“Living into Your Baptism”Dr. Gerald L. Borchert Colossians 2:1-15 and Psalm 85 Year C - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Before I turn to our third study of Colossians, I want to pause and reflect with you on another of the specially assigned readings for today—Psalm 85. It contains one of the Psalter’s priceless poems concerning the plight of Israel and it should set an important tone for our further thinking.
If we human beings were able to live consistently honorable and authentic lives, we would not need to be reminded of how often we miss the mark of integrity with God and with one another, or how frequently we find it necessity to say “I am sorry” to someone and repent of our faulty actions.
We can of course refuse to admit our foibles and failures and pretend that we are a slight notch above reproach. But when we pause to look more deeply into the mirror of reality and reflect honestly concerning the person staring back at us, we are normally likely to be confronted with the face of someone who is not quite as flawless as we had assumed ourselves to be.
We might even discover that periodically our frailties seem to pop out at inconvenient times and remind us—as well as others around us—that we are unfortunately an actual part of erring humanity. And the hard lines on our faces may even bespeak the not so glamorous actions of our past week, month or year which we would love to have the opportunity to do over.
Indeed, when we as humans climb between the sheets of our bed at night and hope to nod off into the pleasant land of dreams, we may be visited by a series of uneasy reminders concerning the poor choices we have made and the devious ways we have trod in the pursuit of our personal and corporate goals.
So, I think that many of us can probably empathize with the deep feelings of the poet as he penned Psalm 85 while he was reflecting on Israel’s past and how God had blessed them. In fact, God had covered their sins and removed their guilt. He had restored their fortunes but they had tragically failed to follow the Lord even in the Promised Land. Graciously they had still prospered in their new home because of God’s mercy.
But like us in America, not everything was going well for Israel at this point in time when the psalm was written. Nevertheless, God had been holding back his fiery anger (85:3). Yet the Psalmist knew that such a situation could not remain unchecked. They were overdue for a not so pleasant surprise visitation of wrath from the Lord.
Therefore, the Psalmist turned to God in prayer. And he petitioned the Lord of their salvation to once again restore them to their proper relationship because he knew that God was very angry with them. In fact, he sensed that God was so vexed that he wondered if that anger would ever subside (85:5).
Then like a good analyst, he recognized that for such an abatement of anger to occur the people would need to be revived. So, he petitioned the genuine agent of revival to lead them to that precise end because he knew that this agent of revival was none other than their loving God who had in fact previously shown Israel that he was the author of their salvation (85:6-7).
Having then made this prayer in the integrity of his being, the poet took his stance like a watchman on a tower to await a response from God. What would God’s answer be? That was the crucial question. In confidence he anticipated that the answer of God would be “Shalom”- “Peace,” hoped for response of anyone who has experienced a theophany or an appearance of God.
Fairly certain that the answer would be merciful, the poet was still aware that there was a proviso inherent in any promise of a gracious encounter with God—namely, as the Hebrew text plainly indicates, they would “not return to their foolish ways” (85:8). (The Greek text here reads a more positive “turn to him.”) And he voiced his confidence that restoration was at hand and that all who feared God would experience the Lord’s continual saving grace (85:9).
On the basis of an overwhelming sense of such hope, the poet concludes this psalm with a beautiful summary of the union of love and truth and the kissing of righteousness and peace as he anticipates the Lord pouring down on humans his magnificent blessings in preparation for his divine anticipated footsteps among them (85:10-13).
This psalm, thus, provides Christian worshippers with a very realistic portrait of the relationship that God has with his people and the fact that they can be visited with both blessing and wrath depending on the way they live. Yet this psalm also models the way of dealing with our waywardness and offers us a marvelous picture of the wonderful joy that can come to those who remember their commitments and follow the way of obedience.
And now in moving to Colossians, as indicated earlier, this psalm provides a wonderful introduction to the crucial summons in chapter 2 of Colossians where Paul calls us to a remembrance of our baptism! There he announced to the Christians in both Colossae and Laodicea and to everyone else “who had not seen [his] face” that they should not only be encouraged but “knit together in love” (Col 2:2) much like the earlier psalm had anticipated for the people of Israel to experience the meeting of love and faithfulness and the kissing of righteousness and peace (Ps 85:10).
Indeed, Paul expected these new Christians would understand God’s great mystery of Christ, the real significance of which had previously been hidden (Col 2:2-3), not only from the Gentiles but even from those who like Psalmist had anticipated God’s coming footsteps (Ps 85:13).
Then, like a caring grandfather—in the faith—who was far away from his grandchildren (in Rome), Paul wanted to make it abundantly clear to them that he was very concerned that they would not be led astray by false wisdom or spurious thinking. Although he was “absent in body,” he wanted them to recognize that he was present “in spirit” with them and that he was rejoicing in their steadfastness in Christ (Col 2:4-5). But he also had an important message for them and he called them to a recommitment of the vows they had made earlier and in their baptism.
Yes, in faith they had received Christ Jesus as their Lord (2:6), but that commitment did not merely involve words or doctrine. It was a life commitment and therefore he challenged them to “live in” Christ!” He knew they had been quite well-instructed in the preliminaries of their faith but using four vivid verbs, he also wanted to emphasize that living in Christ would be a significant challenge for them as new Christians.
So, he pictured for them
the need to be well-rooted in Christ as their foundation for life (an agricultural image)
and solidly built on the meaning of his coming (a construction image)
so that they would evidence the soundness of their faith (a legal image)
and would exemplify an overwhelming gratitude for what Christ had done for them (2:7).
Yet it is clear from what follows in Paul’s argument that he was more than a little concerned that these new Christians might fall prey in the Hellenistic world to the many traveling preachers and philosophers who shared strange, error-prone, human-inspired ideas in the “porches” (stoa, the places where the Stoics got their name) of the city market place (forum/agora).
But Paul goes further and warns these new believers that those preachers who focused on the elemental spirits of the universe also could cause them a serious problem. The Hellenistic world was filled with beliefs concerning various deities and sub-deities and he wanted these new Christians to understand clearly that the “fullness of deity” was present in Christ and that left no room for such speculations concerning other deities.
But Paul would also want us and them to bear in mind what he had said to the Corinthians, namely, he would fully agree that an idol was nothing, but partnering with demons was quite another matter (1 Cor 8:4 and 10:20-21). Christ was the fullness of God and the demonic forces would certainly like to challenge that idea, even though there was no hope for them to win against the one who was active in their creation (Col 1:16).
So, in response to all the threats from outside forces, Paul called these new Christians to remember (in case they were considering the Jewish rite of circumcision) that God had supplied them with a new circumcision in Christ. It was not like the old circumcision that involved the physical body; but it was an entirely new act that “put off” such a body of flesh and “put on” Christ in baptism (Col 2:11).
Their faith in Jesus and their baptism marked a new beginning for these ancient Gentiles. Christians then as well as today are people who have been buried with Christ in baptism and have been raised with him through faith in the powerful action of God (Col 2:12). This new way of identification with Christ by faith in the baptismal event was and is absolutely transformative.
Moreover, Paul insisted that although the Gentiles may have once been regarded as hopelessly dead in their trespasses and their uncircumcision of the flesh, it no longer remained as an almost impregnable concern for them. They did not have to become Jews in order to be accepted by God. Instead, Christ had completely altered the old way of dealing with sin and disobedience through his death and powerful resurrection.
And, as Paul explained in Romans, he did it not only for the Gentiles, but also for the Jews as well—indeed for everyone (Rom 1:16-17)! Through Christ, Paul here thundered, God forgave our sins, canceled our indebtedness, and brought us to new life. Christ was victorious. The cross was no longer simply a symbol of death and tragedy.
Indeed, in his death and resurrection Christ overcame the cross and the old legal verdict of “Guilty!” with its consequential requirement of punishment (Col 2:13-14). Christ had conquered death for all humanity! Christ had opened a new way of gaining access and acceptability with God.
But what may stand as even more mind-blowing is that through this incredible act of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God stripped the authority and power from all the spiritual forces that threaten Christians because through it God displayed for all to understand that the true Deity had effectively defeated the forces of evil (Col 2:15).
When, therefore, you “Remember Your Baptism”—remember also that God has given you the resource in Christ Jesus to resist the temptations of the Devil. And even though you may be despised, treated unfairly, or suffer for your faith, God will never abandon you because nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:39).
So with all the strength in your being as a follower of Jesus Christ, I call on you to “Remember Your Baptism,” to “Proclaim your faith in Jesus” and to “Live in Christ” fully rooted in his way, built up in his image, committed to his direction and consciously affirming your thanksgiving for all Christ has done for you (Col 2:6-7).
About the author:
Dr. Gerald L. Borchert is Senior Professor at Carson-Newman University (TN); Former Trustee, Emeritus Professor & Thesis Director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (FL) was a Canadian lawyer who holds an honors Ph.D. from Princeton in New Testament and did post-doctoral work in Jerusalem, Cambridge, Hamburg, Duke, Boston and San Francisco.
He has taught at many schools throughout the world and been the dean of two American theological seminaries. A translator for the New Living Translation, he has penned over 200 articles and over 30 books including commentaries on John, Revelation, Galatians and Thessalonians as well as other works on Jesus, Assurance and Warning, Worship, Evangelism, Counseling, etc., and two Guides to visiting the Bible lands. His most recent work is Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy (Smyth & Helwys).
He is married to Doris Ann Cox, a retired seminary Professor of Christian Education and Ministry Supervision; the father of two sons: Mark, a Professor and Chair of Communications, and Tim, a Teacher of Students on Probation; two professional daughters-in-law; and four grandchildren.
Scripture and Music:
Baptized in Water
The Church s One Foundation
O Master Let Me Walk with Thee
It Is Well with My Soul
The Strife is O er, the Battle Done
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me (Moses Hogan or Jester Hairston)
The Lord s Prayer (Malotte)
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Dale Wood)
In Thee Is Gladness (Kallman)
The Lord s Prayer (Malotte)
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me
If My People (Jimmy Owens)
God and God Alone