Devotion: Philippians 3:20-21Last Sunday we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. I advised the congregation to read together in families or with friends 1 Corinthians 15. I am surprised I have not received any questions regarding the 'baptism on behalf of the dead' found in 1 Corinthians 15:29:
"Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" -1 Corinthians 15:29
Two schools of orthodox thought have emerged on Paul's mention of the practice, but both support the same conclusion. First, Paul may mention a practice of the Corinthian church of baptizing dead relatives by vicarious proxy. In this view the Apostle mentioned a practiced, but did not approve it to show the absurdity of denying the resurrection of the dead. In essence, with the first view, the Apostle is saying something like, "Look, if there is no resurrection of the dead, why bother doing this dubious practice?" Now, this first view is problematic on many levels, not the least of which being that the New Testament in general and the Apostle Paul in particular are exceedingly clear that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Romans 10:9).
The second school of thought attempts to understand the term 'dead,' as not referring to people who have died, but rather the physical, earthly, lowly, fallen body as dead. The idea of being dead in sin has some pretty clear biblical backing (Ephesians 2:1) and seems to fit the wider context of the New Testament. In this view, the emphasis is on baptism, not the dead and the argument is something like, "If your body, dead already, is going to be disposed of at physical death, why bother baptizing the physical, spiritually-dead body at all?" Personally, I lean toward this second school of thought on the difficult passage as I think it is both charitable to the Apostle and fits better in the wider context of the passage regarding taking risks for the Gospel with the assurance of resurrection forming the basis of that risk-taking.
The Apostle Paul is clear that resurrection, that is the restoration and perfection of the physical body after death (or in the case of those who will witness the physical return of Christ, at the end of time) is the final and ultimate Christian hope. In our passage from Philippians this week he puts it like this:
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." -Philippians 3:20-21When read in the wider context of his teaching, the hope of resurrection is why we seek to follow Christ. If Christ Jesus has been resurrected, then those who seek him in faith as Lord should have the same hope and the same end in mind. We are to be changed in faith: no longer citizens of a fallen earth, but citizens of heaven with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that entails. Our hope is that when Christ returns, we will be changed to be like him physically in resurrection even as we are changed in faith now to be like him in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Put your hope in Christ and that kind of change that resurrection brings.