THE GRACE AND OBLIGATIONS OF BAPTISM
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Isa 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 104: Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22 ]
What is unique about Christianity? Faith in the incarnation or the resurrection is not peculiar to the Christian Faith. Other religions also believe in some form of incarnation of gods, and even resurrection. Perhaps, what makes Christianity different from other religions is that we believe in the doctrine of grace. In other words, salvation is purely the grace of God; not the work of man. Grace is given to us irrespective of what we have done in life. We cannot earn merits before God but we are called to receive His love, mercy and salvation graciously.
In most religions, there is always a belief in some form of Karma, the effects of what we do in life, good or evil. If we do evil, we will be punished. If we do good, we will be rewarded. In other words, what we sow is what we reap. Even St Paul appeared to affirm this principle. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7f) However, the context of St Paul’s saying is that bad consequences will happen to us when we reject the grace of God.
This grace is given to us through Jesus Christ. It is said that the word, “GRACE” is the acronym for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Through Christ, we are given the grace of salvation freely and without reservation. This is what the second reading from Titus tells us. “When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.”
Baptism, therefore, is the expression of this grace of God given to us freely for our salvation. There are no conditions for baptism except faith in His grace alone. We are justified through faith in Jesus Christ who wrought for us the grace of reconciliation. St Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:22-25)
The baptism of children is a clear example of grace, when they are made sons and daughters of God, heirs of Christ without any merit of their own to show. St Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:8-10) They are given a new life in Christ and assured of eternal life. All who are baptized are given a new dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God through the forgiveness of sins and the bestowing of the Holy Spirit. Our sins are what cause us to lose our sonship and daughtership. With our sins taken away by Christ and the bestowing of the Holy Spirit, we are now able to live out our sonship and daughtership in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only in the Holy Spirit, can we live out our sonship. From now on, even if we do good, it is not something that we can boast about except that the grace of God enables us to do good. St Paul wrote, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9f)
We can do good also because of the example that Christ has set for us to follow. He has taught us how to love and how to be good. “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.” Indeed, Christ has revealed to us our destiny in life, which is to share in the fullness of life with God. We are called to die to ourselves with Him in baptism so that our lives will be reflective of our sonship in Him.
Hence, today as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we are reminded to be grateful for our own baptism. Being baptized is not just for our own salvation but baptism also means that we are given a mission as well to bring others to Christ. The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of His mission. Whereas the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany celebrate the human face of God in Jesus, the feast of baptism reveals the divine face of man by showing our real identity as God’s sons and daughters. This is who we are. Necessarily, baptism obliges us to live out our sonship and daughtership seriously so that others will come to see the human face of God in us and the divine face in man. St Paul urges us, “we must be self restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus.”
Thus, baptism imposes on us the duty of witnessing to the Lord and to be apostles of Christ. The command of the Lord before He ascended into heaven was this, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:19f) Like John the Baptist and the prophet Isaiah, we are to be joyful messengers of the Lord. “Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’ Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.”
We are called to clear the path for people to accept the Lord into their lives by helping them to remove all the obstacles that prevent them from coming to the Lord because of pride, fear, selfishness and brokenness. This is what the Suffering Servant said, “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, let every cliff become plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Many people today are too wounded to be able to see the face of God because of the injustices they suffered or their pride of intellect, thinking they can solve all problems of life and find happiness in pleasure, power and success. To such people, we bring the Good News, words of consolation and encouragement. “Console my people, console them. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for.” Jesus began His mission thus, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18f)
This mission is possible only when we become conscious of the dignity of our sonship and daughtership in Christ. We read, “While Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from the heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests with you.'” To regain our sonship, like Jesus, we need to enter into prayer and intimacy with the Father so that the Spirit of God can rest upon us anew and reinforce our consciousness that we are sons and daughters of God so that we can live accordingly in the power of His Spirit.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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