In my faith tradition early January is when we talk about Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (See Matthew 3:13-17) and our own baptisms. In Romans chapter six Paul writes:
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Ephesians, chapter four, is one of the best chapters that describes what the new baptismal life is like. As with most of his letters, Paul spends the first part of his letter to the Ephesians focusing on doctrine (chapters 1-3) and the later chapters, (chapters 4-6) focusing on applying the doctrine to our everyday lives.
In verse 1 Paul urges us to “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Isaiah 42:6 gives us a glimpse of that calling:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.”
The Lord has taken us by the hand in Holy Baptism and promises to keep us, so let’s live a life worthy of those great promises.
Verse 2 is a challenge: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” Just because God has called us in righteousness and taken us by the hand in Holy Baptism does not mean we are to be proud. No, Baptism keeps us humble, gentle and patient.
Verse 3 says we are to strive for unity: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Then Paul talks about the unity that is always there: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Verses 4-6)
I love how verse two of the great hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” interprets this verse:
Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses with every grace endued. (Lutheran Service Book, 644)
When it comes to unity in the church it is “both-and”. We stive to keep the unity that we already have. This unity exists among the baptized no matter how divided we may seem.
Then Paul moves on to what are called spiritual gifts. “When he [Christ] ascended on high he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Verse 8)
In verses 11-12 Paul gives a partial list of the spiritual gifts:
Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are pastors, some are teachers. Other gifts are listed elsewhere in Scripture. (See I Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:4-8 and I Peter 4:10-11)
Everyone has one or more gifts but not everyone has the same gift which is all the more reason why we should be humble, gentle and patient with each other.
Verse 12 points out that all our spiritual gifts are to be used, “to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
Then in verse 14 Paul talks about why we want to become mature in our baptismal faith: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Our job as Christians is not to keep coming up with “every wind of teaching,” but to hold fast to the teaching that has already been taught.
Then there is another reminder of our unity: “Speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Verses 15-16)
Through Holy Baptism we are joined and held together as one body with Christ as the head.
Next Paul warns us that as baptized children of God we must not live as unbelievers do. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Verses 18-19)
The world is never satisfied. In contrast, the baptized children of God can say with the psalmist in Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Verses 22-24 echo what Paul says above in Romans 6: “Put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires and be made new in the attitude of our minds;” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Next comes a series of one-liners, straight from the Ten Commandments:
Verse 25: You must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” This goes with the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
Verse 26: “In your anger do not sin.” Anger is related to the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” Notice it does not say don’t get angry. We all get angry. Even God does. But it’s what we do with our anger that counts. In your anger do not sin. And then he adds, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Verse 28 forbids stealing. That’s the seventh commandment, “You shall not steal.” Instead work so that we have something to share with others.
Verse 29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.” Before we let any words come out of our mouths we should stop and ask ourselves, “Is this wholesome?” “Does this build others up?”
Verse 30 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom we are sealed for the day of redemption.” Just as surely as Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptisms. He is the HOLY Spirit so any thought, word or deed that is not holy will grieve the Holy Spirit.
Verse 31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” When we remember that we are God’s beloved children through Holy Baptism we are motivated to live new lives. The world has no problem with bitterness rage, anger and malice but these things are not to be part of our lives as the baptized children of God.
Verse 32 is a good summary verse: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
This verse is like verse 2 but with an important addition. Verse 2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”
Verse 32 adds the important fact that the whole motivation for living holy lives comes from the Gospel. In Christ, God forgives each of us. We in turn are to be kind and forgiving to each other.
Notice that all of these aspects of the baptismal life involve living and interacting with other people. The life we are called to live as God’s baptized children is a life of community not one of isolation. We will have regular interaction with both fellow believers and unbelievers.
When we struggle to live our baptismal lives, let us remind ourselves that Christ lived the perfect baptismal life for us. Through faith in him his righteousness becomes ours. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
There are other good chapters telling us how to live the baptized life, but Ephesians chapter four is one of the best. As the baptized children of God, we are called to live a life worthy of our calling in communion with other people.