The mother of a teenager in confirmation class asked to see me urgently. Her daughter wanted to talk with me. She was distraught. She courageously shared her struggle with sin. ‘Pastor, I can’t stop doing wrong things. What is wrong with my faith?’ She lamented. ‘My friend says I should be baptised again.’
This was a struggle I went through myself at one point. Have you ever felt like this? When the teenager I spoke with saw this struggle as a good sign, it changed her life. She rejoiced in the baptism she had already received – and we can too.
Read Genesis 3:1. What was the devil’s first temptation?
‘Did God say…?’ Satan’s first temptation to humankind was to doubt the truth of what God had said. Satan constantly tempts us to go our own way too, and when we fail to do the good we know we should, Satan tempts us to doubt God’s word all over again – that we really are God’s forgiven and dearly loved children through faith in Christ. This was the same struggle of the teenager, above – and it was the same anguished struggle of the Apostle Paul.
Read Romans 7:15–23. What is the core issue (verses 18,19)?
Have you ever felt like Paul?
Despite Paul’s lament, his confidence and joy lie not with what he can do, but with what God has done for him.
Read Romans 6:3–10. The word ‘baptise’ means to wash, dip, or immerse.
In baptism, what – and who – have we been immersed into?
See Romans 8:9–11. Here Paul speaks of the connection with the Holy Spirit and Christ. If we have one, we have the other! At first, it may seem that Paul is indecisive about whether the Roman Christians have received the Holy Spirit. But the Greek word he uses for ‘if’ can also mean ‘since’. Read this passage replacing ‘if’ with ‘since’. How does this give assurance to you?
Read Acts 2:38,39. This text promises that God gifts us the Holy Spirit in baptism.
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul says no-one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless they have the Holy Spirit.
How does Paul voice this great confession in Romans 7:24,25? How does this assure you? How could this verse help someone you know who is struggling with doubt?
Baptism means not merely receiving ‘things’ from God but sharing in God’s very own life (and death and resurrection) and his holiness and righteousness!!!
What is the reality of this? See Romans 8:31–39.
In our struggles with sin, Satan’s condemning voice, and all the brokenness and evil we witness in the world, baptism brings the certainty of Christ’s triumph and everything it means to us personally.
For Paul it is impossible that this should all be taken complacently – yet incredibly this is what the Roman Christians themselves believed: that because they had received God’s grace, it didn’t matter how they lived. For Paul, the spiritual struggle of the Christian life is not the greatest problem – of greater concern is to have no struggle at all.
How does Paul respond to the Romans’ thinking in 6:1–4? Reflect on what it means to have the mighty resurrection power of the risen Christ at work in you.
In the book of Romans, Paul transitions from talking about baptism to his struggles as a Christian to the joy of living in the Spirit (Romans 8). The Christian struggle with sin and faith is a good sign because Christians wouldn’t be concerned about their faith unless they already had the Holy Spirit.
Many texts promise a gracious new reality given by God to us in baptism. These include 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:27, Matthew 28:18–20, 1 John 3:1 and Titus 3:4–7.
Who do you know who is going through a faith struggle and who might be encouraged by these promises?
God bless you as you live by the power of Christ’s death and his mighty resurrection today and always!
Pastor Tim Ebbs serves at St Paul’s Lutheran Church Glenelg in suburban Adelaide and is chair of the LCANZ’s Commission on Worship.