“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him 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.”
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3-11)
The “righteousness of God” is God’s solution to the separation between God and humanity as the result of human rebellion and sinfulness. God’s righteousness refers to the action God took to bring separated humanity into a right relationship with himself. This solution of God was gradually unfolding through the Old Testament, “the law and the prophets”, which paved the way for it. The repair of the broken relationship between God and humanity was accomplished through the cross of Jesus Christ. This restored relationship with God is not something that people can earn or achieve through their own work; it is a free gift from God, the expression of his grace. The scope of this gift is universal, since all people have sinned and failed to manifest the glory of God. As an unearned gift, it need only be accepted through the trusting relationship of “faith in Jesus Christ.”
Paul employs three metaphors to describe what God has done for us in the cross of Jesus; justification, redemption, and atonement. Justification is an image drawn from the law courts. It means that God the judge has pronounced a verdict of acquittal, even though the accused was guilty. God has dismissed all accusations against humanity and remitted all punishment. Redemption is an image from the slave market. Slaves in the Roman period could obtain freedom only if someone paid a ransom price, by which they could be redeemed. On the cross, Jesus became the ransom price that secured our freedom. Atonement is an image from the temple. As the priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial victim in the Holy of Holies to remove the sins of those for whom the sacrifice was offered, the blood of Christ on the cross becomes a sacrifice of atonement for the consequences of humanity’s sin.
What happened to Jesus on the cross happens to believers in baptism. Through baptism “into Christ Jesus” believers become completely identified with Christ and personally united with his death and resurrection. This dying and rising with Christ transforms our very being, so that “we too might walk in newness of life”. Baptism is a crucifixion of our earthbound, Adam like “old self”, so that our sinful self no longer lives and sin no longer controls our lives. Instead, we live with Christ and we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul envisions our dying with Christ and living in him as a step by step, daily movement toward Christ-likeness. Objectively we die and rise with Christ at the moment of baptism, but in living out our baptism we conform our lives more and more to the pattern of his dying and rising. The new life of baptism requires a continual deepening of faith which leads to an ever increasing awareness of this union with Christ. Dying with Christ and living with and for him is a daily challenge and privilege, and the Holy Spirit gives us new vitality to live this new life.
What is the relationship of the cross to Christian baptism?
Crucified and Risen Lord, help me to grasp what being crucified with you means. Free me from my self-centered existence and my sin-prone life. Guide me as I think of myself as dead to sin and newly alive in you.