Dying down, rising up: The steps down into the baptistry and then disappearing momentarily under the water symbolises the old life dying, just as coming up again and emerging out the water symbolises rising again in new life. It is also a memorable experience with the prayerful encouragement of friends in the congregation – not one easily stolen by the enemy.
The faith ceiling
The most common challenge in a pastoral situation is to help people understand that they cannot live above what they believe about themselves.
It takes a certain amount of faith. However, the basis in Scripture is clear enough and quite straightforward.
"Dying to self" is a teaching that will be familiar to many old-school Christians and Galatians 2:20 a familiar verse: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Paul's explanation in Romans 6:2-6 is conclusive. "All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death... buried with Him through baptism into death in order that... we too may live a new life... no longer slaves to sin." These words are often read at baptisms where going down into the water under floor level symbolises being buried and also hidden, and coming back up symbolises resurrection to new life. It is not just symbolic – it is a sacrament and there is a spiritual transaction which mirrors the theatre, and the excitement, of the occasion.
Dr Neil Anderson explains clearly in his enduringly-popular book Victory over the Darkness, chapter 4, that the old self. independent and disobedient to God, had to die so that our "body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin."
Death, he continues, is the ending of a relationship but not the ending of sin's existence.
"Sin hasn't died; it is still strong and appealing. But when your old self died with Christ on the cross, your relationship with sin ended for ever. You are no longer 'in the flesh' but 'in Christ' (Romans 8:1).
"Does this mean that you are sinless? By no means. The death of your old self formally ended your relationship with sin, but it did not end sin's existence. But by virtue of the crucifixion of the old self, sin's power over you IS broken (Romans 6:7, 12 and 14). You are no longer under any obligation to serve sin, obey sin or respond to sin."
Neil tells the story of a pastor who said he had been struggling to live a victorious Christian life for many years. "I know what my problem is, he told Neil, 'Colossians 3: 3 says, "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God". I've been struggling all these years because I haven't died like this verse says – how do I die?"
"Dying is not your problem," Neil told him and asked him to read the verse again – slowly. Actually, really slowly. "For----you----have----died..." Past tense! He got it.
Neil counselled him: "You have been trying to do something that's already done, and that's impossible.. The death Paul talks about in Colossians 3:3 isn't something God expects you to do. It's something He expects you to know, accept and believe. You can't do anything to become what you already are."
It's not becoming a different person. It's not supposed to be a struggle, a matter of effort, which is the religious way of going about it.
It is getting the realisation of the change that occurred when you accepted Christ. Knowing who you are is key to how you live. Here's a recap which could be a little Bible study to do with someone you are helping in this area, or your home group:
- The old self has been replaced by a new self, governed by a new nature 2 Cor. 5:16-17
- Your old self was perished in Christ's death and your new self came to life in the resurrection of Christ 1 Cor. 15:20-22
- This new life which is the character of your new self is the very life of Jesus Christ within you Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3-4
(See also the longer explanation and Scriptures in Red Run