Leaving the book of Acts, we next come to Romans as we look at New Testament texts about baptism. In Romans, Paul expounds at lengths about what salvation by faith looks like. As he discusses the implications of salvation by the grace of God, rather than man’s efforts, he addresses a possible objection:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1–4)
It’s important to remember that Romans 6 is not about baptism. It’s about repentance. It’s about the new life the Christian lives after his baptism. Yet we learn several important things from this mention of baptism:
- Baptism is a connection with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. I’m definitely not a “that’s the definition of the gospel” guy, for the gospel means much more than that. That fact, however, doesn’t take away from the significance of this connection.
- Baptism is a burial. Paul’s use of this imagery reminds us of how baptism was done.
- Baptism occurs at the beginning of the new life. In that sense, it is a new birth. It is a new beginning. We take our old self and bury it, and a new creation comes out of the water.
- That’s why baptism makes sense at the time of conversion. And it doesn’t make sense at other times. If there’s not going to be a change, there’s no sense in baptizing. If the change occurred before, then just who are we burying? What old self is being left behind?
I’ll say it again: it’s modernistic, Western thinking to want to separate out faith and its response, to want to build a timeline of salvation that says, “Here you’re lost; and at this exact moment you’re saved.” The belief, the repentance, the baptism… they are all wrapped up into one package. If you don’t believe, baptism makes no sense. If you haven’t repented, baptism makes no sense. But when those things are all present, there is a wondrous spiritual event where God takes his creation and makes it into something new.