Sunday, June 26, 2005

Romans 6:1-7 - “Passive Restraint System”

6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, June 23, and Sunday, June 26, 2005

A woman on an Internet message board wrote about an accident she was in. The woman writes, “I was waiting at a light in my affordable, compact car at a major eight-lane intersection here in Jacksonville, Florida, on the day before Thanksgiving. I was hit head-on by a man driving a full-size Ford truck who crossed the center lane. He basically plowed over me with his truck. My vehicle was pushed back about 25 feet, at which time my car was hit in the rear by another full-size truck. My air bag deployed and I was wearing my seat belt, which I credit with saving my life. One cannot imagine the feeling of powerlessness I experienced when I saw that truck heading straight for me and knowing there was NOTHING I could do to stop it. I am a spiritual person, and despite everything, I feel blessed to be alive.”

The woman was saved from death by the air bag and seat belt in her car. She gives the air bag and the seat belt all of the credit for being alive, but imagine if she tried to take the credit. Imagine if this is how it happened. . .

“I was hit head-on by a man driving a full-size Ford truck who crossed the center lane. He basically plowed over me with his truck. My vehicle was pushed back about 25 feet, at which time my car was hit in the rear by another full-size truck. I quickly inflated my air bag and made my seat belt go as tight as possible. My quick thinking and action saved my life.”

If that is the story the woman told, you’d definitely believe that she hit her head pretty hard in the crash. There’s no way that we could react fast enough in a crash to be the one to activate the air bag or make the seat belt go tight. Apparently, a typical car crash lasts 12 hundredths of a second. In order for an air bag to inflate in time, it has to be deploy in 6 hundredths of a second. No one can think and act fast enough to do what an air bag and seat belt do.

Therefore, the air bag is called a passive restraint system. It is passive; it doesn’t require anything from the driver. It does the work.

Now, that’s all well and good, you might say, but what does it have to do with the Bible? Our reading today from Romans chapter 6 could be called the passive restraint chapter. These verses at the beginning of chapter 6 are filled with passive verbs, verbs that talk about what has been done to us instead of talking about our action.

Take a look at the Romans passage in your bulletin. Paul here is talking about what happens in baptism, and he is focused on what has been done to us in baptism. Baptism is God’s action. Look at all of the passive verbs, starting in verse 3. “We were baptized.” We didn’t baptize ourselves; someone else did the action. “We were buried.” “We have been united with Jesus.” “Our old self was crucified.” “So that the body of sin might be done away with.” “We have been freed from sin.” Those are all passive verbs; those are all things that have been done to you.

Like an air bag that deploys without you having to do anything, baptism has its power and effect without you doing the action. God is the one who triggers that spiritual air bag to go off. Baptism is a passive restraint system for your soul. You don’t have to flick a switch, act fast, think faster, inflate your safety net. Instead, God comes to do these incredible, beyond belief, beyond our ability actions—He puts us to death, even while we’re still alive. He links us to Jesus, so that everything that has been done to Jesus, everything that Jesus has is now ours. He gives us new life even while we’re still sinners. God does all of this through water and His Word. He’s the active one; we’re the passive one. The air bag goes off, and we give God all of the credit for saving our lives.

Now it seemed rather silly to think that someone would try to take credit for inflating their own air bag and making their seat belt go tight in order to be saved in a crash. However, spiritually, that’s exactly what some churches teach; they’re teaching that being saved from death involves our actions, that baptism isn’t a passive restraint system but rather an active system, a way that we help in saving ourselves.

I’m studying some books about this passage in Romans, and one of them says, “This is Paul’s main point. We can no longer live under the power of sin because in our baptism we signified that we have died to that power.” Did you see what the author did there? He changed the meaning of baptism from passive to active, from something God does to something we do. The author said, “In our baptism we signified that we have died to that power.” We showed this. In baptism, we are making this statement. That’s making it sound like we inflate the air bag, we save ourselves.

Yet, that’s not what Paul says. It’s not about what we say or what we do in baptism. Rather, God is the actor in baptism. God buries us with Christ. God raises us to new life with Christ. God has put to death the sinful nature in us. God freed us from sin. Baptism is a passive restraint system. God activates the air bag, protecting us from sin and death. God knows we could never save ourselves from crashing into the devil and the grave, so He makes sure that He protects us, He saves us, He rescues us.

What’s wrong with saying that baptism is our action, that baptism is our statement? It takes away the credit from God. I meet Christians who don’t believe in infant baptism, saying that it has to be our action, and infants can’t do it. But then those same Christians say, “Give God all the glory.” Well, if we want to say that baptism is our action, that by getting ourselves baptized that we somehow put ourselves to death and raise ourselves up with Christ, that doesn’t sound like giving God the glory. It sounds like taking the credit for inflating the air bag; it sounds like giving ourselves the glory.

When we baptize infants, it’s one of the clearest times of seeing how it is God who does the saving, God who does the action, God who creates faith, God who rescues our life from the terrible crash we had with sin and death. When you see an infant, you know that they couldn’t ask for this or do this themselves. Yet, it’s a reminder that whether we were baptized as a small child or as an adult, God gets the glory. God is the one who gives us faith and salvation. So it is vitally important to remember that baptism is a passive restraint system, an action that is done to us. God is the only one who gets credit for saving us.

Let’s look at some of passive verbs again, just to make sure we realize that Paul here is giving God all of the credit. God is doing all of the action in baptism and in saving us. No matter how old you were when you were baptized, you didn’t do that baptizing. Someone else sprinkled water, and more than that, God did the powerful work of creating faith and bringing forgiveness in baptism. Baptism isn’t our action; it’s God’s action. Baptism is a passive restraint.

“We were buried with Christ through baptism.” We didn’t bury ourselves; God buried us.

“We have been united with Jesus.” We didn’t make ourselves to be one with Jesus. There’s no way that we could even claim that, making ourselves one with the Creator of the Universe, the almighty, eternal God. By my actions, by my sins, I make it pretty clear that I am completely separate from God, just trash and evil compared to Him. No, to be united with Jesus, to be one with Jesus, that’s not my action. That’s God’s passive restraint system kicking in. That’s God’s action.

“Our old self was crucified.” “So that the body of sin might be done away with.” Nothing much has been different about my life since I was baptized as a child. I still sin; I’m still turned away from God. By myself, I can’t change that reality. My sinful nature being crucified, being done away with, that’s got to be God’s action. I can’t just get rid of the sin coursing through my body, my sinful desires, thoughts, and actions. I can’t do that by myself. That’s a God thing. That’s the spiritual air bag inflating to save me, and I can’t take the credit for it.

“We have been freed from sin.” Breaking free from sin isn’t something I can do by my actions. When I was little, my shoelaces used to get caught in the chain of my bicycle all of the time. I figured out that if I moved over to the grass, and kind of laid myself down, then I could get my shoe off and free myself. Sin’s not like that. No matter how much you try, you can’t untie it, unzip it, unbutton it, unstick it. Your life is like one big shoelace stuck in an impossible combination of gears and chains and spokes. You’re stuck to that bicycle called sin, and it takes God to free us from sin. You can’t get your own shoelace out of this one!

So if baptism is a passive restraint system where God does the action, God does the saving, does that mean it doesn’t matter what we do after we are baptized? Does that mean we can sin all we want, never think about our baptism and Jesus again, and still have eternal life?

Well, let’s take the metaphor of the car accident and air bags one step further. Imagine that our spiritual lives are like one long car crash. If you ever watched the TV show ChiPS, every episode had a major highway accident which usually included one or two cars that apparently didn’t see the huge pile up right in front of them. Those cars would hit the pile and go flying into the sky. Spiritually, those cars are constantly coming at us. We are constantly crashing into sin, temptations, the devil, and death. If the crash is constant, if our souls are constantly in danger from sin, then that air bag has to remain inflated. We need God’s passive restraint system, we need baptism throughout our lives.

However, spiritually, you and I could get out of the car. Even though there are cars and trucks and trains and stampeding buffalo smashing into our car, you and I could get out. In the car, we have the protection of the air bag, but as soon as we step out of the car, well, it’s very likely that we’re going to get hit.

Getting out of the car, that’s like walking away from your baptism, your church, your faith. The air bag can’t protect you outside of the car; your baptism can’t protect you if you reject the faith, reject Jesus. If you walk away from Jesus, decide that you can go it alone, you’re rejecting His protection, His forgiveness, His promise of life after death. Sin will defeat you if you’re alone; death will be the end if you’re alone.

Instead, stay in the car. Stay with the air bag. Life is going to be constantly throwing sin and temptation at you, so stay where there’s protection. Stay in the faith. Stay in Jesus. Remain in your baptism.

That’s why we talk so much about making church a habit. There’s a lot of crashes out there, and here in church, here with God’s Word, you can find that air bag, that passive restraint system, the reminder that your baptism saves you through Jesus Christ. That’s why we talk so much about studying God’s Word, talking to each other about Jesus, spending time with Christian friends, because those are all ways that God keeps us in the car, keeps us surrounded by the air bag, gives us the protection from sin, death, and the devil.

Maybe as you picture this, it seems a little awkward to imagine that you always have an air bag inflated in front of you. You walk up to shake someone’s hand, and it’s like (extend hand really far, reaching around invisible air bag), “How you doing?” You have to wait until there’s no one else in the elevator, because your air bag takes up too much space.

The picture is a bit silly of having a personal air bag inflated, surrounding you at all times, but that’s what I want you to think about today. Spiritually, you’ve got that air bag to keep from being hurt by sin, being killed by the devil’s plan. Spiritually, Jesus has given you a passive restraint system in baptism, has done the work to protect you. Spiritually, you are protected from death, not because of something you did, but because of what God did.

So I look forward to greeting you at the door (mimic awkward hand shake), and remembering that God’s air bag, baptism, protects us all.