On Eagles Wings Ministries
Spiritual Significance of a Christian Baptism
In this session we shall complete our examination of Christians baptism by unfolding, from the teaching of the New Testament, the spiritual significance of this ordinance.
How God’s Grace Operates
The key text which unlocks this truth is found in Romans 6:1-7:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin (6:1-7).
In Romans 5 Paul emphasized the abundance of God’s grace toward the depths of man’s sin.
But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (v. 20).
This leads to the question Paul asks in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” In other words, Paul imagines someone asking: “If God’s grace is in proportion to man’s sin, abounding most where sin abounds most, shall we deliberately go on sinning that God’s grace may abound toward us all the more? Is this the way to avail ourselves of God’s grace toward sinners?”
Paul’s answer to this dangerous suggestion points out that it is based on a complete misunderstanding of how God’s grace operates. In order for a sinner to avail himself of God’s grace there must be a definite, personal transaction by faith between the sinner and God. The nature of this transaction is such that it produces a total transformation within the personality of the sinner.
There are two opposite, but mutually complementary, sides to this transformation produced by God’s grace in the sinner’s personality. First there is a death – a death to sin and the old life. Then there is a new life – a life lived to God and to righteousness.
In the light of this fact about the way in which God’s grace operates in the sinner and the results which it produces, we are faced with two alternative, mutually exclusive possibilities: If we have availed ourselves of God’s grace, we are dead to sin; on the other hand, if we are not dead to sin, then we have not availed ourselves of God’s grace. It is therefore illogical, and impossible, to speak of availing ourselves of God’s grace and at the same time be living in sin. These two things can never go together. Paul points this out in Romans 6:2: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
Just what are we to understand by the phrase “died to sin”? To form a picture of this, let us imagine a man who has been an outstanding sinner. Let us suppose he has been brutal to his wife and children; he has forbidden all mention of God or religion in his home; he has used foul language; and he has been a slave of alcohol and tobacco.
Now let us suppose that this man dies suddenly of a heart attack, sitting in his chair at home. On the table by him is a lighted cigarette and a glass of whiskey. Neither cigarette nor whisky any longer produces any reaction from the man; there is no inward stirring of desire, no outward motion of his arm toward them. Why not? The man is dead – dead to alcohol and tobacco alike.
A little later his wife and children come back from Sunday evening service at the local Gospel Tabernacle, singing the new gospel choruses they have just learned. There is no reaction from the man – no anger, no blasphemous words. Why not? The man is dead – dead to anger and blasphemy alike. In one short phrase, that man is “dead to sin.” Sin no longer has any attraction for him; sin no longer produces any reaction from him; sin no longer has any power over him.
This is the picture that the New Testament paints of the man who has availed himself, by faith, of God’s grace. Through the operation of that grace, the man has become dead to sin. Sin no longer has any attraction for him; sin no longer produces any reaction from him; sin no longer has any power over him. Instead, he is alive to God and to righteousness.
Crucified and Resurrected With Jesus
This fact, that the true Christians believer is, through God’s grace, dead to sin, is stated repeatedly throughout the New Testament.
Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him [Jesus], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed [or justified] from sin (Rom. 6:6-7).
The meaning here is plain: For each person who has accepted the atoning death of Jesus on his behalf, the old man – the corrupt, sinful nature – is crucified; the body of sin has been done away with; through death, that person has been freed (or justified) from sin. There is no longer any need to be the slave of sin.
A little later in the same chapter Paul repeats this teaching with renewed emphasis.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts . . . For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:11-12,14).
Again, the meaning is plain: As professing Christians we are to reckon ourselves as dead to sin through the grace of God in Jesus Jesus. As a result, there is no reason why sin should continue to exercise any control or dominion over us. Later in Romans Paul again states the same truth in the clearest and most emphatic way.
And if Jesus is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness (Rom. 8:10).
The words Paul uses, “if Jesus is in you,” indicate that this truth applies to every true Christians believer in whose heart Jesus dwells by faith. The double consequence of Jesus’s indwelling the believer is: 1) a death of the old carnal nature; “the body,” that is, the body of sin, is dead; 2) a new life to righteousness through the operation of God’s Spirit – the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Peter presents the same truth with equal clarity. Speaking of the purpose of Jesus’s death upon the cross, he says:
Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
Peter also presents the two complementary aspects of the transformation that takes place within the believer who accepts the atoning death of Jesus on his behalf: 1) death to sins, 2) living for righteousness. In fact, Peter states this as being the supreme purpose of Jesus’s death on the cross: “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.”
The condition of being dead to sins and living to righteousness is something far beyond the mere forgiveness of past sins. In fact, it takes the believer into an altogether different realm of spiritual experience. The majority of professing Christians in almost all denominations have some kind of belief that their past sins can be forgiven. In fact, this is probably the main reason why they attend church for the purpose of confessing and obtaining forgiveness for the sins they have committed.
However, they have no thought or expectation of experiencing any inward transformation of their own nature. The result is that, having confessed their sins, they leave the church unchanged and continue committing the same kind of sins they have been confessing. In due course they are back in church again, confessing the same sins.
This is a man-made religion on the human level to which some of the outward forms of Christianity have been attached. It has little or nothing in common with the salvation God offers to the true believer through faith in Jesus’s atonement.
God’s central purpose in Jesus’s atonement was not simply that man should be able to receive forgiveness of his past sinful acts, but rather that, once having been forgiven for the past, he should be able to enter into a new realm of spiritual experience. Henceforth he should be dead to sins but alive to God and to righteousness; he should no longer be the slave of sin; sin should no longer have any dominion over him.
This has been made possible because Jesus, in His atonement, not merely took upon Himself the guilt of our sinful acts and then paid the full penalty for all those acts. Above and beyond this, Jesus made Himself one with our corrupt, fallen, sinful nature; and when He died upon the cross, according to Scripture, that old nature of ours – “our old man,” “the body of sin” – died in Him and with Him.
For the believer to enter into this full purpose of Jesus’s atonement, two conditions must be fulfilled. These two conditions are stated by Paul, in their logical order, in Romans 6.
Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Rom. 6:6).
Our old man being crucified with Jesus was a definite, historical event that occurred at a given moment in past time.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:11).
Here the introductory word likewise points out the correspondence between the experience of Jesus and the experience of the believer. The meaning is: “Just as Jesus died, so reckon that you also died with Him.” More briefly, “Jesus’s death was your death.”
Here, then, are the two conditions for being dead to sin and living to righteousness and to God:
First, we must know what God’s Word teaches about the central purpose of Jesus’s death. Second, we must reckon God’s Word to be true in our own particular case; we must apply this truth of God’s Word by faith to our own condition. The experience can be ours only when, and only as long as, we thus know and reckon as true what God’s Word teaches about the purpose of Jesus’s atonement.
Concerning this central purpose of Jesus’s atonement – “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” we may make two statements which can scarcely be challenged: 1) There is no truth of greater practical importance in the whole New Testament. 2) There is no truth about which greater ignorance, indifference or unbelief prevail among professing professing Christians.
The root of this miserable condition lies in the word ignorance. With good reason we may apply to this situation the words of the Lord in Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
The primary requirement stated by Paul for entering into the central purpose of Jesus’s atonement is “knowing this.” If God’s people do not know this truth, they cannot believe it; if they do not believe it, they cannot experience it. Therefore, the first great need is to bring this truth before the church and to keep it continually before the church in the clearest and most emphatic way.
First Burial, Then Resurrection
What is the relationship between this central truth of Jesus’s atonement and the ordinance of Christians baptism? The answer to this question is simple and practical. In the natural realm, after every death there follows a burial. The same order applies also in the spiritual realm: first death, then burial. Through faith in Jesus’s atonement we reckon ourselves, according to God’s Word, to be dead with Him; we reckon our old man, the body of sin, to be dead. Thereafter, the next act appointed by God’s Word is the burial of this old man, this dead body of sin.
The ordinance by which we carry out this burial is the ordinance of Christians baptism. In every service of Christians baptism there are two successive stages: 1) a burial, 2) a resurrection. These two stages of baptism correspond to the two stages of the inner transformation within the believer who accepts Jesus’s atonement on his behalf: 1) the death to sin, 2) the new life to righteousness and to God.
Christians baptism in water is, first, a burial in a typical grave of water and, second, a resurrection out of that grave into a new life that is lived to God and to righteousness. The burial is the outward expression of the death to sin, the death of the old man; the resurrection is the outward expression of the new life to righteousness and to God. The New Testament declares this to be the purpose of Christians baptism.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).
Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Col. 2:12).
In both these passages the two successive stages of baptism are clearly set forth:
- We are buried with Jesus by baptism (literally, immersion) into His death.
- 2) We are raised up with Him, through faith in the working of God’s power, to walk with Him in newness of life.
Apart from this basic truth of burial and resurrection, there are three other important facts about baptism contained in these verses.
First, by true Christians baptism we are baptized into Jesus Himself – not into any particular church or sect or denomination. As Paul says:
For as many of you as we’re baptized into Jesus have put on Jesus (Gal. 3:27).
There is no room here for anything less than Jesus: Jesus in His atoning death, and Jesus in His triumphant resurrection.
Second, the effect of baptism depends upon the personal faith of the one being baptised; it is through faith in the working of God – more simply, “through faith in what God does.” Without this faith, the mere ceremony of baptism alone is of no effect or validity whatever.
Third, the believer who is raised up out of the watery grave of baptism to walk in newness of life does this not in his own power but in the power of God’s glory, the same power which raised Jesus from the grave. Paul reveals that the power which raised Jesus from the grave was “the Spirit of holiness”; that is, God’s own Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:4). Thus the believer, through the waters of baptism, commits himself to a new life to God and to righteousness, which is to be in total dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
This agrees with what Paul says in Romans 8:10b.
And if Jesus is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
God’s Spirit alone can give the baptized believer the power that he needs for this new life of righteousness.
It is a general principle of educational psychology that children remember approximately 40 percent of what they hear; 60 percent of what they hear and see; 80 percent of what they hear, see and do. In establishing the ordinance of Christians baptism in the church, God has applied this principle of psychology to the teaching of the great central purpose of Jesus’s atonement – that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.
According to the New Testament pattern, each time new believers are added to the church, they act out, through baptism, their identification by faith with Jesus – first, in His death and burial to sin; second, in His resurrection to newness of life. In this way, baptism keeps before the whole church the great central purpose of Jesus’s atonement.
It follows that this vital truth concerning Jesus’s atonement can never be fully restored in the Christians church until the true method and meaning of Christians baptism are first restored. Christians baptism must become once again, for each believer individually and for the church as a whole, a re-enactment of this double truth: death and burial to sin; resurrection and life to righteousness and to God.
To complete this study, let me point out briefly that true Christians baptism does not produce within the believer this condition of death to sin, but rather it is the outward seal that the believer has already, by faith, entered into this condition. In the verses already quoted from Romans 6, Paul states clearly that we are first dead with Jesus to sin; after that we are baptized into Jesus’s death.
In this respect, Christians baptism is parallel to John’s baptism. In John’s baptism the person first repented of his sins and afterward was baptized into repentance. In Christians baptism the believer is first, by faith, dead with Jesus to sin, and after that he is baptized into Jesus’s death. In each case the outward act of baptism does not in itself produce the inward spiritual condition; rather it is the seal and affirmation that this inward condition has been produced already, by faith, in the heart of the person baptized.