The Christian sacrament of baptism teaches us about our spiritual benefits in the covenant of grace, that are bestowed upon us because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These benefits include our being born again, being cleansed from sin, and being set upon a new life. Baptism also symbolises our entrance into the visible Church family on earth1.
In the apostle Paul’s explanation of what happens to us (and what we begin to be aware of) in our conversion, he asks, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4).
In another epistle, Paul says that God saved us “by the washing2 of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5b, 6).
The Bible does not teach the error known as baptismal regeneration. No physical water ceremony can causes these changes in the soul. It was our spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit that broke the power of our old nature and gave us our new nature (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5; 2:38; 10:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
Dead, buried, and resurrected with Christ
Let us learn what the apostle would have us to know about the effect of Christ’s death for us, applied by the Holy Spirit within us, from Romans chapter 6.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). Jesus was crucified at Calvary, also known as Golgotha, a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem. All four Gospels record Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). His sacrificial death for us has accomplished our redemption and reconciliation to God3.
In consequence, God effectively unites us with Christ in his death—so that what Christ accomplished in his death is applied to us (see John 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5-6; 1 Peter 3:20-21). This consequence has two parts: death (and burial), and resurrection.
Firstly, we are, spiritually, crucified and buried with Christ: “Therefore we are buried with4 him by baptism into death…” (v.4a). By our being baptised into Christ’s death (v.3) we have our own baptism into death—in which our old nature was put to death. And what is dead must be buried. In other words: because of what Christ has accomplished for us in his death, our old fallen, spiritually dead nature was crucified and buried with him. By our baptism into death we are (or, our old nature was) dead and buried with Christ.
See how appropriate the sacrament of baptism is as an analogy for teaching and commemorating Christ’s death and what it has accomplished for us:
As in Christ’s death, he was “made…to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and in his burial, the “unclean” corpse was put away (Numbers 9:9; 19:11-16);
So, in our baptism by the Holy Spirit (symbolised by water baptism), our sins and and sinful nature are washed away (Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16).
Secondly, we are, spiritually, raised with Christ in his resurrection: “…that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (v.4b).
The historical event of the Saviour’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection—is the cause of spiritual events in the lives of those who are saved: the spiritual crucifixion, burial and resurrection that comprise the conversion of the elect. Christian conversion is the end of our old life and a beginning of our new life.
These consequences are inevitable, for the apostle affirms: “For if we have been planted together5 in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (vv.5-6).
Though many centuries separate us from the historical events at Calvary and the garden tomb, in our own baptism by the Holy Spirit we have been so united to Christ that we were indeed buried together with him and planted together in the same likeness6–in other words of Paul later in this epistle, we are “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
Let not sin reign in your mortal body
Many Christians can testify that the Holy Spirit immediately removed some of their old sinful ways at conversion. However, it is still true that memories of past sins, and some of our sinful habits (our trained-in sins), are still with us. But the Bible’s teaching is that our old nature has indeed been slain—“crucified with Christ”—and so we are not owned and dominated by our old nature any more.
We need to be “knowing this” (Romans 6:6): we are no longer compelled to sin (i.e. to obey our old sinful inclinations) by our tyrannical, totally depraved nature. The apostle emphasises, “For he that is dead is freed from sin” (v.7). As he previously challenged us in the second verse, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (v.2).
We should believe this to be true and therefore to live as though it is true—because it is true!
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (vv.11-12).
Reckon this to be true of yourself—as Paul did of himself: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Elsewhere Paul describes this reckoning as the renewing of your mind: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Similarly, this reckoning is described by the apostle as a personal inner transformation: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
And in Colossians, in the midst of Paul’s teaching the same doctrines to that church, he teaches Christians to: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God…Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth…And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:2, 5, 10).
The apostle Peter taught this same doctrine: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:1-3).
Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.
- See the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 28: Of Baptism.↩
- Though a different Greek word (translated washing) is used here, this same cleansing (i.e. purification) is what is also known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as is evident from the remainder of the verse: “and renewing of the Holy Ghost”.↩
- See chapter 17, We Have Now Received the Atonement and chapter 18, Redemption Through Christ’s Blood.↩
- The Greek word translated buried with is συνθάπτω (sunthapto), meaning buried together with, or co-interred. (The interment of Christ’s body was in a tomb cut into the rock in the side of the hill at or near Golgotha.)↩
- The Greek word translated by planted together is σύμφυτος (sumphutos), and it means to grow up together congenially, as from the same parent (Strong’s Concordance).↩
- The Greek word translated by likeness is ὁμοίωμα (homoioma), meaning of the same—not merely something analogous, but actually sharing equality or identity (Strong’s Concordance).↩