All of my life, I have heard that life begins at . . . you can fill in the blank here. When I was in grade school, life began in High School. Then life began at thirty, then forty. My grandmother used to like to say that life began at eighty - or began again. She would have enjoyed that, if when she had gotten to eighty she could have remembered that she was that old. It seems to me that life begins at * * * is simply wishful thinking that expresses a desire for more than what 'life' is currently offering, and the silly notion that some condition outside of us is going to make it all seem worthwhile.
One lesson my parents taught me well was that happiness was not a condition that depended on external events or possessions or activities. Happiness is a state of mind, a choice of perspective, and the attitude with which you approach things - or not, if you choose to be unhappy. Great wealth is no guarantor of happiness, nor fame, nor celebrity. You have to pack happiness into a situation if you want to be happy in it. The external things can make life easier or more difficult, busier or quieter, more crowded or more peaceful, but they cannot make you happy, and they really cannot make you unhappy either - except for the momentary flush of disappointment or frustration that events can trigger. Usually, the conditions outside of your skin serve merely to reinforce the opinion you carry within that life is good, happy, hard, sad, purposeful, empty, or whatever you have chosen as your perspective on your life.
Mind you, you can change that choice, more than once, if you want to. Most people do. They often mark their transitions by certain events, such as meeting their spouse, or losing a loved one, but it isn't the events themselves that change a person as much as it is that person's choice to alter their perspective on life in relationship with or response to those events.
Sadly, many people do not recognize their own will and decisions in the process. They believe themselves carried along by life and events and see themselves as the hapless victims of circumstances. But their choice remains the operative factor. No abundance of good things will make some people happy, because they have decided that life is unfair or unbearable. Others cannot be crushed by misfortune. They simply get up, find the good in what they have around them, and go on being happy. Conditions may create confusion and emotions for a time, but the individual's fundamental perspective on things will finally rise to the fore and they will assume their standard happiness - or misery, as the case may be.
One condition is the exception: Baptism. "Life begins at Baptism". That is a spiritual truth, taught by Paul in Titus, chapter 3, "But when the kindness of God, our Savior, and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us; not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Ghost." In this passage, Paul refers to Baptism as the washing of regeneration, literally, the washing which causes one to be born again. In Romans six, Paul teaches us that we are buried with Christ by our baptism into His death, and raised with Christ in His resurrection, now dead to sin but alive to God. Jesus refers to this reality when He spoke to Nicodemus and said unless a man is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven - and further defines that "born again" as being born of water and the Spirit.
But for the Christian this new birth is an on-going, daily event. Our Baptism signifies that the old Adam in us should be drown and die by means of daily contrition and repentance, with all sins and evil desires and, on the other hand, a new man emerge daily from the waters of our Baptism, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
For the Christian, then, personal choice does not determine their life, but the choice made by Christ in grace, calling them by name and making them His own through Baptism. And each day, we begin again, refreshed and forgiven, and sent out anew by our Lord to live the life He has planned for us. That life is a life of grace, and blessing, and divine purpose - and a life of thanksgiving. What kindness God has shown us, in that He has chosen us individually to be His own and to serve Him by faith and by a life lived in faith and by faith. How good it is to be forgiven. What comfort to know that our lives are never out of control (out of our control at times, perhaps, but not out of His control). What a relief to know that age and disease and death are not going to win at last, but we will rise from our graves to life everlasting in glory with Him! If you think about it, and believe it, that is so wonderful that there is hardly enough time for giving thanks the way we will want to give thanks!
Maybe that is why God tells us, through the Apostle, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
But this truth is only effective for those who know it, and make it part of their perspective on life - sort of like happiness. Life lived on 'auto-pilot', just taking the days as they come without any thought of the blessedness of them, or any thought of purpose for them, God given purpose, can be discouraging and confusing. Events can rush up on you and mug you and leave you in a daze if you do not consider the hand of God in guiding them, and guiding you in them. It doesn't change the days, it changes your perspective on them and your participation in them. God is always at work, dealing blessings and teaching and strengthening us through His Word and by showing us His faithfulness day by day. But you have to expect that faithfulness, and look for it, to recognize it.
Some events are tests, designed to reveal to us who we are and how faithfully God works with us. Some things that occur happen so that we can serve God by word or action, or by simply living faithfully through troubles in order that others may see it and receive that witness. There are those events which may make no sense at all to us - but awareness of the presence of God in our lives gives us the assurance that God knows and things are being guided, even through times of great trouble, to a blessed end by our loving Heavenly Father.
I am not sure that anyone views life with this perspective with absolute consistency, but it is the perspective of faith. When we fail in our confidence for a time, or we behave as though we had not knowledge of God and His love - in short, when we sin, we find the other great truth of Christian life applies: the life of a Christian is a life of repentance. That life also begins in Baptism. Jesus said, in John 8:47, "He that is of God hears the word of God; the reason that you do not hear them is that you are not of God." Baptism opens our ears and our hearts to hear the Word of God.
We can hear God's Word because we have been made God's people through Baptism. And so, we do hear the Law of God accusing us of every sort of sin and folly. We can listen to it because we know it is true, and we know that God has answered our guilt with His grace. Because we have been Baptized, we can also hear the Word of the Gospel, and are empowered by the Gospel to humble ourselves and repent, confessing our weak faith and our actual evil in thought, word, and deed, and calling on God for forgiveness. And when we confess our sins, the Gospel tells us that we are forgiven.
God tells us about our forgiveness through the absolution, and He tells us again by the preaching of His Word, and He tells us again, intimately, by feeding us with His own body and blood in the Holy Sacrament. We are forgiven, just like the man lowered through the ceiling of the home in Capernaum, and we are sent back into the world with the commission of living life in faith - fully aware of God's grace and love in Jesus Christ - forgiven, and charged, as was the woman caught in adultery, to go and sin no more.
But that life - our life in relationship with Christ - was begun in Baptism. That ability to see and know the grace of God began right there, in the hands of God as He claimed us to be His own, and called us by name.
By virtue of your Baptism, your life has been made holy. You may not always treat it as holy, but God has claimed it. He has given each of us a vocation - that is the Latin word for "a calling". Our vocation is a holy trust from God, a divinely ordained mission, a holy thing we can do to please God. Our vocation may include being a husband or a wife, being a son or a daughter, being a mother or a father. Our employment in the world is not a matter of chance as it may appear to us, but a holy calling to show forth His glory by faithfully doing what He gives us to do day-by-day, conscious of His presence and of our serving of Him by the doing of our tasks. Even in retirement, we have God-given tasks to do, and thereby show His glory by giving the labor to Him, and working whatever we do as though we were doing it for Him and to Him as our service and offering.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." The ability to hear that, and receive it, and consider it, and desire to do it, much more, to actually work at accomplishing it comes by virtue of your Baptism. Without Baptism, you are simply what "nature" made you - a "natural" man (or woman). Paul describes what the "natural man" is capable of in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2: "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." So, before and without Baptism, you (the natural man) can do nothing good or God-pleasing because you cannot comprehend what is good or God-pleasing. Hebrews 11:6 sums it up pretty well, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him [God]."
So, life begins at Baptism. Breathing and moving and walking does not begin then, but, then again, that is never the meaning of the phrase, "life begins at . . .". It is life with meaning and purpose that begins; and the meaning is Jesus Christ and His love, and the purpose is God's purpose for us. They give us direction and structure to our existence.
And fulfilling the purpose of God for our lives is one of the easier things we face. We have no great and difficult mission, no extraordinary works of supererogation (really big good works) set before us. We are called by God to be faithful. Sure, there are some guidelines - rules, if you will. We are commanded to love one another. We are instructed to preach the Gospel to all creation. We are to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them everything Christ has commanded us (which means everything He has taught us). But generally, these are the things which we will also be doing if we are living with the awareness of His love, the great gift of forgiveness, life and salvation, a consciousness of what sin is and how bad it really is both in nature and in effect. When we understand that forgiveness is not just something we receive, but must also flow through us to others almost as though we were conduits, then living faithfully - living in the faith and living out the faith - will more or less accomplish God's purpose for us.
I don't mean to deny that God has given us a mission, or work to do, but to affirm that God will work that work through us by His power when we live as His people. Our faithfulness and constancy in walking in His love, and so also in love for one another; our forgiving as we live in His forgiveness; our living out the holiness which we have been given through Jesus Christ; and our ready thanksgiving for all His benefits to us (the word "benefit"actually comes from the Latin, meaning "to do good" or "good deeds" - blessings), which will result in our speaking of His goodness and grace 'in season and out of season' will be the means by which God works in the world around us to accomplish His good purpose for making us His own and loving us son abundantly.
The things that God wants us to do, He always does. He uses our words and efforts, but he gives us both "the will and to do of His good pleasure", as we say in the prayer, that is, He makes us want to do it, and moves us to do the things He needs done. Then He makes them effective. He doesn't wait for us, that is our own intellect and efforts, to do or desire. But gives that to us by His Holy Spirit, and causes us to be effective in His purpose for us as we are faithful in living in the light of His grace. And, at the risk of repeating myself, that life begins at Baptism.
Yours in the Lord,
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