by Rebekah Curtis
Baptism makes a person many things. It makes him an object of mercy, a child of God, a brother or sister to all who are in Christ, a saint, a sheep of the Good Shepherd, a born again believer, a disciple.
Baptism does not make a person a master ethicist.
It’s easy to think that being a Christian makes us experts in knowing right from wrong. But we don’t need to look past the Bible to see how poorly the card-carrying people of God understand His ways and will. When the Lord delivered Israel out of slavery in Egypt, He didn’t give them a high five on the other side of the Red Sea and tell them to pay it forward. He gave them ten clear commandments for how to live. Then He gave them a thorough ethical system for life and worship. He gave them Psalms that taught them to pray, Proverbs that taught them how goodness includes wisdom and prophets who taught them to retain their catechism’s doctrine.
When the Word of God came down on earth, people called Him Rabbi, Teacher. Jesus redeems us, saves us and also teaches us. Teaching is in the nature of the Word made flesh. Jesus gives us an advance on the perfection of eternity not with bland abstractions, but by explaining the principles and techniques of goodness with His holy Law (e.g. Matthew 5-7) and by living them out Himself.
None of us begin as ethical experts. Goodness does not come naturally to natural born sinners: “[I]f it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Rom. 7:7). Neither are our natural or circumstantial interests our areas of ethical expertise. Baptism is not a diploma, but a letter of acceptance to the school of the Teacher who also happens to be the Savior. As with any discipline, making a serious study of goodness goes beyond cramming vocabulary and memorizing excerpts from the textbook. It means listening quietly to the wise, owning our failed experiments and giving thanks for the good Teacher who wipes our filthy slates clean.
Jesus makes us good by giving us His goodness in Baptism. He also teaches us the mechanics of the goodness He has given us. The making is a gift. The teaching is a discipline—just what we’d expect for disciples.
Rebekah Curtis is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Ill.