The Christian life is often described as a journey. For the record, I have no qualms with this description of Christianity (though I do have qualms with the band, Journey). Jesus admonishes us to take the narrow path (Matt 7:21-23). Early believers were called, "followers of the way." Paul encourages us to "run the race" (1 Cor 9:27; 2 Tim). Peter describes us as sojourners traveling foreign terrain on our way to a far country (1 Peter 2:11-12). Scripture often exhorts us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Eph 4:1; Phil 1:27). The process of sanctification is, most certainly, a journey.
This concept, however, needs explanation. We are on a journey. But when does the journey begin? Where does it end? And what resources has God provided to take us from point A to point B? Over the next 6-10 weeks, I will attempt to fill out the metaphor. My hope is to offer a (somewhat) comprehensive picture of the Christian life. I have no idea if it will be practically helpful, but I hope it spurs conversation. So let's start at the beginning of the journey (where journeys typically start).
Baptism - The Beginning of the Journey.
Every journey has a beginning. So it is with the Christian life. The Bible describes conversion in startling ways. It involves a death and a resurrection (Rom 6:1-6). It transfers one from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ (Col 2:12-13). Conversion entails a radical, even violent, transformation. Jesus commands believers to bear witness to this event through the act of water baptism (Matthew 28:19-20). I have no intention of entering the maelstrom of debates concerning baptism (e.g. "what does it do?"; "who's it for?", "how's it done?"), but I will say this; the idea of an "unbaptized believer" does not seem to be entertained in the New Testament. When people were invited to believe in Christ, they were invited to express this belief through baptism (cf. Acts 2). Baptism created a line in the sand; a boundary-marker. It demarcated the church from the world. This is especially clear in Acts (cf. Acts 5:13).
So what does all this mean for us? Does baptism magically confer salvation? No. We're saved by grace through faith (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Here's what I think is clear; Jesus intended the Christian life to have a starting point (cf. Matt 28:19-20). Repentance and faith are all that's required for salvation. But baptism makes repentance and faith real in the public sphere.
And this has important implications;
1. Our journey is, from the get-go, a public thing. Baptism visibly sets us apart from the world. Our journey is not merely private, internal or personal. The people around us should know that we're different; that we've been set apart; that we're not walking down the same road they are. Does this mean we should browbeat people with Scripture and denounce secular culture at every opportunity? Of course not. As Tim Keller often says, we've been set apart from the world for the world. People should see we're different not only because we abstain from certain things, but also because we love in radical ways (cf. Jas 1:27). Nevertheless, they should see something. People should know we're on a journey.
2. Our journey is, from the get-go, a communal thing. God desires that we have traveling companions (I'll talk lots more about this in a future post). We do not venture out alone. We make the journey with others, who have also taken the first step. Through baptism, we not only declare our allegiance to Christ, but our membership in his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:13).