New Covenant Baptism is not
the Old Covenant Sign of Circumcision
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. 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. 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. For one who has died has been set free from 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. 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.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.”
Baptism: A Definition
Baptism. Christian baptism. Baptism is a picture. It’s a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It’s that simple. Don’t mess it up. Don’t add to this. Don’t subtract from this. Don’t color it with anything. Baptism is a simple picture of what God did in Christ for His sheep. To be baptized is to be publically, and intimately, identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It’s that simple. Don’t mess that up either.
Why be baptized? Christ commands it: “Go [lit. ‘as you go,’ or ‘going,’ which makes the so-called great commission an everyday commission] and make disciples, baptizing them…” The apostle Peter commands it: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins,” he commands. Baptism is not optional. Baptism is not something that can be pushed aside, dismissed, heaped upon the ever-growing pile of so-called non-essentials. Nor must it be viewed as an act of the ‘super- serious.’ There is no such thing as a super-serious Christ-lover. There is only the Christian. There is only the believer. And believers are those and only those who seriously love Christ!
‘If you love Me’ Christ says. If we love Him, if we have loving affection for Him, we’ll obey Him. We’ll submit to Him. We’ll subject ourselves to His Lordship, His Kingly rule’ “But,” says one, “Baptism is not essential for salvation. Just look at the thief on the cross. He wasn’t baptized. Therefore, I need not submit to it. ” Well, that’s fine … if you’re a thief on a cross! But if you’re not a thief on a cross you had better not dismiss your rebellion as anything but. After all, disobedience is disobedience by any other name. And disobedience is nothing but a manifestation of unbelief. Long gone is the day when shock met such diffident, indifferent dismissals. Will people do nothing but what is essential to their redemption? Do they do nothing unless paid for it? Is this affection for Christ? It is not! Not at all! The wife who loves her husband does more than the bare essentials for him. The same is true for that husband who loves his bride. Affection for each other isn’t satisfied with ‘just doing enough to keep appearances up.’
Observations from Romans Six
In Romans six, Paul speaks of baptism. But he doesn’t do so in a vacuum. There’s a context. For now, let’s look at this as though it were a sandwich. One slice of bread is chapter 5 verse 20: “Now the law [i.e. the old covenant] came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s the first slice. The second is chapter 6 verse 14: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” These words bear out the fact – believers are not under law. Which means they’re not subject to it. These words bear out another truth – believers are under grace. Grace reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life through Christ our Lord. So, does abounding grace mean believers and unbelievers look and act the same way? Romans 6:1- “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” If we’re not under law but grace, and grace aboundeth all the more, “What shall we say?” Shall we then not keep on as though a godly life was a secondary matter? Answer: Paul gives an emphatic “No!” Believers are not to continue in sin. The meat of the sandwich, the verses in-between, explain why. The meat of the sandwich centers on baptism. What is baptism? It’s a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It’s that simple. Don’t mess it up. Don’t add to this. Don’t subtract from this. Don’t color it with anything. Baptism is a simple picture of what God did in Christ for His sheep. To be baptized is to be publically, and intimately, identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It’s that simple. Don’t mess that up either.
First word is death. Romans 6:2. “How can we who DIED to sin still live in it?” Verse 3: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His DEATH?” Verse 4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into DEATH…” Verse 5: “For if we have been united with Him in a DEATH like His…” Verse 8: “Now if we have DIED with Christ…” Got that? It’s clear, right? Baptism signifies and speaks of a death! What is death? What does it look like? If you’ve never looked into an open casket before the service, do so! It’s good for us to look death in the face and see our own destiny – and even be reminded of that which baptism speaks.
Precisely whose death, or whose deaths (plural), is equally clear. The one who studies this passage will be confronted by not one death but two. Again verse 2: “How can WE who died …” Verse 4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death…” Verse 6: “We know that OUR old self was crucified …” Exactly who the “we” and “our” are in these verses must not be a matter of assumption. We must ask ourselves the basics. To whom does Paul write? He writes to “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (chapter 1 verse 7). He writes to “you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (chapter 1 verse 6). He writes to those who have been by grace through faith, justified. Chapter 5 verse 1: “Therefore, since we have been justified [counted righteous] by faith…”
Believers are in view. So when Paul says “How can we who died” and “were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death” he means “How can we believers who died … “and” were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death.” Paul writes to believers.
Why I make much of this is for two simple reasons. First, to the peril of many and even the detriment of the church, many ignore this, refuse to see it, or do not see it because blinded by some previous doctrinal assumption and/or commitment. Secondly, I make much of it to fence and guard and even restrict baptism to believers, not just to the exclusion of infants, but to the exclusion of any who might presume baptism to be something that forces God’s hand.
Which it doesn’t. Baptism, first of all and after all, signifies death. It speaks of the death of those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” It’s for those who have died.
But what kind of death? Death to what? Verse 2: “How can we who died to SIN…” Baptism is for those who have died to sin. But what is it to have died to sin? How is it that those dead IN sin are said to have died TO sin? Being dead IN sin means one thing. Having died TO sin means something entirely different. Having died to sin means no longer being under its dominion. It means being free from sin’s power over you. Sin no longer governs the actions and attitudes of the one who has died to sin. There’s been a decisive break from sinful habits and lifestyles. Sin no longer reigns.
The one who has died to sin has been released from sin’s obligations. And what are sin’s obligations but the obligation for those under its dominion & power to do nothing but sin? To walk according to the old man? The unregenerate lover of everything God hates? But those who died to sin no longer live in sin. Sin has lost its grip. The chains fell off! The prison doors flew open! And Master Sin no longer controls or calls the shots! The power of sin has been decisively broken. There has been this remarkable change in the pattern of one’s life regarding his relationship with sin. He was alive to it. But now he’s dead to it. It doesn’t influence him the way it used to. It holds no attraction for him. Nor does sin itself hold him so as to do its bidding as an addict submits to his craving.
Paul takes up this whole matter in two verses. In verse 6 and 7 he says: “We know that our old self [i.e. our unconverted, unbelieving, sin-loving, selfish, grumbling, covetous, idolatrous self, dead in sins] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin [i.e. our old self] might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.” That is, set free from its power and dominion and domain.
The question then comes. It serves to point out the unthinkable and impossible: “How can we [believers] who died to sin still live in it?” Mark this: Paul defines believers as those who have died to sin. If you have not died to sin, you are no believer. Believers are those who have crucified the flesh with its sinful desires (Gal. 5:24). But if you have died to sin, if you’ve been set free from its power, then living in sin is impossible. You are a believer. You won’t continue to sin that grace may abound! That is unthinkable to you. It’s more than unthinkable, it just won’t happen. If dead to sin, you can’t possibly live in it, too. That is a contradiction
You who are baptized: Are you dead to sin? Have you crucified the flesh with its sinful desires and passions? Or are to continuing in sin? Do the lusts of the flesh, the pride of life, and the love of earthly things consume you? You may have a form of godliness. Or you may not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your baptism is no baptism. Baptism is for believers. And believers have died to sin. If you have not died to sin, then you must. It’s imperative you do so. You must make a decisive break with sin. No such break equals no salvation. Cry out to God that He will set you free from that which damns you to eternal hellfire. He is just and merciful and delights in unshackling the shackled! Wait no longer. Don’t let another minute go by if you are alive to sin.
In verse three, Paul presses the point, linking it to the cross-
Verse 3: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We were buried with Him therefore by baptism into death…”
This is what makes Christian baptism Christian. It’s a baptism into Christ – not a church or ‘covenant,’ Christ. Of course, such baptism has implications for the relationship between the baptized and the church, and even a covenant, rightly understood. I say this only because far too many think of baptism in terms of ‘it’s just me and Jesus.’ Which it isn’t. One is baptized into Christ, but that doesn’t mean he’s to be aloof from the body of Christ.
What we must see, however, is that Paul’s point here is to press why believers aren’t free to sin, why they’re dead to it. He drives his argument straight to the cross (as he loves to do). “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We were buried with Him therefore by baptism into death…”
To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death is to be buried with Him. Amazing picture. Dead with Christ. Buried. We attend the graveside service. The casket is lowered. We know what comes next… But before the shovels go to work, we go home. It’s over. Final. It’s done. That life is over. The burial confirms it. No one buries a dead man only to dig I up again. Here’s Paul’s point: What kind of death did Christ die? And therefore what kind of death does the believer die with Christ? Scoot down to the last part of verse 9 and the first part of verse 10: “…death no longer has dominion over Him [Christ]. 10 For the death He died He died to sin…” Which means Christ’s death broke the power of sin. Death doesn’t rule over Him because He died to sin, which is the sting, or power, of death! Remember: “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned!” To be buried with Christ therefore, is to share in a death that makes it impossible for one to be held in sin’s grip. Is this what you professed when you were baptized, that you were free from sin’s power? That it did not hold sway over you? Or was your baptism empty? If these words of Scripture mean anything, if God be true, Christian baptism is a deeply profound picture. Simple, yes, but unmistakably profound.
Why this death is equally simple, and equally profound. Verse 4. “We were buried with Him by baptism into death (here it is), 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.”
To walk in newness of life! What is that? What is it to so walk? What is newness of life? We must first understand newness of life is the result of a resurrection. There was this death to sin. Now a raising to NEW life, not the same, old life; you understand. Just as Christ WAS raised from the dead, so is the believer. That is why no man baptizes himself; he was raised by the power and muscle of another. He cannot raise himself.
But what is this newness of life exactly? It’s a crucial question. It’s a big question. We need to be clear on the answer.
First, what it isn’t. It’s not a life of pulling your moral bootstraps up. Anybody can do that. Anybody can look squeaky clean. That’s not all bad. Don’t knock those who aim to do all the right things and treat people right. Morality is a good thing, a very good thing. It’s just not newness of life.
Newness of life is simple. But again, it’s deeply profound. Newness of life is the life of Christ. To walk in newness of life is to walk, to live, to think, to conduct oneself, not according to a list, but according to, and being increasingly conformed to, a Person who transcends that “list.” The believer’s law and rule of life is not Moses, but Christ. What is the law of Christ? Christ Himself! Which means that that law cannot be reduced to a list. It’s bigger than a list. “The law of Christ is as inexhaustible as the Person of Christ Himself” (C. Leiter)!
To walk in newness of life is, as we may also state it, to “walk by the Spirit.” It’s to walk by the Spirit, the HOLY Spirit, even the Spirit of Christ who indwells believers. And what does Paul say about the one who so walks? It’s captured in ink for us, in Galatians 5:16. He says that the one who walks by the Spirit will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. That is key. That is foundational. Play with the words a bit and you will see just exactly what the apostle means here. He doesn’t say walk by the law and you will not gratify the flesh. Nor does he say walking by the Spirit results in godlessness. What he says is clear. Walk by the Spirit and you will not indulge in sinful desires. That being true, and since sinful deeds are the result of sinful desires, he who walks by the Spirit, in newness of life will live a life pleasing to God. It is bound to happen.
Paul himself walked this way. His words are best. To walk in newness of life is to be able to say WITH INTEGRITY: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Newness of life! Life lived by and in the power of the Resurrected Christ! Walking in paths of righteousness cannot not happen (from the inside out)!
The third word is union. Baptism is a picture of the believer’s union with Christ in death, burial, and resurrected life. The believer died with Christ, was buried with Christ, was raised with Christ. And not only is the believer in Christ, Christ is in the believer. Verse 5-“If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” That’s not a future thing. That’s now. Resurrection life is now for believers. The indwelling Christ is that life, that law, that rule.
This is the great truth of Christian existence and life. Union with Christ is the atmosphere, the canvas, the ocean if you will, into which and against which we view the creeks and small rivers of the Scriptural commands. I speak this way not to undermine the authority of commands, but only to show them in proper perspective. Commands do not determine who believers are and thus what they do, Christ does. Union with Christ is a consequential union. It radically transforms a man. It even causes him to be godly, Christ-like, obedient to the Scriptures.
A Word of Exhortation:
Finally, the last word: a word of exhortation for all who are baptized as believers, believers as Paul defines them and not some lesser authority, like a preacher.
It starts with verse 11. Look at with me. And when we get to verse 14, see it as the sure and solid ground, the promise, upon which stands the exhortation:
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 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. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
What I long for you to see is this: The truth and reality baptism pictures is not inconsequential. Death and resurrection with Christ, to die a death like His, and be raised like He was, means life will never be the same again. I end with this simple illustration:
“Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. ‘He that believes and is baptised shall be saved’. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle” (Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989)!
Are you joined to Christ? That is the question. Have you been immersed by faith into Him? That is the question. If not, I pray you be. If you are so immersed, “Let sin not reign” in your life. You are under grace.