St. Paul Logo Graphic

March 16, 2009
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Since the time of creation, God frequently offered a covenant to his people. Each covenant was more inclusive than the former. His covenant with Adam formed a marriage; with Noah, it was with an extended family; with Abraham, God formed a tribe; with Moses, God knit 12 tribes together; with David, he formed a nation.

Despite the covenants, the people as a whole repeatedly turned their backs on God.

Then God sent his Son into the world to bring the New Covenant. It was a covenant with all people who became part of God's family. It was a covenant that was not restricted by ethnic identity or by rituals such as circumcision.

ONE IN CHRIST

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus," St. Paul says in writing about Baptism (Galatians 3.28).

Jews entered into the covenant through birth. They had an ethnic identity that made them part of an exclusive club. Circumcision was the ritual that symbolized the entry of a boy into the covenant. But it was mere symbol. He already belonged to the covenant as part of his inheritance.

The entry into the New Covenant was through faith, by turning one's back on the way of Adam and becoming part of the new creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This entry into the New Covenant is not only symbolized by Baptism, Baptism makes it real. Baptism is not a mere symbol; it transforms the person and incorporates him or her into the Body of Christ.

Because of Baptism, we are no longer part of the body of Adam. We have left the sinful life behind and now the Holy Spirit abides in us. "We have been buried with (Christ) by Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6.4).

That newness of life is not simply an extra bounce to one's step; the nature of one's being has been transformed through Baptism. We have been made "children of God through faith" (Galatians 3.26). The New Covenant has made us part of God's family.

CHILD OF GOD

Being a child of God, however, does not make one God. We are in the process of being divinized – made into God, but we are still children. We need to cooperate in this process of divinization.

Such cooperation leads us to two words that are far from popular today – "obedience" and "slaves."

Choosing Baptism means choosing to be dead to sin. But we need to reaffirm this choice every moment of every day. St. Paul told the Romans, "If you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness" (6.16).

Paul follows up on this topic for the rest of chapter 6, telling the Romans that they have become "slaves of righteousness" and "slaves of God." The paradox is that we find true freedom by becoming slaves.

Because of Baptism, we need to yield, to obey. But we shouldn't think that our previous state was any different. It is not as though we had a glorious freedom that we gave up by being baptized.

Prior to Baptism, we were slaves also, slaves to sin. Sin blew us about in every direction and perhaps because of the randomness, we fooled ourselves into believing we had something desirable.

Psalm 1 puts it succinctly. Those who are slaves to sin "are like chaff that the wind drives away. . . . The way of the wicked will perish." Slavery to sin is a wasted life, a life without meaning or staying power.

But by being faithful to Baptism, one lives in a newness of life, a fullness of life, life in the Holy Spirit. Viewed from the outside, the life of the one faithful to Baptism may seem constricted or repressed. But the culture of fun and pleasure is really the narrower one. Fun is good, but it cannot be our god and if it becomes our god, we cannot live in harmony with the real God.

Paul tells the Romans straight out: "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (8.6).

MASTER TO SERVE

Which would you want – death or life and peace? We may bristle at the language of slavery. But our choice is not whether to be a slave. It is rather which master to serve.

The intelligent choice ought to be clear: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (8.31). Why would any reasonable person turn away from life in a covenant with the loving God who is the author of all that is good?