The Unbaptized Arm

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24, ESV)

sword armA story about the baptism of Ivan the Great and 500 of his soldiers tells that as each man was immersed he held his sword up out of the water, as if saying, “My sword and my fighting hand will not be joining the Kingdom of God.” This story, “The Unbaptized Arm,” is frequently used in teaching and sermon illustrations about submission to God and Christian stewardship. 1

Figuratively speaking, if this story were to be re-told about us as modern Christians today, what would the illustration look like? What would we be holding up out of the water of baptism? Would we be holding up our wallets, our checkbooks, our will, our pride, our time?

This is not about the theology of baptism. In baptism, we were each fully consecrated to God even if there was only one drop of water. Afterwards, God works in us with our cooperation, increasingly conforming us to his will, making us holy. As St Paul wrote to the Philippians, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13, ESV)

It’s a process. Whatever areas in our lives we might be holding up out of the water, God works in us to bring those things steadily more into alignment with His will for our sake, and for His glory.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24, ESV)

1 Often attributed to Dr. Wayne Dehoney, Walnut St. Baptist Church, and President, Southern Baptist Convention, 1965-1966.

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