediately scramble out of it, and try to get clean, as soon as possible. Conversely, the pig loves the slop, and is bound by its nature, to wallow in it. Such is the difference between the believer and the unbeliever. Both fall into sin. One hates it. The other loves it.
Christ's people, though still sinners, are not the slaves of sin. We are lifelong repenters, who rely upon God's grace to direct our steps on earth, and bring us into Heaven. We are not goats, who chew on garbage and rebelliously butt against sound doctrine. We are sheep, who love the truth, and though admittedly weak and pitiful in ourselves, are cared for, led and protected by our Good and Great Shepherd (John 10, Hebrews 13).
II. The Warfare and the Victory
I also let her know, candidly, how hard it is to be a Christian (if, perhaps, I hadn't previously told her, or if she hadn't already found out, by experience). The Christian life is impossible, apart from the grace of God. We will not make it, unless we are kept by the power of God. We are in a constant warfare with the devil and the unbelieving world, which assault our faith, and seek to sway our minds away from God, with a myriad of corrupting influences. But the fiercest enemy that we have is our own self: that old evil nature that we were born with (also known as "the old man" or "the flesh").
The Christian life is a continual struggle, as we do battle against our own selves (Romans 7:14-25). As long as we are in these earthly bodies, we will always be at war against our old nature, which will not depart, until our last breath. But bless God, there is a new nature that God puts in us, when we are born again, by His Spirit (1 John 3). This new person will live forever. The old person was crucified at Christ's cross, and will no longer exist, once we get to Heaven. The old person kicks up dust now, and causes much trouble, but it shall never have total control. Sin will not have dominion over the Christian (Romans 6). The ultimate victory belongs to the new person, which is who we really are, in Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24, Colossians 3:1-10). The old nature is anti-Christ. The new nature is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). The old nature hates God, despises people, loves sin and rejects holiness. The new nature loves God, cares for people and hates evil (Psalm 97:10). We've been conformed into the image of Christ, whom God is pleased with.
The soul's enemies are mighty, and the battle intense, but the Christian's strength is in the power of God, who has predestined us unto eternal life, and will keep us every step of the way. We trust The Almighty to fight for us, as we fight. We overcome through Christ, who overcame, by His own death, in our place. Thus, like the Shulamite, who said "I am dark, but lovely," we confess the blackness of our old, depraved nature, and the brilliant beauty of our new, righteous nature (Song of Solomon 1:5). We give God the glory for, and in, our salvation.
III. The Pleasant Pastures of Christ
Finally, I exhorted my daughter to freely reach out to myself, or any of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are here to help her. She is not alone. She has God, the Holy Spirit to teach and comfort her, and the people of God to support her. We are always available to assist her with any questions or concerns. It is our pleasurable duty to embrace her with wise Biblical counsel and loving, prayerful guidance. We are her companions in this journey that she has embarked upon. We're on the same journey, headed toward the same destination, and led by the same Sovereign God. Her baptism was not a grand finale, in terms of a mere formality to be checked off, and forgotten. It was a grand opening; an introduction to a life of devotion, faith, faithfulness, tribulation, persecution, endurance, joy, mercy and grace upon grace. It's the workings of God in a short earthly life, that will lead unto eternal life.