In the last two post of this Romans series, we laid an extremely important foundation for the rest of Romans 6-8. We will continue to do that here, as we learn some things about baptism. If you have not read the first two posts, I highly encourage you to do so (see links above). Here’s are the main points that have been made so far:
- In Romans 6, Paul is not trying to persuade his readers about the importance of obedience; they already get that. He is arguing for the position that, although some have accused his gospel of being overly lenient toward sin, it is only because they don’t understand the grace about which he speaks. In truth, grace (and faith) is actually a far superior means to obedience than the law.
- This is a message directed toward believers in Christ who, having been set free from the law, still insist on the practicality of the law to bring about obedience. In a similar vein, while Christians today confess that we are saved by grace alone (and not by works), in practice our gospel remains grace plus law, as we go on striving to obey God with our own willpower just as any good Jew would’ve done. In other words, most Christians have been living like Jews, void of the power of the gospel in their lives.
- By God’s doing, through Jesus Christ and our faith in him, we have already, and literally, died to sin (Romans 6:2). Therefore, we cannot still live in it. This is not a grace that we will one day enter into. It is the “grace in which we [already] stand“, and it is accessed only by faith (Romans 5:2, my italics).
- Basically, the reason that we believers keep on sinning, despite our genuine desire to live a life unto God, is because we have not believed that we are dead to sin. We have not fully understood the finished work of Christ. It is as simple as this: If we are not living in freedom, then at some level, we are not believing truth. And since this truth is unseen, we must learn to walk by faith, not by sight.
Now, we will begin to see how Paul further develops his argument. As always, I encourage you to open your Bible and pray for understanding, as well.
6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Having just read that we have died to sin, a logical question might follow: When, and how? Here, Paul tells us that it happened when you were baptized.
Or do you not know – The way that Paul begins this question suggests that one can be truly, effectively baptized without knowing what has actually occurred. In fact this seems to be the case with those he is writing to in Rome. In Paul’s eyes, true victory over sin hinges not on baptism itself, but on one’s understanding of (and faith in) what has been wrought through their baptism. Notice, there is no suggestion that these Christians’ baptism was ineffective, but only that they lack revelation about what it did to them. It is my humble opinion that such is the state of the Church today. There are many sincere believers who continue living in sin because they do not understand what it means to be baptized. Thus, this passage (as I have said before) offers some very relevant insight.
For now, let us see that when a baptized believer falls back into sin, we should not be quick (as some are) to question the efficacy of their baptism. The real question should be: Do they understand their baptism? Like Paul demonstrates here, rather than question whether their repentance and faith were sincere, first we should question whether they know the grace that’s been given to them. The reality is that we could be re-baptized a thousand times over, and it would continue to produce the same pitiful result until we finally know the grace that is in it. Only by knowing will we bear the fruit of righteousness.
baptized into Christ Jesus – When we were baptized, through faith, we were immersed into Christ. Believe it or not, this is to be taken as literally as it can be. Just as Christ dwells in our bodies, we dwell in his. Just as he is on earth through our presence here, we are in heaven through his presence there. (Sound a little crazy? Read Ephesians 1:3; 2:6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-4.) Let that sit with you for a while, and pray for revelation.
Our spirits are joined with his, and we have become one (see 1 Corinthians 6:17). The same blood (soul/spirit) that flows through the toes also flows through the Head, and vice versa. The life within the Vine flows through the branches, and you cannot distinguish where one ends and the other begins. We are one organism now, deriving all our sense of being from him. This is the basic meaning of being “in Christ.”
“In Christ” is the new perspective from which we must learn to live. Generally speaking, this means that we can no longer identify with anything apart from him. This includes things like worldliness, darkness, sin, brokenness, past wounds, past mistakes, fleshy desires/feelings, or even sinful actions of the flesh (see Romans 7:17, 20). Our oneness with Jesus means also that we are no longer to identify with aspects of the flesh like nationality, race, class, sexuality, gender, etc. (see 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:27-28). All these kinds of things (which pertain to Adam and the old humanity) have no bearing on who we are anymore. And to the extent that we continue to think they do, they will undermine the power of the gospel in our lives. These things used to define us, and then we believed and were baptized, “putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).
Of course, this great reality cannot currently be seen; therefore, it requires faith to walk in it and to realize its benefits. Throughout the next few chapters of Romans, this is the perspective from which Paul writes (notice the phrase “in Christ” used in Romans 6:11 and 8:1-2), so it will be very useful to us as we move forward in this series.
(For further depth on this topic, I encourage you to read the fourth chapter of No Longer I, called “In the Literal Body of Christ”.)
baptized into his death – Pay careful attention to Paul’s words here. In our baptism, we did not die a metaphorical death like Jesus. We did not symbolically take up our cross, and yet technically keep living the same life. In truth, we died his bodily death on his wooden Cross, which is as real and literal as our oneness with him. This is why there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), not millions.
It is Christ’s baptism — that is, his death (see Luke 12:50) — in which we partake when we enter into the baptismal waters. Hence why Paul says elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20, ESV, my italics). He does not say, “I have been crucified like Christ”. This is also why he says, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). Notice the past tense — i.e. finished work — for both Paul and every believer. Having once already died — completely, literally, and bodily — how can one go on and continue needing to die? Though none of us (including Paul) have actually been crucified in our own body, we all have been crucified through Christ, now that we are in him and his body. The ramifications of this are incomprehensibly vast.
Going back to Romans 6:2, how is it, then, that we have died to sin? Let’s break it down into some simple steps.
- The law of sin dwells in the body of flesh, which we were all born into. (See the clear connection between sin and the body/flesh/members in the following verses: Romans 6:6, 12; 7:5, 18, 23, 24, 25, 8:13)
- In order to free us from the sin which enslaved us, God needed a way to kill us — that is, to literally destroy our bodies — while still letting us live, that we might now live for him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Of course, we needed new hearts, too, but we’ll get to that in a later post.
- Christ came in the “likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3; see also 2 Corinthians 5:21) that he might share in our bodily/fleshy nature.
- In Jesus’ crucifixion, his body of flesh — and therefore, sin — was beat, broken, condemned, conquered, put to death, removed, and destroyed.
- Through faith and baptism, we are now in Christ (including his body), and we have died his death. Since he is no longer in the “body of sin” (Romans 6:6), in him neither are we. Since his flesh was crucified, in him ours is, too (see Galatians 5:24). By faith, when we live through Christ, we are perfectly free from the power of sin.
Hopefully you are beginning to see now how powerful your baptism is! It is not merely a public profession of faith, nor does it simply mark your decision to follow Jesus. It is not a ticket to heaven, nor a plea for eternal security. First and foremost, it is an immersion into Christ where we are made one with him, entering into his body, and thus sharing in his bodily death. In this death, the flesh is ripped away from the spirit, and we forever die (as literally as Christ has died) to the world, to the flesh, and to sin, never again to live as the old kind of human.
This being the case, it is not possible to live in sin anymore, given that we fully believe in this grace. To some extent, all of us have more truth to understand and believe, and only to this extent, do we continue sinning. When we finally see it completely, we will never sin again. While this may or may not happen before the Day, let us learn to walk by faith according to that which is not yet visible.
To be certain, we will never come to these conclusions by observing what we can merely see and/or feel, which is why we cannot walk by sight. Nor will we come these conclusions through our own ways of understanding, or the intellect, which is why we must humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for understanding. These are invisible truths which can only be attained by God-given revelation of God’s word.
The question is always: What (or who) will you believe? God’s word says you are dead to sin, yet here you are battling with sinful thoughts and temptations. Perhaps you can even point to the times just yesterday when you were overcome by pride, fear, anger, lust, apathy, gluttony, sloth, and/or greed. Sin appears to be alive and well in you. Nevertheless, God says you are dead to it.
How is this so? You see yourself in (and according to) the flesh. God sees you in Christ. The former is a lie by which you’ve been deceived. The latter is the Truth in which you must believe. The former is your old state; the latter is your new state. There is no in-between, no blend of sinner and saint. There is only a mixture of faith and doubt, revelation and mystery, vision and blurriness. You do not need change, so much as you need to believe how God has changed you. And your ever-increasing faith in the invisible finished work will be the way in which the ongoing work in you occurs and is made visible.
Now it is time to let Holy Spirit begin to teach you the meaning of your baptism. Ask him to show you the grace in which you stand. Seek the revelation of what it means to be in Christ, to be one with him, to share in his death. Then believe with your whole heart that he will show you who you truly are. He is faithful, and he will do it if you continue to rely on him.
“Thank you, God, for your gospel. Thank you, Jesus, for your body which, like Noah’s Ark, carries us through the waters of judgment and into a new world. Thank you for your Spirit that has made us one. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. What grace! I believe. Now help me with my unbelief. Help me to see and know what you have done. Thank you that you will, for you have promised to lead me into all truth. I will patiently and eagerly wait for understanding, as I walk by faith the best I know how. Amen.”
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