It is written:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
This statement by the Apostle Paul teaches us some very important lessons about baptism.
When Paul wrote his Epistle to the saints in Rome (Romans 1:7), he identified them as those who had been obedient to the faith (Romans 1:5). Throughout Romans, Pauli discusses the importance of obedience to God and its’ connection to salvation.
Romans 1:5-Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,
Romans 2:7-eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
Romans 6:16-Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Romans 6:17-18-But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Romans 16:26-but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—
The idea of saving faith in the Bible always included obedience, and Abraham himself is a powerful example of this (James 2:14-26; Hebrews 11:8). However, there were some in the church at Rome who taught that if a person was a physical descendant of Abraham, he should have automatic forgiveness due to his bloodlines, and irregardless of whether or not he submitted to Christ. Paul writes of these individuals:
Romans 2:8-10-but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 10:21-But to Israel he says: “ALL DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND CONTRARY PEOPLE.”
Romans 11:22-Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
It is in this context of obedience and disobedience that a strange doctrine began to form in Rome, which stated that if a person continued to sin more and more after salvation, then God would show greater grace in forgiving him and receive greater glory. Paul had adversaries in the church at Rome who advocated this doctrine.
Barclay has well described the exchange:
“The objector: You have just said that God’s grace is great enough to find forgiveness for every sin. Paul: That is so. The objector: You are, in fact, saying that God’s grace is the most wonderful thing in all this world. Paul: That is so. The objector: Well, if that is so, let us go on sinning. The more we sin, the more grace will abound. Sin does not matter, for God will forgive anyway. In fact, we can go further than that and say that sin is an excellent thing, because it gives the grace of God a chance to operate. The conclusion of your argument is that sin produces grace; therefore sin is bound to be a good thing if it produces the greatest thing in the world. Paul’s first reaction is to recoil from that argument in sheer horror. ‘Do you suggest’, he demands, ‘that we should go on sinning in order to give grace more chance to operate? God forbid that we should pursue such an incredible course.’ Then, having recoiled like that, he goes on to something else. Have you never thought’, he demands, ‘what happened to you when you were baptized?’ Now, when we try to understand what Paul goes on to say, we must remember that baptism in his time differed from the common practice today.” (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (The New Daily Study Bible), 97 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Westminster John Knox Press)
This strange idea was completely antagonistic to the teaching of Christ, and prompted Paul to instruct the brethren in Rome regarding some important lessons about their baptism.
First, the Romans had been baptized into Christ. The baptism of the passage demonstrates that it was a baptism in water. Notice that their baptism is tied in with their decision to be obedient to God’s Word (Romans 6:17-18). However, as noticed in previous lessons, Spirit baptism is always a promise to be received and cannot be a command to be obeyed (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5). Further, the baptism of this passage was one in which the ones being baptized were buried with Christ and forgiven. Holy Spirit baptism was not for the purpose of saving a person but of supernaturally revealing and confirming God’s Word (John 14:26; 16:13). Only water baptism makes sense of this passage of Scripture.
One author, a Baptist preacher who has carefully studied baptism over the years, writes this of the text in Romans:
“However attractive that option might seem to be, it does not appear to be on target. The language of this text looks like the language of water-baptism, not Spirit-baptism, in the wider NT usage. The linguistic link between water and Spirit goes back to the words of John the Baptist: “I baptize you in water for repentance, but he will baptize you in the Spirit” (with slight variations in the Gospel accounts). But notice that in the comparison, Christ is to Spirit-baptism what John is to water-baptism, i.e., the baptizer. In Romans 6, Christ is not the baptizer, but instead he is the goal of the baptism, the one to whom believers are connected by this baptism. That is not the language of Spirit-baptism. Furthermore, the Romans language of baptism “into Christ” (eis Christon) recalls the Matthew 28 language of baptism “into the name” (eis to onoma), and that text is clearly talking about water-baptism. The only reason why one might argue that Romans 6 is not talking about water-baptism is the assumption that such realistic language about the efficacy of baptism would be foreign to Paul, but according to Acts 22: 16, Paul was very comfortable with such language.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 380-391 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)
Second, the text makes it clear that baptism was for those who had been taught God’s Word and were able to personally respond by faith and repentance to this command to be baptized into Christ. Notice that we are told that they had received the Word of God which had been delivered to them (Romans 6:17-18). They personally trusted in Jesus Christ when they were. baptized into Him (cf. Romans 4:23-25), and this faith in Christ had come from hearing His Word (Romans 10:17). More to the point, they had clearly repented when they were baptized (Romans 2:4). Since infants and small children are incapable of all of these things, then they are ineligible for baptism.
Third, this passage is clear that. baptism was an immersion in water. Notice the illustration that Paul uses, picturing baptism as a burial and a resurrection from a grave. This only makes sense with baptism being an immersion. As such, sprinkling and pouring are excluded as viable options for true baptism in the Scriptures.
Fourth, the baptism of Romans 6:3-4 was obviously part of God’s plan of salvation. The Romans were able to rise to walk in newness of life only when they had been baptized. It was after this that they were able to rise to walk in newness of life. The word newness used here (kainotes) means life of a new quality. Speaking of the kainos word family, we learn:
“In cl. Gk. kainos tends to denote what is qualitatively new as compared with what has existed until now, what is better than the old. neos, by contrast, is a temporal word for what has not yet been, what has just made its appearance….NT 1. (a) The NT also follows the cl. Gk. usage of kainos. It occurs in the sense of unused (Matt. 9: 17; 27: 60; Mk. 2: 21; Lk. 5: 36; Jn. 19: 41), unfamiliar, interesting (Mk. 1: 27; Acts 17: 19, 21), and novel (Matt. 13: 52; 2 Jn. 5). (b) But everything in the NT connected with Jesus’ saving work is also characterized as new: a new covenant (Lk. 22: 20; 1 Cor. 11: 25; 2 Cor. 3: 6; Heb. 8: 8, 13; 9: 15), a new command (Jn. 13: 34; 1 Jn 2: 7–8), a new creation (2 Cor. 5: 17; Gal. 6: 15), the new existence of life in the Spirit (kainotēs, newness, Rom. 6: 4; 7: 6), the new self (Eph. 2: 15; 4: 24; cf. anakainoō, renew, 2 Cor. 4: 16; Col. 3: 10), a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3: 13; Rev. 21: 1), a new name (2: 17; 3: 12), the new Jerusalem (3: 12; 21: 2), and a new song (5: 9; 14: 3)….The existence of the new person thus involves a new way of life, which is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 3). Those who embark on it should hold fast to their new life and put on the new self, “since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new [neos] self, which is being renewed [anakainoō] in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3: 9–10; cf. Rom. 12: 2; Eph 4: 23–24).” Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Dictionary Of New Testament Theology, (280-281 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Therefore, Paul originates the “newness” of the Christian life with the act of baptism. Consider also what we learned regarding Jewish proselyte baptism and the innocence of children. In the Jewish understanding, children are innocent and pure of sin. The baptism of proselyte made the converts like a little child, i.e., innocent and sinless. In the same way, Paul teaches us that baptism makes a sinner as innocent as a child in God’s sight. Far from continuing in sin, our death and new life in Christ calls us to devote our lives to God in sacrificial obedience and repentance (Romans 12:1-2).
The Roman Christians had here misunderstood these important truths, yet now needed to learn them and apply them to their Christian lives. May we learn these lessons as well.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.