Baptism reminds us that we have put on Christ and entered a full resurrection life in which the old man has no place.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
The act of full immersion baptism is symbolic of our death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus. It represents a visible statement to God, to ourselves, and to others that we believe in Christ and all that He has done on our behalf. While it’s essentially a physical act of obedience, I have heard countless testimonies of powerful supernatural work that God has released through it. The key is we put on Christ through the obedience and surrender behind it. Whatever hang-ups or preconceived beliefs we may bring with us to salvation, the Bible does clearly indicate that baptism is necessary. This isn’t because it’s some kind of weird spiritual ‘translation’ like the wine and bread somehow morphing into the actual physical body and blood of Jesus. Baptism is us taking a stand and fully identifying with Christ. It’s obedience in the natural mirroring the truth of the supernatural.
To put on Christ is absolute identification.
Baptism is an enactment – a tangible reminder – that we have put off the old man and put it to death. It also reminds us of the second step, that the old man is buried with Jesus. Not was, is. More importantly, it reminds us that we then put on the new man. We put on Christ when we rise with Him into His new life. This is a radical truth that too many believers don’t fully grasp. There are two reasons for this. The first is that we often see the cross and the resurrection as two separate events, with some down time in the grave between. The second is that we struggle to fully comprehend the absolute and complete exchange or identification that took place. Baptism reminds us tangibly that the cross, the grave, and the resurrection are one spiritual event which took place over three days.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus cannot be separated. They are all parts of the same whole, and together make up the victory we call the cross. The second problem is a little more complex. Perhaps, instead of saying ‘Jesus died for our sins’ we should rather say ‘Jesus died in our sins.’ His identification with us wasn’t a separate, external, in place of identification. It was complete and absolute. He was entirely man on the cross, for one thing. Then He was also each and every single human being. God did not look at Him and see Jesus hanging on my behalf. He saw me and my sin. We must understand that Christ was sinless. For God to punish the sin, the sin had to be present. You and I and the rest of humanity had to be there with all our collective sin.
To put on Christ is to fulfil the exchange on the cross.
Exchange isn’t a complicated word. If I purchase something which doesn’t fit, I take it back and exchange it for something that does. I leave the one I had and walk away with an entirely different one – not a modified one or repaired one, a new one. Christ’s exchange worked ‘backwards’ in that He left His perfect self and assumed our imperfect one. In simple terms, He put on you and me. He did this so that we could, in turn, leave our imperfect self and put on His perfect one. Burial in Christ is kind of the spiritual changing room. We go in as we are and emerge having put on Christ. The old me is left in the grave because I no longer need it. In fact, it cannot – in spiritual terms – follow me because the old me is natural and the new me in Christ is supernatural.
To put on Christ replaces the natural man.
This is a truth we continue to struggle with. The natural man simply won’t stay dead and buried. Even Paul vividly captures the ongoing battle between the tenacious, fleshly part of us which persists in hanging on, even in the face of absolute spiritual truth. Just when we think we’ve effectively sealed the tomb, out it pops to haunt us. Self is very good at sneaking in to hijack the supernatural life to try to empower the natural life which, in Christ, is dead. This, of course, makes it ‘unnatural’ which is kind of creepy when we think about it in those terms. The identification and exchange at the cross mean, very literally, that in the spiritual we replace the natural man when we put on Christ. In practical terms, the rest of our Christian walk is reminding the old me that it’s dead and buried.
This has profound spiritual implications. These manifest in a single powerful truth – my past and everything in it is left behind. A definitive spiritual line exists between what was and what is. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow awaits. Today is not the first day of the rest of my life but the first day of my life. I stand entirely made new, born again, replaced by Jesus, and a spiritual creature empowered to live a spiritual life. This is what it means to put on Christ. It’s the very essence of me in Christ. My identification with Him is absolute and complete. But there’s another side to this beautiful truth that is as powerful. When we identify with Jesus in this way, He completes His identification with us. That is Christ in us. We have Him without, and we have Him within. We are entirely surrounded by Jesus, inside and out.
To put on Christ releases the supernatural.
When we look at identification with Jesus in this way, we begin to look at our Christian walk in terms of victory rather than defeat. If, when we put on Christ, the past is gone, this must surely include everything. We don’t ‘half die,’ it’s an absolute. In the grave, sin, weakness, fear, conditioning, curses, bondages, emotions, and any other human condition ceases to exist. The person who responded or reacted to all of these strongholds and triggers also ceases to exist. It is a supernatural spiritual truth which empowers us to rise in Christ. Our problem, though, is that the notion of exchange hasn’t fully settled in us. We somehow want to tuck the old one into a pocket as we walk away with the new. At some point – like baptism, which is our outward act of obedience – we must make the choice to leave the old behind.
I love how God inserts little, practical things to help us. Baptism is a case in point. It has two purposes, aside from the obvious statement it makes of our salvation. The first is to remind us that we have put on Christ and stepped over that line. The second is so that we can remind the old man that it’s dead, done, kaput, buried – finished and klaar, as we South Africans would say, ‘klaar’ being the Afrikaans word for finished. This is our spiritual weapon, a supernatural truth to bundle the old me back into the tomb, dust off my hands, and move on. We can echo Jesus – it’s finished and finished. We can tell the old me it is no longer me and that all the baggage is no longer mine. Our problem is that for too long, we used the old things to justify self.
To put of Christ is to put on His justification.
All our lives, we’re conditioned to prove ourselves, to achieve, and to make something of ourselves. We hold onto every hurt, slight, hardship, and all ill-treatment to justify our failures and shift the blame for our condition. Everything becomes woven into a tapestry that, if one thread were severed, would rapidly unravel. Self-justification wants to live in the supernatural with Jesus but still hold onto the things we ‘have a right to’ because we earned them or they cost us. Oddly enough, it’s our scars we try to hold onto the most. But when we put on Christ we are justified in Christ. All those other things must fall away if we are to fully live in the spiritual power of this truth. The grave is the place where we accept that all those other things and the old self is worth nothing, and justification in Jesus is worth everything.
The reality is that there is no ‘best of both worlds’ when it comes to life in Christ. There is no ‘best’ in the old life. If there was, we wouldn’t need Jesus. But the old me wants Jesus to ‘fix’ – to justify – all the things that were wrong. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to replace all the things that were wrong. Our persistence in trying to hold onto the past when we put on Christ seems a little backward when we look at it in this light. Isn’t it better to have a brand, spanking new something than one that has been patched and repainted? However good it may look on the outside, we’re very aware that under the gloss and polish there are dings that have been filled, breaks that have been glued, and any number of weak cracks and vulnerabilities not visible.
To put on Christ is both eternal and habitual.
Despite the powerful spiritual truth that we have put on Christ, the old me keeps bouncing back with dogged determination. The new me in Christ is an eternal spiritual truth. It cannot be taken away because it’s finished and finished. But I can lose sight of this and slide into old ways. That’s why putting on Christ must also be habitual. I’ve taken to doing it at the beginning of every day – a conscious spiritual action backed by faith. Truthfully, like all of us, it’s always necessary to repeat this during the day, depending on what confronts me. There are times when I must remind both the new me and the old me of my baptism, of crossing that spiritual line, and that from here on out, I’m fully identified with Jesus. This beautiful truth is evidence of God’s faithful grace. He has already done it all. It is finished.
Lord Jesus, thank You for the incredible privilege of being able to live in full identification with You. Help us to daily exchange the old for the new, fully assured that You have already fully identified with us on the cross. Thank You for the reminder that death, burial, resurrection are the full power contained in the cross and that You left nothing to chance but have already done it all. Quicken Your life within us so that we can make our stand on Your side of the line and keep the old self in the grave where it belongs.