Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. With the baptism of our Lord Jesus as our focal point today we meditate today upon holy baptism.
Baptism works. It accomplishes things. It is not just an empty symbol that has no power. It is a sign, but more than that. Baptism gives us adoption as God's beloved children. Baptism takes the righteousness of Jesus that alone can justify before God's judgment seat, and clothes us with it. Baptism takes the cleansing blood of Jesus and bathes us in it. Baptism buries us in Christ's death and raises us up in His resurrection. Baptism gives us the Holy Spirit. Baptism "works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this." Baptism unites us with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Believing that Baptism gives us all these things is faith. To believe means to receive a promise from God and say, "Yes. Amen. I believe this." When water is combined with God's Word, then this Baptism "is a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit," so our faith holds open its empty hands and is given this gift. Faith simply receives this saving bath and says, "Lord, I believe that the promises you have made to me in Baptism are true. I believe that you are not a liar." That's what it boils down to: is God telling the truth, or lying, when He says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16)? Which of us wants to call God a liar? Therefore, believe His promises, particularly the ones He makes to you in Baptism.
And He promises that Baptism works. It works to save us from our sins and give us everlasting life. That is the perfect and complete work of Baptism, and its most important work, but that is not all that Baptism works in us. Baptism also affects our everyday life; it effects our sanctification. Since the Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, and His work is to make us holy, our Baptism brings about the righteous works that we do and the holiness that we take part in. St. Paul says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
If these are fruits of the Spirit, then can we take credit for any love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in your lives? No, as we sing in the hymn, "O Holy Ghost, Thou Fount of grace, The good in me to Thee I trace" (TLH 375:5). So we give all glory to God, as St. Paul says, "We are [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). We do these good works, but God accomplishes them through our Baptism by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who continues to work all these good things in our lives through God's Word and Sacraments in the Holy Christian Church.
But where these good fruits are not found, then Baptism is not being put to use, but rather it is being resisted. Then the old Adam is overcoming the new creature that was born of the Spirit in Baptism. The opposite of the good fruit of the Spirit is the wicked fruit of our sinful flesh. Our vices. St. Paul says, are these: "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
Can we take credit for any lust, gossip, jealousy, gluttony, or slander we have committed? Of course. Luther explains in the Large Catechism that even as Christians, we still have the bad fruits of the Old Adam: "anger, hate, envy, unchastity, stinginess, laziness, arrogance—yes, unbelief. The old man is infected with all vices and has by nature nothing good in him [Romans 7:18]" (LC IV.66).
Yet what is supposed to become of this Old Adam? In our Small Catechism lesson we learned how our Baptism "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." That's what's supposed to happen. We are to drown the Old Adam and live as new and holy creatures. Dr. Luther explains in the Large Catechism, "Now, when we have come into Christ's kingdom [John 3:5], these [vices] must daily decrease. The longer we live the more we become gentle, patient, meek, and ever turn away from unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, and arrogance. This is Baptism's true use among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Therefore, where this is not done, the old man is left unbridled. He continually becomes stronger. That is not using Baptism, but working against Baptism" (LC IV.67-68). Our vices should decrease, and our virtues increase, if we are making use of our Baptism.
But how much vice is acceptable, and how many virtues should we be able to see today in our lives that we didn't have yesterday? Can we graph our progress in sanctification (or lack of progress) on a chart? For you, has it been an unbroken line of success and growth since the day we were baptized? You might get that impression from this line in the Large Catechism: "where people have become Christians, the old man daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly being buried in Baptism and daily coming forth again" (LC IV.71). This could lead us to think we need to keep track of how sanctified we have become. Or worse, it could lead us to conclude that we are not really Christians, because even though our Old Adam should be drowned in Baptism, he has proven to be too good swimmer to keep down perfectly.
Dr. Luther's goal in the Large Catechism is to get us to really grapple with the existence of both the Old Adam and the new creature in us, the sinner and the saint. Both of these are very real, and very powerful, so there should be a battle going on in us. We should be continuously turning away from sin, feeling sorrow for our sin, praying for forgiveness of our sins, and finding forgiveness in our Baptism, in Absolution, and in the Lord's Supper. If your Baptism is causing you to struggle against the Old Adam, then take comfort in that.
Faith lives in a state of constant repentance, and if repentance is going on, then you can see your Baptism at work. Dr. Luther said in the Large Catechism, "What else is repentance but a serious attack on the old man … and an entering into a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism. For Baptism not only illustrates such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For in Baptism are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong [Romans 6:3-6]. Our Baptism abides forever. Even though someone should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it. So we may subdue the old man again…Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism. We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned." (LC IV.74-77, 79).
Repentance is what we are doing here today, and actually every day of our lives. Because of our sin, we are dying: we are mortal and frail, just like wood that is reduced to ash by flames. Our confession of sin shows that God's Law has revealed our guilt and that we deserve condemnation. But in Absolution we hear the precious words, "I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." And that is nothing other than a return to our Baptism, which abides forever, every day of our lives.
Dr. Luther wrote, "[Baptism] is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. …But if anyone falls away from the Christian life, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy Seat [Romans 3:25], does not draw back from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. Therefore, if we have received forgiveness of sin once in Baptism, it will remain every day, as long as we live. Baptism will remain as long as we carry the old man about our neck" (LC IV.84-86).
Even though you carry that old sinful Adam around your neck, your Baptism into Jesus Christ keeps on working to call you back to repentance, and to give you forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This is why it is a good idea to start and end your days "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," remembering and returning to the Name into which you were baptized. Then you remember who you belong to—that you are a child of God—and He has promised you that your Baptism works. So believe it! In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.