At Easter, Christians’ thoughts naturally turn to the resurrection of Jesus. When we consider the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, we tend to think first of our victory over death in the resurrection of our bodies after this life ends (1 Corinthians 15).
In Romans 6, however, Paul stresses the resurrection life we experience in the present as we are united with him in baptism – “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life” (verse 4). The fact that Paul even has to make this argument demonstrates that new life does not happen merely because a person is baptized. Christ’s death and resurrection make our new life possible, but a variety of factors can inhibit it.
The problem Paul addresses in Romans 6 is a misunderstanding of the purpose of grace – “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” (verse 1). Another obstacle to the experience of resurrection life emerges from a failure to recognize the link between baptism and wisdom.
From a human perspective, baptism corresponds to the “foolishness” of the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). God intentionally avoids any path that reflects the worldly power and wisdom underlying all evil in the world. To accept God’s victory over sin and death in Christ and receive his grace in baptism requires trust in divine rather than human wisdom. Baptism confesses our need, our inability to save ourselves, and our acceptance of God’s provision, even though doing so runs counter to our normal instincts.
The same fundamental message characterizes the Old Testament view of wisdom. Proverbs claims the path that seems right to us leads to death instead (14:12). It calls us to trust in God completely rather than our own understanding (3:5). If we accept this humbling perspective, we will also follow the call to search diligently for wisdom (2:4-5), and to make this search a lifelong pursuit:
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. (9:9)
We should not take lightly the magnitude of a decision to place our trust in “the foolishness of the cross” and resurrection from the dead. Many Christians, however, who have confessed their belief in this dimension of God’s wisdom, fail to recognize the need to pursue his wisdom for the new life in Christ.
It should not surprise us that baptism, so closely linked with Jesus’ death and resurrection, ushers us into a new life characterized by the counter-cultural way he lived. Yet the way of worldly wisdom continues to appeal to us, both in the sense that we are bombarded with its sales pitches, and also in the sense that it continues to “seem right” to us in our not-yet-fully-redeemed state. That reality explains why, as in Proverbs 9:9, it is not the wicked but the wise and the righteous who recognize their need for growth and continue to pursue it.
To accept the newness of life God offers us in Christ is wise, but to experience that newness of life in the present requires continual growth in the counter-intuitive wisdom of God.