Not A Moment, But A Journey
Not a Moment, but a Journey
Not a Moment, but a Journey
Becoming Christian, or becoming Christ-like, is not something that occurs in a single moment. It is rather more like a journey. The process of becoming more like Christ is something that takes place over a long period of time, over a lifetime. But every journey does have a starting point. In the tradition in which I was raised, that starting point was the sinner’s prayer. It was expected, even of those of us who were raised in Christian households, that there would come a moment where we would pray some form of this specific prayer and then we could have crossed the line from non-believer to believer, from non-Christian to Christian.
In our tradition, the starting point isn’t a prayer you pray. On the contrary, the starting point isn’t even something that you do. The starting point of the Christian life is something the church does to you, and we call this the sacrament of baptism.
Now, in many traditions, including the one in which I was raised and first educated, baptism is not considered a sacrament. It’s treated as something important, something that Christian’s should do as an act of obedience, but it’s not necessary nor is it primary. It’s a secondary action. And I believed that for a long time. I thought it was crazy and frankly unbiblical to think of baptism as anything more than an action that I undertake in obedience to my Lord. And then I found passages like our reading this morning from Colossians.
Before I get into that though, I want to remind you two important facts. First, generally speaking, no one in the Old Testament prayed a prayer to become a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s something that happened to you. It was God’s blessing on your life that you would be born into the chosen family, and the mark of being a member of that chosen family, circumcision, was something done to you without you praying a prayer or really having done much of anything. Because you were born into the chosen family, you were raised as a member of that family, and you bore the mark of that family.
Second, in the early church, there were people claiming (these are Paul’s opponents in Romans and Galatians) that yes, the Gospel was for the whole world, by which they meant that the whole world was now invited to come and join themselves to God’s chosen family by bearing the mark of that chosen family, namely circumcision. This is what’s at stake in all the argument in the New Testament about circumcision: Is circumcision still the starting line for the new covenant people of God?
With all of this in mind, let’s look again at what Paul says in Colossians 2.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,
Paul starts off by commending them to continue in Christ just as they received him. And how did they receive him? Not through circumcision, but through baptism. We’ll see this as we keep reading. But there’s another meaning here. Notice that it’s a journey, not a moment. He doesn’t say, “you receive Christ Jesus the Lord, isn’t that great.” No, he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” because becoming Christlike is not a moment, but a journey. And what walking “in him” looks like, at least here in Colossians, is being
rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Rooted, like a plant sending its roots down deep into the good soil that is the Messiah Jesus. Built up, like a house built on solid ground. Established in the faith, just as you were taught. This is why I will never backdown from my conviction that teaching is integral to the Christian life and the Christian community. If we aren’t teaching the faith, if we aren’t passing it down from one generation to the next, if we aren’t helping each other to think rightly and wisely about God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world, then we may be walking, but we won’t be walking in the right direction, we won’t be on the way. We have to keep teaching. We have to keep thinking, and we have to keep giving thanks. It’s a stretch to say that Paul has the eucharist in mind here, but nevertheless the Eucharist is one of the many ways the church continues to give thanks today.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
In verse eight, Paul warns them, in contrast to walking in Christ, not to taken captive “by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” It’s remarkable that Paul can so easily describe an Old Testament law as something “according to the elemental spirits of the world,” but his point is that they and everything else in this world has been superceded by Christ because they are at best shadows while
Colossians 2:9–10 (ESV)
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
There is nothing you lack, Paul is saying, because there is nothing lacking in Christ. In him the whole fulness of deity dwells body, and when you received Christ, you were made full in him. You lack nothing. You have no need for circumcision. In fact,
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
that is by
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
So, you think you need to be circumcised. Well, you don’t, because one, you already have everything you need in Christ, and oh, by the way, you have already been circumcised because when you have been baptized. What was true of him became true of you, and you didn’t just put off a small part of you flesh, but rather you put off your whole body: you were buried with him, and btw you were also raised with him from the dead. That is why I cannot believe in baptism merely as a symbolic act of obedience in which nothing actually happens. It is the starting line, the moment in which you are made complete by him in whom all the fulness of God dwells bodily. It is the moment in which you die, but it is also, by the power of God, the moment by which you rise, which is why Paul can say in v. 20
Colossians 2:20 (ESV)
If with Christ you died…
and then a bit later in 3:1
Colossians 3:1 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ…
These are merely short hand ways of saying “If you have been baptized...”
And I know, some of you might be saying, “Yeah, but I don’t know, when you’re standing back there at the baptismal font, it just looks like you’re pouring water on someone’s head and not much happens. And I know, I get it. But our whole Christian faith is based on the premise the actions in history carry more meaning than the human eye can ascertain. Just look at what Paul says next,
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
And thanks be to God.
The songs asks, “Were you there?” And no, I wasn’t. But if I had been there, would I have seen the human debt of sin and the legal requirements of the Law nailed to tree? No. Would I have seen the rulers and authorities of this world put to open shame ? No. What I would have seen is the rulers and authorities putting to death another Jewish peasant, but so much more was happening in that moment, more than our eyes can see, and so much more is happening when we baptize someone and welcome them into this new chosen family in the Messiah.
Not a Moment, but a Journey
Not a Moment, but a Journey
Because you have been baptized into Christ, you are complete. You have been filled. There’s nothing that you lack. So walk in him. The filling, the dying and rising, these are the starting point of the journey. But if we forget where we began, and if we forget why we’re on the path we’re on, we won’t be walking on the way, we’ll be walking on our own path, or even worse, taken captive, and having our journey cut short. So be rooted in him. Be built up in him. Not in me. Not in your favorite preacher or author. Not in your favorite news network. Not in your favorite political party. Not in your favorite sports team. Not in anything but him and his body. That means prayer. That means reading Scripture. That means participating in the sacraments. That means coming to continue to be taught the faith when there is opportunity to do. That means participating in the life of this body. All of that, and the list could go on, is how we stay rooted and built up in him in the faith. And the remarkable thing is that this journey, ends where it began because in him, through baptism, you have already died and in him, you have already been raised. What is true of him is true of you, and so in this journey that we call the Christian life, we are simply becoming who we already are in Christ. You will never be more and you will never be less than who were baptized.