Presenting Limbs and Organs: Baptism and Sacrificial Ethics

A post of mine on the subject of Baptism and Christian obedience has just been posted over on the Theopolis Institute. It is the second of a three part series and continues the argument begun in my first post ‘Sealed for Resurrection: Baptism and the Objectivity of the Body’.

By speaking of the presentation of our members—our limbs and organs—to God, Paul accords a greater prominence to the body. What we present to God is not just our actions, nor our agency, nor yet even ourselves as agents, but the various and disparate bodily agencies and potentialities of our limbs and organs in their givenness and objectivity.

This makes a difference for the way in which we conceive of Christian obedience. It is the membered character of our body that alerts us to its givenness and otherness. Being an agent is a dimension of being a unified subject, my agency is a unifying bodily principle in which my nature as an agent is expressed, and my actions are the products of that subjective agency. Paul reaches behind all of these things to address the objective givenness of the bodily limbs and organs that serve as the precondition for my being an agent, exercising agency, and being the author of actions.

By stressing the diverseness and multiplicity of the bodily limbs and organs, Paul reminds us of the material body that underlies our unifying agency, reminding us that our subjectivity must always reckon with the objectivity of our bodies, an objectivity that we receive as a gift and must now render as an offering. My very hands, eyes, and feet must be presented to God; henceforth, I must live as one who acts using holy instruments. The assumption of my bodily autonomy and self-possession is challenged at its root when my limbs and organs are dedicated to God’s service.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian Experience, Ethics, Guest Post, Liturgical Theology, NT, NT Theology, Romans, Sacramental Theology, The Sacraments, Theological, Theology, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Presenting Limbs and Organs: Baptism and Sacrificial Ethics

  1. hygelac says:

    An outstanding meditation on the significance of embodied “membered” existence and it’s transformation/deliverance in holy baptism. As your fellow Anglican, I was particularly struck by the connection you have made between Paul’s remarkable claims for Christian baptism in Rom. 6 and his call to present our bodies a living sacrifice. As you are well aware, the latter is paraphrased in the Communion rites of the 1662 and 1928 editions of the Book of Common Prayer and has provided Anglicanism with one highly important insight into the nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Through decades of use, I quite naturally associated this corporate offering with the Holy Communion, which is, of course, entirely legitimate; but, after having thought it through, I think you have made a telling point in tying it to baptism. But if our bodily members have been made alive unto God indeed through a sacramental incorporation into the crucifixion and resurrection of the membered body of Jesus Christ, does it not follow that they have undergone a profound transformation, notwithstanding the truth that the redemption of our bodies will only be completed at the general resurrection of the dead? I ask this because, some of my co-religionists, who believe in baptismal regeneration as strongly as I do, are reluctant to confess that union with Christ is in anyway transformative, save that it remits our sins and seals our justification as a result of the gift of the Spirit. I also believe that baptism confers justification Coram Deo, since it strikes me as odd to believe that union with Christ gives us every “spiritual blessing” except justification. Any thoughts?

    Thanks, Alastair

    • Thanks!

      My understanding is that baptism, like the Eucharist, is a reality-filled promise of the eschatological reality that awaits us.

      My understanding of baptism is that it effects a transformation in certain respects and confirms a status in others. In some respects a baptism is akin to a coronation—a public spectacle manifesting and confirming the status of the monarch who has just ascended to the throne. Without such a spectacle manifesting their status, the process of the ascension to the throne is incomplete. In other respects, a baptism is akin to a wedding. A wedding transforms a bride and groom into husband and wife, God joining them together as one in front of witnesses. This transformation is very real and objective, albeit not a ‘magical’ type of change. Finally, a baptism is akin to an adoption ceremony, bringing one into participation in the life of a new family. Here the character of the new family is of crucial importance. The new family is the Church, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Living God. The unbaptized, even though they may believe, have not yet been made full partakers of this life.

      I believe that people are right to be wary about some of the careless uses of transformative language. However, used carefully, I do not believe that any biblical doctrine of baptism can—nor should it desire to—escape it.

      • hygelac says:

        Thanks so much, Alastair, for your thoughtful response

        I also believe that the language of transformation requires a measured definition, lest we distort the import of the biblical message when it treats of the grace of the sacraments.

        Let me begin by saying how heartily I concur with your definition of baptism and eucharist as reality-filled promises of “the eschatological reality that awaits us.” I might add that though we await the unveiling of that eschatological reality as the “not yet” of our peculiar age, straddled as it is between Pentecost and the Second Advent, in a real, albeit partial way, it has already been inaugurated for those who are in Christ by faith and sacramental rebirth, as the “now’ of our post Pentecost/pre 2nd Advent age. (You might say that the sacraments usher in and sustain us in that awaited eschatological reality, since this reality is the substance of these two reality-filled promises; and I am quite certain that something like this is what you have in mind). Heb. 7: 4-6, at any rate, seems to support this understanding when the author speaks of the gifts that were given to those who were “once “enlightened.”, not excluding tasting of the heavenly gift, partaking of the Holy Ghost, tasting of the good word of God and, most importantly, of “the powers of the age to come.”

        As to transformation more specifically, I could begin by quoting Paul in Eph 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, etc” But I would rather highlight Paul’s description of our salvation in vs 10, because that is where he describes it as nothing less than God’s “creation in Christ” unto a specific end: that of “good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Baptism indeed confers status, but it also the supplies the necessary equipping, so that we may realize the end of our salvation (Again, we must proceed cautiously: while the transformation is nothing less than life from the dead, we should not assume that one arises from the waters fully acclimated to the measure and stature of Christ. We are infants in the kingdom of God after we are born from above water and the Spirit.)

        Now if I were to pinpoint one grace in particular amongst those we receive in baptism, as it pertains to our transformation in Christ unto practical holiness and the pursuit of good works, it would be the gift of the Spirit. Of course, Paul is quite clear in Titus that we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost.” But in Rom 6 the exhortation to reckon ourselves dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ is followed immediately by the serious warning not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies “that we should obey it in the lusts thereof.” But the remedy for the latter seems to come in ch 8 where Paul expounds on the Spirit, especially vss 12 and 13: “therefore brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

        There is much more I could say, but I think it best to cut this ramble short.

        Thanks, Alastair. Your’s is one of the finest of theological blogs. Keep up the good work.

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