In verses 1-3 of chapter 6, the author reviews six basic teachings that form a sort of "elementary doctrine of Christ". It's not clear from this passage how much one should know about these ideas in order to "graduate" from the spiritual infancy the author refers to, but at the very least we can assume that these ideas are important and fundamental to living the Christian life and following Jesus.
This time we'll focus only on the first three, which include:
1. Repentence from dead works: Repentence means "changing one's mind", and resolving to do a 180 regarding the subject at hand. "Dead works" is generally understood to refer to activity intended to earn good standing with God, or activity that contributes to relational separation from God.
It is fundamental to the Christian life that we immediately stop and run in the opposite direction when we recognize an action or pattern in ourselves that harms our relationship with God.
Some of us geeks have felt judged in the past, which can put us in a default mode of defensiveness. We might feel like we're protecting ourselves in this mode, but I think we're also positioning ourselves away from a readiness to repent. My own defensiveness puts me at risk of neglecting true self-examination through scripture, and makes me less willing to change even when scripture tells me I need to.
A reality I need constant reminder of is that my worth and value has nothing to do with my actions or achievements. The more we attach our sense of worth to what we do, the more we will live in either shame or denial because of our failings. Repentence is the cure for this. It eliminates denial and takes the sting out of shame.
2. Faith toward God: More than simply believing that God exists, the Greek word for "faith" here means "trust or confidence". Even the most basic understanding of Christian faith is more than believing God exists. It involves trusting him with both our eternal existence and our day to day lives. In this context, this faith is contrasted with relying on "dead works", indicating that we should trust God for all of the things we instinctually try to bring about for ourselves through our own efforts.
Many of us geeks feel overlooked and undervalued by the people around us. I've seen in myself and other geeks a poor reaction to this feeling. Our instinct is to find ways to demonstrate our talent, intelligence or uniqueness. These are all nothing more than "dead works".
Just last week I briefly hijacked someone's story in a conversation in order to get a laugh or display my unique geekiness. Just recently in a conversation on the CGC forums I made a subtle choice in my wording that implied greater thoughtfulness on my part than I could honestly credit myself with. In so many ways littered throughout my daily interactions with others I am trying to be interestING instead of interestED, all in a nearly subconscious effort to feel valuable. In this way I'm an infant, still needing constant reminder to leave dead works behind me.
What I should instead be doing is trusting in God's love for me, trusting the value that he places on me, setting aside my desire to be perceived a certain way, content that the God of the universe thinks I am worth loving. Worth even being tortured and killed for.
3. Instructions about washings: The Greek word used for "washings" here is used in some manuscripts for the word baptism in Colossians 2:12, but in other places refers to washing other than baptism. So it's not clear if its use here refers to baptism or some other ritual washing. Confusion over washings in general and baptism in specific are both evident around this time (see John 3:25 and Acts 19:1-5), so it may refer to both, or to baptism in the context of washings in general.
I think we can take from this that we should aim to understand and be able to explain to others the purpose
of baptism, not being content to simply accept or participate in it for the sake of tradition.
A broader application might be warranted for how we approach our religious customs in general. Are we doing "religious things" because we are motivated by their purpose and meaning, or are we simply doing them because others are and "that's how it has always been done"?
Baptism specifically is a rich symbolic experience that, whether we're participating ourselves or simply witnessing it, can remind us of the old life that has died and been left behind, and the new life and new identity we have through Christ.
In general I'm guilty of spending more time thinking about the MODE of baptism and less time allowing the TRUTH it illustrates to encourage me. Whether we believe baptism involves dunking or sprinkling, babies or believers, thinking about baptism ought to trigger a conversation with God in which we're grateful for the new identity he has given us. An identity not based on how smart, discerning, disciplined or talented we are, but on the baffling love God has for us, and the eagerness with which he anticipates our reunion with him.