A friend of mine slaved one summer on a garbage crew. The long, muggy days got more than a bit monotonous.
One morning, to break the boredom, they decorated their truck. Wrapping it in streamers and posters, they advertised: “Just married.” Passers-by honked, laughed and waved.
The problem, however, was that clearly they were still driving a garbage truck.
Likewise, many Christians try to decorate the externals with trimmings of godliness. They obsess with cosmetic Christianity and external meters of righteousness. But until they have a true conversion, it’s as if they’re decorating a garbage truck.
That’s why the apostle Paul adamantly spoke of crucifying one’s “sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24 ). To the Christians in Rome he wrote: “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were, therefore, buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3–4 NIV).
When Paul refers to baptism, he is talking about more than the cosmetics. And he’s not suggesting cute placards to garnish our external lives. In Bible times, Paul’s audience understood that baptism signified—and still does—a complete transformation.
At a recent baptism, I lowered a young woman into the water, but I failed to submerge her completely. She was almost drenched, but a section on her bangs stayed dry. Nobody would have known except me. And maybe I’m all wet on this one, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of an incomplete baptism. What an oxymoron! So I scooped up a handful of water and splashed it on her forehead while giving her a congratulatory hug. Afterward I exhaled a big “Ahhhhh!”
(Just for the record, my hang-up is biblical. Baptism symbolizes a totally new life—not just a partially new one.)
Only when this new life takes root does one experience the character change that seeps through every arena of being—what we watch on television, what video games we play, what Web sites we visit. All the things that command our time will be altered by our conversion to Christ.
After baptism Christ should occupy first place in our lives. We hand over our remote control and let Him determine our programming. That’s how He changes us from the inside out. And it’s the only kind of change that interests Him.
People can try all they want to wear the right posters and streamers to craft the way other people see them. But their true nature will always betray them.
There’s no substitute for the transformation Jesus wants to perform in people’s lives. And if anyone tries to deny that fact, well, they’re full of garbage.