Baptism really isn’t a difficult topic, but it’s become difficult by all the history, tradition and baggage associated with the different interpretations of this ordinance. It’s a beautiful ordinance, and it’s too bad there’s so much misunderstanding about it!
Here’s the bottom line; baptism doesn’t “do” anything to you or for you. It’s a picture of what the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) has already done in a believer’s life. This means it’s only for repentant, professing believers – not infants.
There are good reasons why the Baptist position on baptism is correct, but that’s not my goal, here. Instead, I just want to look at what baptism means. What significance does baptism have? What does it mean? What spiritual truth does it convey? How does it convey this truth?
One good place to go is the Book of Romans.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul gives us the classic comparison between Adam and Christ; the two great representatives for humanity (Rom 5:18). We’re born belonging in Adam’s camp; the first man who disobeyed God and brought ruin to creation and to himself. We’re all fruit from the poisonous tree that is Adam; his disobedience was the fountainhead that poisoned the well, and that’s why you and I are born as sinful people who belong to Satan, not God. As Paul wrote, Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death leads to justification and eternal life for everyone who repents and believes – which is what Paul explains next (Rom 5:19-21).
With that context in place, we now turn to our passage. Paul writes:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound (Rom 6:1)?
Should believers continue to sin and live unholy lives, in rebellion against God and His Word? If our disobedience results in God extending grace enough to cover it all, then should we keep on sinning, so God keeps extending grace?
Implicitly, the question becomes:
- if God always responds with grace to our crimes,
- then, if you’re a Christian,
- does it even matter if you try to live a holy life?
What Paul is trying to teach people to avoid is an attitude that says, “do what you want; you can just repent later!”
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it (Rom 6:2)?
This is Paul’s point – you should want to serve God with everything you have, because you love Him:
- You’ve been set free from sin – so why should you go back?
- You’ve been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved son, through whom you have redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13) – so why should you go voluntarily go back to that life?
There’s been an internal, objective change in your identity with your salvation. When the prophet Ezekiel wrote about the New Covenant (Ezek 36:22f), he spoke about the Lord giving you a new heart, a new spirit, and cleansing you from all uncleanness, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within you to align your heart, soul and mind to want to please God, instead of your former master.
This doesn’t mean moral perfection, but it does mean a new moral orientation of your heart and mind borne out of love for God, based on what He did in saving you from yourself.
So, if that’s the case (and it is), how can you claim the name of Christ and use this foolish excuse as a cloak for deliberate sin? Paul says you can’t – it doesn’t make sense. This sets the stage for the discussion of baptism.
Here’s the point; believer’s baptism is an object lesson and picture of a spiritual reality. It pictures something that God has already done to you. As you go into the water, it pictures your old person is dead and gone. As you come out of the water, it represents that you’re a new person in Christ, with a new heart, soul and mind oriented towards God (i.e. “born again,” Jn 3).
This is Paul’s point in the next verses; he uses believer’s baptism as a figurative metaphor to explain why a professing Christian can’t live a life of deliberate wickedness.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death (Rom 6:3)?
Paul is talking about union with Christ, which means a transfer of ownership. If you’ve been baptized into union with Christ, then the title deed to your soul changed hands from Satan to God. You belong to God, now! He’s adopted you into His family.
And, if that happened, then you were baptized into a relationship with His death, too. Jesus died to atone for your sins and set you free from Satan. That means your old way of life should be dead to you because you’re a new person, with a new heart, a new spirit, and energized by a new will and a love for God. These are spiritual realities, and believer’s baptism is a picture of all this.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
Follow Paul’s chain of thought:
- Jesus died for your sins, in your place, to set you free from a hole you’ll never dig yourself out of.
- You’ve been spiritually brought into union and relationship with Him, which means you belong to God now.
- That means you should count the “old you,” with all its sinful thoughts, intents, and slavery to sin, as dead and gone, with a stake through its heart.
What does this mean for you? It means Christ died to put sin to death, then came back to new life. So, this means your sins have been put to death, and you should act like it by walking in newness of life, too!
Paul repeats the same thing for emphasis:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:5).
If you’re a Christian, you’ve been united with Christ in His death for sin. So, you should consider yourself as dead to sins, because you’ve been spiritually “born again.” You’ll be united with Christ by resurrection in the last days; this mortal life is just the beginning of eternity. So, implicitly, you should live like you actually love Him now, while you wait!
This is what believer’s baptism pictures; a spiritual miracle God already did for you that, by this ordinance, you show and tell the world about.
- Under the water: Your old person is dead and gone. God brought you into union and a relationship with Christ’s death, and the victory it brought over sin.
- Out of the water: You’re a new person! You’ve been born again!
I made these pictures for a children’s lesson on baptism several years ago, but they get the point across:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6).
Jesus died to save you from yourself, and set you free from Satan’s grasp. He was crucified and died to atone for your sins. God has joined you to Him, in a union and relationship, and applied Jesus’ atonement for sins to your account. As a result, you’re not enslaved to sin anymore! So (implicitly), the question is – why would a Christian ever live a life of deliberate and unrepentant wickedness?
He wouldn’t. He shouldn’t. If you are, you should stop, or you probably don’t belong to Christ.
For one who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:7).
This is precious, but the opposite is also true! If you haven’t put your old person to death by repenting and believing in Christ, then you haven’t been set free from sin – you’re still a slave to sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him (Rom 6:8-9).
Christ died for our sins, then rose again. When God brings you into union and relationship with Christ, He applies what Christ did to your account. Death had no dominion over Christ, because He’s sinless. The penalty of death never applied to Him. If you’re a Christian, then death doesn’t apply to you either, in a final sense, because God has applied Christ’s work to your account.
If that’s the case (and, if you’re a Christian, it is the case), then why would a Christian ever deliberately live a life of service to sin, selfishness, and unrepentant rebellion against God, His word, and His Son Jesus Christ? Of course, a Christian wouldn’t.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:10-11).
Believer’s baptism is a simple picture of a spiritual reality because it shows and tells about this commitment. It’s where a Christian declares:
- I AM dead to sin, and alive to God through Christ Jesus – and this is a picture of it!
- God washed my sins away and this is a picture of it!
- My old person is dead and gone, and I’m a new person in relationship with Jesus Christ – and this is a picture of it!
- The Father chose me, the Son lived, died and rose again for me, and the Spirit converted me – and this is a picture of the result!
I’ll end our discussion with Paul’s next words:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6:12-14).
Believer’s baptism is a picture of a spiritual reality, and it signifies a commitment to Christ, because:
the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live selfcontrolled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
That’s the commitment a Christian makes, in baptism. That’s what baptism pictures and signifies. It’s important.
1 For a defense of this “in union with” view, see (1) Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 228-229, (2) James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, in WBC (Waco: Word, 1988), 311-213, (3) John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, in NICNT, combined ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 213-215, (4) Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, in NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 359-360 and (5) Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, in PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 246-247.