Last night at church, in honor of St. Paul, we discussed the concept of conversion. Is it necessary? What role does baptism play in one’s conversion/salvation? One of the questions that came up is whether an individual is “saved” after baptism regardless of how that individual leads his life. In other words, if I’m baptized as an infant but never show any evidence of faith, can I still go to heaven? Most of us in the room would say no. I wonder what today’s lesson from Hebrews might suggest.
Our reading is Hebrews 10:1-10, and, on the surface, it doesn’t have a lot to do with baptism. Instead, it’s the authors way of comparing Christ’s sacrifice with those sacrifices in the Temple. The author concludes that unlike the Temple offerings, which must be made day after day, year after year, the cross shows that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Bulls and goats = temporary forgiveness; Christ on the cross = permanent forgiveness.
But we all know that, despite Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrificial event, we still go on sinning. We’re not supposed to be proud of it, but it happens. That means that what Christ did for me is as effective for my future sins as it is on my past. That isn’t a reason to sin all the more so that grace may abound (Rom. 6), but it is a comfort that the power of forgiveness enacted on the cross is greater than any of my sins.
So if we and our sins are buried with Christ through our baptism and if we emerge from the baptismal waters forgiven and cleansed, why would there be a limit to that forgiveness? Where do we draw the lines? When is someone not forgiven if Christ’s death is totally efficacious and through baptism we are united with him in death? I get the whole “public confession of faith” deal, but, if that’s going to be the standard of conversion/salvation, shouldn’t we find a better entrance rite than baptism? The biblical and theological symbolism behind baptism are clear—sin are buried; we are washed clean. Isn’t a lower theology of baptism a denial of the cross’ power?