8. BAPTISM AND “NEWNESS OF LIFE”
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
In order to understand Romans 6:1-7, we must understand Paul’s thoughts leading up to these verses. In chapters 1 through 3, Paul was discussing the condition of the Gentiles and the Jews without Christ.
The Gentiles engaged in all kinds of wicked and sinful living, much of which was abhorrent to the Jews. They were idolatrous, sexually immoral, and unrighteous (1:24-32).
The Jews did not do much better, though, for they shard in some of the same practices (2:1). For their right standing with God, they relied on the fact that they had the Law and were circumcised (2:17,25). Hypocritically, they did not live according to the standard of the Law or the meaning of circumcision. Like the Gentiles, they were sinners (3:9, 10, 23).
Instead of their works saving them, their works condemned them (2:5-13). Neither the Gentiles nor the Jews could be saved by their works, for all of them as sinners (3:9, 10, 23) were found with imperfect works. Instead of relying on their works (4:1-8), which were infested with evil acts, they were to have faith in the work of Jesus, who made possible the grace of God for their salvation (5:1,2).
The Law did not provide this grace; rather, it left those who were under it in their sins (3:20; 5:20, 21). The Gentiles’ condition was no better, for they were sinners by virtue of the fact that they had violated the knowledge of God’s will which they could obtain through the natural processes of human observation and experience (1:21; 2:14, 15). Both Gentiles and Jews were unrighteous; all had violated the standard under which they lived. In order to make forgiveness possible, God – through Jesus – provided grace to bring righteousness, justification, and forgiveness to cover their sins and transgressions (5:20,21).
“CONTINUE IN SIN SO THAT GRACE MAY INCREASE?” (ROMANS 6:1)
A question perhaps arose in the minds of some who had been forgiven: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1b). This might be compared to a young bride whose rich uncle tells her that if she and her husband encounter any financial difficulties, he will pay their way out of debt. She consults with her husband and concludes that they should have no financial concern, but should spend and splurge on possessions they cannot possibly afford – an expensive car, a new house, and costly clothing and jewelry. They would conclude the more they spent the more the uncle would help them. By building up a big debt to be paid by the rich uncle, though, they are still taking unfair advantage of his intent and generosity.
In a similar way, God has promised that His grace will cover our sins, but it is not intended to encourage us to lead lives dedicated to sinful practices. This is not the purpose of grace. Paul taught that a proper spiritual involvement in baptism should bring about a new nature that would make sin contrary to its make-up. Because of dedication to a new life, the new person should not continue to sin because of reliance on grace.
“BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH” (ROMANS 6:3,4)
Baptism and the New Life
Some may think it strange that Paul chose baptism on which to build his case against such an abuse of grace (Romans 6:1-7). If baptism were only a ritual without spiritual associations, then on argument could be made from baptism for the termination of a sinful life. However, if baptism involves a spiritual, life-changing experience that is more than just a physical act of obedience to God, then Paul’s argument that a new life is to follow baptism is valid – and so it is. Paul is not revealing what hey could not have known, but something they should already know.
In baptism we associate with Jesus by being baptized into His death (Romans 6:3). Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He terminated His physical life – but only to enter a renewed physical life. In a spiritual sense baptism should be the moment and act in which our past sinful life should end and a new spiritual life should begin. Paul’s argument is that instead of just physically entering into water as a sinful person and returning from it as the same sinful person, new spiritual life because we have become associated with Jesus in His death and resurrection.
Buried and Raised (Romans 6:4)
What are the implications of the act of being buried and raised with Jesus in baptism? Baptism is accomplished when we are lowered under the water and then raised out of the water. Most writers agree with the interpretation stated by Everett F. Harrison: “Apparently, [Paul in Romans 6] pictures burial with christ, however momentarily, in the submergence of the body under the baptismal waters.” Everett F. Harrison, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, Romans-Galatians, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 69.
Paul viewed baptism as more that just a symbolic act. Douglas Moo wrote,
…there is no evidence in Rom. 6, or in the [New Testament] elsewhere, that the actual physical movements – immersion and emersion involved in baptism [that is, going into and coming out of the water] – were accorded symbolical significance. The focus in Rom. 6, certainly, is not on the ritual of baptism, but the simple event of baptism. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, gen. eds. Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 362. (Emphasis his.)
Anders Nygren agreed:
When he who is baptized is immersed in water, the act signifies burial “with Christ”; and when he again comes up out of the water, that signifies resurrection “with Christ.” But it would be an utter misinterpretation if, for that reason, one were to characterize Pauls view of baptism as “symbolical,” in the sense in which that would is generally used. For, according to Paul, in baptism we have to do with realities, not merely with symbolical representations. That which baptism symbolizes also actually happens, and precisely through baptism. Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, Pa.: Muhlenberg Press, 1949), 233 (Emphasis his).
Baptism, then, brings us into Jesus and a death associated with His death.
Three Questions About the New Life
Three progressive questions were asked by Paul in Romans 6:1-3. (1) “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (v. 1b); (2) “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2b); and (3) “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (v. 3).
Paul answered the first question in this way: “May it never be!” The use of this phrase implies that Christians are certainly not to continue in sin, expecting grace to cover their sins. Paul’s question was rhetorical; he was not suggesting that they did not know the answer and hat he would therefore enlighten them. Rather, he was emphasizing that because of their experience in baptism, they should already understand what he was saying.
Paul’s second question likewise suggests its own answer. If we have died to sin, we should no longer live in it.
In response to question three, Paul answered that our death to sin took place when – by being baptized into Jesus – we entered into His death. Since we have been raised up from that death to a new life, we should walk in newness of life, having been freed from sinful practices.
By died (vv. 2, 7, 8, ), dead (vv. 11, 13), and death (v. 4), Paul meant that the result should be the cessation of our sinful past. By dead to, died to, and die to, he was expressing the concept that the power of sin that formerly controlled us (Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; 3:3-5; see also 1 Peter 2:24) should cease. We died to sin, Paul wrote in verse 2. “When and how did that take place? It happened in and through baptism, according to the apostle.” Ibid., 234.
The purpose of our entering death to sin is to end a life of sin and begin a new life, a life of righteousness (Romans 6:4). If we share the likeness of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a spiritual sense when we are baptized, we should enter into a spiritual renewal through baptism, even as Jesus entered into a physical renewal through His resurrection (Romans 6:5).
This transformation takes place because in baptism “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to to sin” (Romans 6:6). Paul was not suggesting that only a part of the old nature should be gone, but that all of the old self is to be crucified with Jesus, even as this had taken place in his life (Galatians 2:20). The result should be that we are “freed from sin” (Romans 6:7) not only in the sense of being forgiven but also in the sense of being freed from a life of sin. By becoming dead to sin, we are made free from slavery to sin, domination of sin, and spiritual involvement with Jesus when we are buried and raised with Him in baptism. We may not understand all that the new life implies but this is to be the starting point.
Becoming dead to sin and alive to righteousness does not take place simply because of the act of baptism itself, but because of the heart response associated with the act. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18).
“FREED FROM SIN” (ROMANS 6:6, 7)
Paul was not speaking about being freed from sin in the sense of being forgiven, even though this is one of the blessings associated with baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16). His purpose in Roman 6:1-4 was to show that, because we have been freed from the domination and slavery of sin, we should not continue sinful practices, relying on God’s grace to forgive us. He did not say that living in sin is impossible for Christians; rather, he said that committing sin is contrary to our new life and our new freedom from sin We should live a new life because we have entered with Jesus into death to sin and into a new life by being baptized. The old self should be crucified; the body of in dome away with, and we should no longer serve sin (Romans 6:6).
Because of this we should consider ourselves “to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). We should not let sin become the master of our bodies to the degree that we obey sin and become its slaves (Romans 6:12).
If we live in sin, we become slaves to sin (Romans 6:16). We should be slaves to righteousness, for we have been freed from the slavery and mastery of sin (Romans 6:13, 16, 19, 22). The fact that we are under the forgiving benefits of grace and not under law (Romans 6:15) makes us free from sin, not free to sin. Sin enslaves; it does not give freedom (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:19). In order to be free and not slaves, we should no longer in, but would remain because of our obedience from the heart when we were baptized (Romans 6:4-6, 17, 18).
In this passage Paul made baptism the pivotal point in which our old life ends and a new life begins. This occurs because of an association from the heart with the burial and resurrection with Jesus. The act of baptism in and of itself, unless obeyed from the heart, does not necessarily bring about such a transformation. However, when we spiritually associate with Jesus’ burial and resurrection in the act of baptism, understanding and resolving that this transformation is to take place, the old life will end and a new life will begin.