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 admission into the visible Church family on earth.1
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 3.5-6).
The Bible does not teach the error known as baptismal regeneration. No physical water ceremony can cause these changes in the soul. It was our spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit that slew our old nature and gave us our new nature (Mark 1.8; Acts 1.5; 2.38; 10.27; 1 Corinthians 12.13).
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 God.
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: first, death and burial; secondly, resurrection.
Firstly, we are, spiritually, crucified and buried with Christ: “Therefore we are buried with3 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 put away in burial.
In other words: because of what Christ has accomplished for us in his death on the cross, 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 events of the Saviour’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection are the cause of spiritual events in the lives of those who are saved: the spiritual crucifixion, burial and resurrection that comprise the regeneration of the elect. Christian regeneration is the end of our old life and a beginning of our new life.
These consequences are inevitable, as the apostle affirms: “For if we have been planted together4 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 Golgotha and the garden tomb, in our own baptism by the Holy Spirit5 we have been so united to Christ that we have been buried together with him and planted together in the same likeness6—i.e. as Paul says later in this epistle, we are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8.29).
Many Christians can testify that the Holy Spirit immediately removed many of their old sinful ways at their conversion. However, it is still true that memories of past sins, and some of our sinful habits (our trained-in sins), remain 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 controlled by our old nature any more.
Therefore, we need to be “knowing this” (Romans 6.6): we are no longer compelled to sin 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 live as though it is true—because it is true! Both parts of this are true for the Christian: our old, sinful nature has been crucified with Christ; and we have been raised with Christ (also known as being born again, or regenerated) with a new nature.
Our conversion involves both:
- Believing in Christ and what he has accomplished for Christians; and
- Believing that what Christ has accomplished has been applied to us by the Holy Spirit when we were born again.
Paul calls this believing in the application of salvation the reckoning of it to be true, and where a Christian engages in this reckoning, they consequently engage in the activity of living the Christian life. And Paul considers this Christian living in its two parts:
- Putting off the sinful deeds of your slain “old man;” and
- Putting on the good deeds of your regenerated “new man.”
“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. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (vv.11-13).
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).
The apostle also says that this renewed mind results in a transformed life: “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).
Where there is this renewal of the mind, there will be this transformation of the life.
In Colossians, in the midst of Paul’s teaching the same doctrines to that church, he teaches Christians to mortify the members7 of their dead old nature, and instead to put on their new man: “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; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry…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).
Christian! Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.
See the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 28: Of Baptism. ↩︎
Though a different Greek word is used here, translated “washing” (λουτρόν, loutron), Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word #3067), this spiritual cleansing that happens in Christian conversion is indeed the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as is evident from the remainder of the verse: “and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3.5). ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated “buried with” is συνθάπτω (sunthapto), meaning buried together with, or co-interred (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 4916). The burial (interment) of Christ’s body was in a tomb cut into the rock in the side of the hill at or near Golgotha. ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated “planted together” is σύμφυτος (sumphutos), and it means to grow up together congenially, as from the same parent (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 4854). ↩︎
The baptism “of” the Holy Spirit is the baptism performed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 3.5-6), in which the the regeneration, cleansing and hence conversion happens in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated “likeness” is ὁμοίωμα (homoioma), meaning of the same—not merely something analogous, but actually sharing equality or identity (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word #3667). ↩︎
Members are body parts—by which Paul obviously means the sins associated with various parts of the body. Some of these sins he mentions in his list that follows. ↩︎