Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. (Romans 6:3-4; ESV)
Paul asks these Christians a very strong question. Don’t you know what baptism means? Don’t you know what baptism symbolizes? Baptism is our statement we are dead to sin. I think the NLT helps reveal the meaning of Paul’s teaching more clearly.
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? (Romans 6:3; NLT)
Baptism joins us to Christ and places us in the body. When we make the decision to come to Jesus and are baptized, we become joined to Christ. But the point is not simply that we are now joined with Jesus. To be baptized into Christ is to die and rise again with Christ. We are dying to the world of sin, sin’s rule and power, and rising to live a new life as a new person joined to Christ.
There is a symbolism expressed in the act of immersion. Going down into the water signifies our burial. We are putting to death the old person and the old way of living. We are not going to live for sin. We are not going to submit ourselves to sin’s power and rule any longer. In going down into the water we are declaring that we no longer live in the country of sin nor will act like citizens of sin. Our rising out of the water signifies our resurrection to new life. Immersion is signifying the death of our old life in sin and the rising of a new life joined to Jesus that replaces the old life. Our rising up reflects that we are under a new master. We will not serve sin as our master and ruler. Instead, we will serve Jesus as our master and ruler. We will reign in life and not let sin reign over us. Paul will discuss this thought further in the rest of Romans 6.
I would like for us to consider a few things at this point. First, the form of baptism matters. Sprinkling water on a person does not symbolize the death to sin and the raising to a new life. Pouring a pitcher of water over someone does not symbolize being buried with Jesus. The Greek word that is translated “baptized” in verse 3 is baptizo and the word means “to immerse, to submerge.” Baptism is a burial. There is not anything special in the water. There is nothing in the act alone that saves. We can immerse ourselves in water every day if we like by taking a bath. Baptism is not a sacrament. You are not finding the overflowing grace of God by just being nagged by friends or family to finally get into the water. What makes baptism powerful is the symbol that it carries and what you are saying by carrying out this symbol. The act is symbolizing the declaration of the person that they are dying to the rule of sin and death and are rising up to a new life. This immersion in water marks the occasion. This is when the new life begins. There is no such thing as a Christian who has not been baptized. Thomas Shreiner states, “Thus Paul is saying here that all Christians have participated in the death and burial of Christ, for all Christians had received baptism” (Baker Exegetical Commentary, Romans, pg. 306). We are not united in Christ when we believed, but when we were baptized, according to Paul. Friends, if you were sprinkled as baptism, you were not buried with Jesus and you have not joined yourself to Jesus. I want each of us to see that this is a very important act because it is the method God has given us to express our faith in him so that he will overflow grace to us. This is how begin our death to sin and reign in life in Jesus.
Schreiner continues, “Roman Christians inevitably thought of water baptism since it was the universal initiation rite for believers in Christ. Moreover, Paul probably loosely associated baptism with water and baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), since both of these occurred at conversion. Thus any attempt to distinguish between Spirit baptism and water baptism in the Pauline writings goes beyond what Paul himself wrote” (ibid, pg. 306-307). I would be a bit more forceful that water baptism and the Spirit baptism are directly tied together, not loosely tied together. Peter told the crowd that those who believed and were baptized would be saved and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). But showing the association of the pouring out the Holy Spirit and water baptism will have to be left for another post.
More to come from Romans 6….