This is building off of the last post, which is connecting the #1010Life to the Apostle Paul’s treatment on spiritual transformation. In one of the most clear and comprehensive passages that explores how it is that we transform into our “new self” (which is the ultimate icon of transformation) he says this:
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4.20-24)
There are two concepts that Paul uses here, and both are foundational to exploring the full dimension of spiritual transformation. The first was covered in the last post – it is the unusual language that Paul uses when he says we are to “learn Christ.” This is not historical information that Paul is discussing – he gets to that in the second half of the sentence with the “truth that is in Jesus.” The unusual command to ‘learn Christ’ is pointing to something far more intimate and experiential. It is as Jesus Christ himself is the one who leads us down the path of transformation, and we can get there only by staying interactively connected to him.
Left alone, that phrase would remain far too abstract to be practical. What does it mean to learn Christ? How do I take next steps into that reality?
That is where the second concept from this text is helpful. Rather than listing immediate behaviors (which incidentally, he does later in the passage), Paul instead grounds the idea of learning Christ in the language of identity. Paul says that we need to “put off” the old self, and “put on” the new self.
Those who study the writings of Paul recognize this as baptism language. It sounds very similar to how he links transformation and baptism in other texts as well. Consider Romans 6.1-9 as an example. He says that our “old self” is crucified when we join Jesus through baptism, and that by faith we are also resurrected with him so that “we too may live a new life.”
This is significant, because baptism is one of the primary metaphors for transformation in the Bible, and identity is at the center of a baptism experience, both for us and for God.
Baptism clearly reflects a shift in identity for the person saying “yes” to the love and grace of God. It is a recognition of a life that was formerly lived outside of God, and a conscious choice to now identity with the person of Jesus Christ. It is a decision (one that we probably don’t fully grasp until much later) to identify not only with the person of Jesus, but the lifestyle as well. We live with a new allegiance.
Perhaps even more significantly, baptism represents an understanding that transformation comes not just through our identification with God, but through God’s identification with us. If there’s anyone in the baptism covenant that should have insecurities and second thoughts it should be God. Yet God responds never wavers. God has chosen to identify with us, and to call us his beloved. We may give him a thousand reasons to break the covenant, but God never does. That’s the transformational power of grace, love, and mercy as expressed through the sacrament of baptism.
With these two foundations – the need to “learn Christ” and to learn to “put off/put on” – we begin to see a path emerge that is quite exciting. Transformation is linked to identity, and identity can only be transformed as we “learn Christ.”
The best and clearest way to see what it is exactly that Jesus is leading us into is to go the actual encounter where Jesus himself was baptized. In the next post we will begin to explore the meaning of this passage as it relates to our everyday life, but for today let’s meditate on these powerful words:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3.13-17)