Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him in death
so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life but now made manifest.
In this text from Romans Paul is being a good teacher to Christians who are still learning the full meaning of their faith. The situation is not unique. Age after age there have been those possessed of the treasure of union with Christ and life forever in Him who have understood the meaning of their baptism only in part. Thus Paul begins with a question: “Are you unaware? Do you not know what your baptism means?
It means, says Paul, that when you were baptized, you have already passed through the door marked death, with death taken to be the penalty for rebellion pronounced by God in the Garden, into new life with Christ forever. “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). “If many died through that one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (5:15). “For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification” (5:16). And the free gift is that baptism into Christ through which we are freed from the punishment of rebellion and made righteous by the gift of Christ’s sacrifice so that we can indeed walk in newness of life, already, in Paul’s words, living unto God, enjoying in the Holy spirit a foretaste, the firstfruits as Saint Paul says (Romans 8:23), of life everlasting.
Newness is the great theme of the eternal Gospel The prophets promise a new heart (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 11:19, Joel 2:28-32). Jesus gives a new commandment that is not new: Love one another (John 15:12). Paul promises that by baptism one may walk in newness of life. The prophet John sees a new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21:1), and in his great vision He who sits upon the throne says, “Behold I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
Of all the promises of Christ, moderns find His promise of redeemed persons, bodies and souls, and a renewed creation most difficult. Perhaps this is why we find it easier to descend to a kind of naturalistic paganism, somehow unwilling to believe that death is the final word, hoping that something of the soul survives to live a kind of pointless existence, meanwhile overlooking the very explicit promises of the Gospels and the apostolic writers that offer a texture of insights into the new world that is coming. In it we will not be unclothed but clothed in glory (II Corinthians 5:4). We will sit down at table with Abraham, the father of our faith (Matthew 8:11). Christ will wipe away every tear we have suffered for Him and His kingdom (Revelation 21:4). There will be pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). We will judge the nations (I Corinthians 6:2). We will join with the angels in endless praise of God (Revelation 4:11, 6:9-10).
Each of these images is in its own way a mythic clue to the new world that is coming. Almost every civilization has it own natural insights regarding the ultimate fruition of hope, testimonies to the nearly universal human intuition that there is, or at least there ought to be, a perfecting moment that redeems the pain of historical existence, offering a promised reward for the virtuous or righteous who deserve life in the Blessed Isles or in the glory of the ever-living stars, or the eternity of the Egyptian underworld for which kings were so carefully prepared, or in the eternal warriors’ hall, where there is feasting forever, a time when those who are wise “will shine like the brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3), a Narnian world beyond the West. Or Bilbo’s song as he makes his way toward the grey havens: