Baptism Is a Sign of Our Identification With Christ in His Death, Burial, and Resurrection
If you’ve never been accused of preaching license, then, chances are, you’ve never preached grace. As was clearly understood by the Apostle Paul, the first century’s foremost preacher of grace, the preaching of grace inevitability results in accusations of license from grace's detractors. Thus, in Romans 6:1-3, he preemptively answers this inevitable accusation by explaining to his accusers that grace is not manifested in the lives of its recipients by their continuance in sin, but by their death to sin.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 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. For if we have been planted together 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, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 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. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:1-14)
According to the Apostle Paul, it is only those who have identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection who are recipients of God’s grace. Furthermore, it is this identification with the Savior that is symbolized by believer’s baptism. As Christ died for us, we’ve died for and with Christ. We’ve died to our old man, our old life and our old ways. We’ve died to Satan, sin and self. Consequently, we’ve been raised with Christ into newness of life. No longer enslaved by our former taskmasters, we are now free to live a new life of service to Christ, with whom we’ve identified and by whom we’ve been sanctified.
It is impossible to remain in the gutter of sin after grace has snatched us out. While our rescue by grace is totally unmerited, it is not inconsequential. Once captured as its trophy, grace shines us up for God’s glory. Since salvation by grace is a miraculous work of God, it is impossible for us to “continue in sin”; that is, to live out our lives as though nothing phenomenal has occurred. As His handiwork, the fingerprints of God are all over those saved by His grace.
Where God’s fingerprints are not found, His work has not occurred. Anyone failing to exhibit evidence of God’s amazing handiwork cannot possibly have experienced God’s amazing grace. Once God’s grace has brought about your death to sin, you cannot “live any longer therein.” So you see, grace doesn’t provide us with a license to practice sin, as some erroneously conclude, but it actually liberates us from the power of sin, as the Bible clearly teaches.
As Paul teaches in Romans 6:1-14, the ordinance of baptism paints a beautiful picture of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. It is this symbolic significance that necessitates baptism by immersion. Baptism’s symbolism is lost if its scriptural mode is changed. For instance, how is one’s death, burial and resurrection with Christ pictured by being sprinkled in baptism? Obviously, baptism’s symbolic significance is forfeited anytime its scriptural mode (immersion) is compromised.
As Christ died for us, we’ve died for and with Him. Whereas He died for our sins, we’ve died with Him to our sins; that is, we’ve died to the old person we used to be and to the old life we used to live. As Christ was buried beneath the earth in the tomb, we are buried with Him beneath the waters of baptism. Here, beneath the baptismal waters, our old person and life are buried to never rise again.
After being buried with Christ in baptism, Paul says that we are raised with Him into newness of life. Just as He was raised from the dead into newness of life by the Father, we are raised from the dead into newness of life by Christ. This great truth is pointedly portrayed by our rising up from the waters of baptism.
In baptism, we rise from our watery grave to live a brand new life that is abundant and eternal (John 3:15; 10:10). We leave our old person behind, buried in the waters of baptism, and emerge from those very same waters as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). No longer will we live for ourselves, but henceforth for Him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15).
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, the Apostle Paul further elaborates on baptism as a sign of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ. Here, he uses Old Testament Israel’s baptism into Moses at the Red Sea to illustrate our baptism into Christ.
Moses, as a type-of-Christ, led the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the Red Sea. There, they appeared trapped by Pharaoh’s pursuing army on the one side and the deep sea on the other. It looked like curtains for the Hebrew children. They could either die by the sword or drown in the sea.
When the sea miraculously opened up, forming a passage of dry ground between gigantic walls of water, it must have been a daunting sight. It certainly wasn’t an inviting one. Who would want to take a chance of “passing through the sea” when they knew that the walls of water could collapse at any moment? Still, Moses led the people into this place of pending death.
Surprisingly, the people’s following of Moses into “the sea”—the place of death—did not result in their death. Instead, it resulted in the death of the Egyptians, the Hebrews’ enemy and former enslaver. The Hebrews actually emerged from the sea to enjoy a new life of liberty and miraculous provision. In their new life, the people were divinely guided and supernaturally sustained. They were guided by a “cloud,” as well as sustained by “spiritual meat” (manna from heaven) and “spiritual drink” (water from “the Rock”).
When we follow Christ, of whom Moses was but a type and shadow, into the waters of baptism—the place of death—it is not us who dies. Instead, it is sin, our enemy and former enslaver that meets its “Waterloo.” We actually emerge from the waters of baptism into a new life of liberty and abundance. In our new life, it is Christ, our “Rock,” who divinely guides and miraculously sustains us.
As we emerge from the waters of baptism into the wilderness of this world on route to God’s Promised Land, we can count on Christ to guide us as the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25) and to sustain us as both our “spiritual meat”—“the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51)—and our “spiritual drink”—“the living water” (John 7:37-38). Though we presently find ourselves in the parched and barren wilderness of a fallen world, we need never fear an aimless life nor an unquenchable or unsatisfiable spiritual thirst or hunger, since ours is the continuous presence of Christ, our accompanying and ever-present “Rock” (Hebrews 13:5).
Before moving on from this most insightful Old Testament illustration of New Testament baptism, permit me to make one further salient point. At the Red Sea, it was the Egyptians, not the Israelites, who actually got wet. Whereas the Israelites emerged from the sea into newness of life, the Egyptians were left behind in their watery grave. Likewise, it is our outer man, not our inner man, who gets wet at our baptism. Whereas our inner man emerges from the baptismal waters into newness of life, our old man is left behind in his watery grave.