In a previous study session we had explored God’s consistency. Throughout scripture God had graciously used covenant to recognize people as belonging to him. Furthermore, Jesus’ death fits into this larger story. Christ died to make the new covenant possible. With the new covenant God promises to both forgive and recognize people as his own.
With this background, the New Testament’s teachings on baptism became clear to her. Scripture associates baptism with forgiveness and receiving a spiritual new birth. But why? The reason is because with baptism someone enters into the new covenant thus receiving God’s covenantal promises. In other words, with baptism God grants us a new birth, an undeserved spiritual new beginning.
However now she had a new question. “What happens if I sin after baptism?” Our study returned to the scriptures.
An elderly John knew the church of his day was facing a difficult situation. A new message about Christ with grand spiritual claims had created confusion among God’s people. Disciples needed a way to sort between what was authentic and the rival counterpart. They needed confidence that they had indeed been born of God. The result was the little handbook we call the letter of 1 John.
As John provided guidance addressing the needs of his day, the principles he discussed touched upon my friend’s concerns. “If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6,7).
John portrayed two ways of living life. People either persist in a life characterized by darkness or they pursue walking with Jesus in the light. If the latter is true, John depicted Jesus’ blood as continuing to cleanse us from “all sin.” Furthermore, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8).
These are comforting words indeed. Salvation has not been lost. There is no need to be re-baptized. If a Christian stumbles, he or she needs to get back up, confess and press forward. Yet, this is no game we play with God ….
Sinning Must Cease
In Romans Paul explained how grace reigns through Jesus (Romans 5:15-21). Where more sin exists, more grace is given. This raises an interesting question. If grace enables us to receive salvation no matter how much we have sinned, then why not enter Christ, keep sinning and count on grace to handle it? Paul responded.
Paul pointed back to that transformative moment when someone responds to the gospel with baptism. With the obedient faith response of baptism, a person encounters the death of Jesus releasing him or her from sin’s previous domination and guilt, in order that he or she might serve God (Romans 6:1-11,17,18,22,23).
Baptism sets a person upon the new trajectory of serving righteousness, not sin. Becoming a follower of Jesus entails rejecting sinful ways. While Paul never used the word repent in Romans 6, he did write about being crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) which is at the heart of being a disciple (Luke 9:23-24; Galatians 2:20).
Why do we not willfully plunge forward in sin because grace would cover it? Because in becoming a disciple of Jesus, God’s power released us from sin in order that we might embrace new marching orders.