N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
(Rom. 6:8-10 NET) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Verse 9 is, of course, central to the Christian message. Jesus was not merely resuscitated to die again. Rather, a resurrection defeats death. Jesus, by being resurrected, has overcome the “mastery” of Death and Sin. “Mastery” could also be translated “dominion” (as in the NIV, ESV, and NASB), which likely is closer to Paul’s thought. Although, if we were to think in terms of “master” and slave, the “mastery” would work very well. It’s just that that word has lost most of its slavemaster flavor in contemporary English.
V. 10 asserts that Jesus died “to sin once for all,” a phrase that is a major theme of Hebrews (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:2, 10). Jesus’s death is a singular event in cosmological history, never to be repeated and yet in no need of repetition (and hence re-baptism is an absurdity and insult to the grace of God). It’s singular occurrence was entirely sufficient.
In Hebrews, the single death of Jesus is contrasted to the constantly repeated animal sacrifices under the Law of Moses, showing its superiority. Paul’s point here is likely more in line with the singular Exodus. The Israelites were freed just once from Egyptian overlords. That one event in history makes them and their descendants free people forever — so long as they remain faithful to the covenant (which didn’t happen).
Jesus’ death was sufficient for all of humankind. He defeated Sin and Death on the cross. They never need to be defeated again. Like Pharaoh’s army at the bottom of the Red Sea, they’re going to stay dead — but having crossed the Red Sea into safety, the Israelites were required to live to God.
Just so, while Jesus has defeated Sin and Death — our versions of Pharaoh — once for all, now that we’ve crossed into the wilderness, we must live to God. We can’t accept God’s salvation from Pharaoh and then worship a golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
A note on re-baptism [JFG]
I say again: re-baptism is an absurdity and insult to the grace of God. In almost every case I’ve witnessed, re-baptism was requested because the believer did not believe the grace of God received after baptism would be powerful enough to expunge his later sins.
The other most common ground for re-baptism is doubt as to whether the believer adequately understood the meaning of baptism. Well, none of us adequately understands the meaning of baptism. Not a one. And we are not saved by our theological expertise. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. The thing the believer needs to have understood is that Jesus is our resurrected Lord (Rom 10:9), the Son of God. We need to know enough to call upon the name of Jesus as Lord.
In fact, I’d make a list of baptismal truths here that most Church of Christ members don’t know — except I’m afraid that as soon as I point out our imperfect knowledge of baptism, some readers would go out and ask to be re-baptized — just to be sure.
Well, our assurance is not in our knowledge of baptismal theology or our punctilious performance of the rite according to all the rule, but the righteousness of God — which assures us that he’ll be true to his covenant promise to reckon our faith as righteousness.
When “gospel” preachers ask people to come forward to be re-baptized “just to be sure,” they’re casting doubt on the righteousness of God and faithfulness of Jesus, for the sake of appearing to have preached the gospel — and at the cost of teaching our members that God cannot be trusted to keep his promises. It creates a mindset of fear and self-reliance — that I must study and read until I know for sure everything that I have to know to earn my salvation. It destroys Christians. Stop it.
If you’re an elder, discourage the practice. Teach the true gospel and never, ever build an argument on “just to be sure” — because that creates a self-help, self-created salvation. Rather, preach, “I”m sure because God keeps his promises.” If you erode trust in God’s promises, then you erode faith (which includes trust), and pretty soon, your members will all doubt their salvation and be miserable, uncertain, worried sheep — making you a bad shepherd. Stop it.
(Rom. 6:11-14 NET) 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
Paul now draws the natural conclusion from his premises. If Sin and Death no longer rule over us, we should stop acting as though they do. We should stop murmuring and asking to return to Egypt because the desert is, well, desert — hot, dry, and inhospitable. After all, God himself is in the desert with us, leading us to the Promised Land. We should live accordingly.