Romans (Part 20) – Baptized into Christ (6:1–3)
Although we are now moving into a new section, we cannot forget the line of thought that is propelling Paul forward. Let’s briefly summarize. Paul began in 1:16–17 with his theme—the gospel: Jesus is Lord. Jesus became Lord because humanity was dead—separated from God with no hope to overcome the chasm because of sin. Jesus, however, came as a human representative—born into this corrupt physical essence--but did not fall to the sin. Rather he kept his faith and hope fixed on God as his commanding source of truth, goodness, and beauty. Jesus gave up his life (relationship with God), suffering death (separation from God); however, because he had no sin, the death was unjustified, allowing him to be resurrected—brought back to love relationship with God. The result from what Jesus did was to reveal God’s righteousness in both his Trinitarian covenants that had been in conflict (operation according to TGB and embrace of his created image bearers). And Jesus’s death payment could be given to us when we, because of faith (the basis for relationship) are returned to righteous standing and can be declared righteous, all because of that faith. This gospel is what Paul then goes on to explain in detail through the book.
In chapter 1 and into chapter 2, Paul points out that all have sinned, and thus all will be judged by their works. God separated from sinners (as shown in the second half of Romans 1). People had turned to creation as their hope for TGB, indicated by the breakdown of sexuality, originally meant to show union with God, but because of sin, distorted that image. God revealed himself in both wrath (turning TGB away from sinners) but still in display of who he is—TGB and loving care (divine nature and eternal power). Upon this basis, however, God promises to judge by works to remain true to his Covenant of Operational Essence.
But the continuance of humanity and creation indicated that reconciliation was in the plan of God. However, both Gentiles and Jews were on the wrong track as to how to return to God. The Gentiles sought to gain divine favor. We can see that through their philosophies and mythological system. But Paul pointed out that no matter their efforts, they still would be judged for the failures in their lives. The Jews didn’t think they had to earn God’s favor: God had already chosen them. They believed they already belonged, and simply looked down on everyone else. But Paul spent two and a half chapters pointing out that their fleshly condition (being born Jews), even coupled with the markings they pointed to indicating covenant (circumcision and the Law), were not the remedy for reconciled love relationship with God. Rather, Paul said, it was of no fleshly condition that one could hope to unite with God. It could occur only through faith in God and his Messiah servant who had accomplished God’s righteousness. By faith and only by faith could one be declared righteous.
Paul finished this portion of the discussion in chapter 5 as he showed how this gracious gift of justification by faith overwhelmed the trespass. Yes, sin came from one and affected many just as the gift came from one and affected many. But in interest, activity, and result, grace showed its superabundance in overcoming even multiplied sin. The conclusion is that we of faith now enjoy righteousness, which is the status of life—everlasting love relationship in the community of God, Jesus, and all God’s people.
With this understanding, we move into Paul’s next section: Messiah’s Renewal of Life (found in chapters 6 through 8). And we begin this section with a discussion of this status of life (6:1–14). Paul begins the section by a possible confused idea from the end of chapter 5. There he had said in verse 20 that where sin had multiplied, grace had multiplied even more. Paul imagined that some may think: “If grace increases from sin, and we want grace to increase, perhaps we should continue in sin so that grace can increase.” Paul immediately shows the fault of this presumed logic. He does so by showing that sin is not simply an activity, but it is the result of a way of life—a statused condition of the sinners.
Remember, God exists in one essence and three persons. His one essence is his truth, goodness, and beauty. In his three persons, he operates according to his one essence. Therefore, in the thinking, believing, and acting of his persons, everything is motivated by understanding and embrace of his TGB. God made humankind to be image bearers so that we too could think, believe, and act according to his essence of TGB. However, as image bearers we also have one essence and multiple persons. The one essence is our physical reality. The multiple persons are our individual spirits. As our individual spirits look to God’s essence (as God’s persons looks to God’s essence) for thinking, believing, and acting, love relationship can exist and flourish. And that is life.
But of course, sin entered the world. Sin is characterized by individual human spirits thinking, believing, and acting according to our own essence rather than God’s. That was what Paul explained in the second half of chapter 1. As a result, we can have no relationship with God. We are separated. We are dead.
Now, when Paul is answering the proposed question of 6:1, he is answering it on the basis of these two conditions: the status of death/separation from God in which operation by individuals is according to their own essence or the status of life/relationship with God in which operation by individuals is according to God’s essence. Therefore, when Paul answers the question as to whether we should continue in sin (note the in sin rather than continue to sin), his answer speaks to status, showing the impossibility of what is being proposed. He asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” By this he indicates that we have moved from the condition of being under the reign of sin and death (as mentioned in 5:21) to the reign of grace. The reign of grace has as its basis a dependence on God’s TGB for operation. How can we who are now moved into this status of operating according to God’s TGB operate according to sin? Paul is pointing out that the possibility is incoherent. It doesn’t make sense.
As Paul continues his explanation, he mentions that we have died to sin because we have been baptized into Christ Jesus (which means being baptized into his death). We need to understand the idea of being baptized into Christ in order to fully appreciate Paul’s thought. First, although using the word baptize does not mean we have to be thinking of the water rite (e.g., we could be talking about baptized in the Spirit—Acts 1:5), I think Paul has the water rite—at least in the back of his mind—as he writes this.
Baptism, as a religious activity in the Bible, is founded on some significant world events. Particularly, creation and the flood. In both those instances, we have a change being made. In creation, Genesis 1 tells us that a change was made from a formless and empty earth covered over in water (Gen 1:2) to the birth of an earth that God pronounced very good (Gen 1:31).
The story of Noah, of course, highlights the Noahic covenant. That covenant is shown to demonstrate God’s plan for redemption. In other words, while all the world was corrupt and deserving of God’s punishment in death (seen in the actual floodwaters that destroyed), the result coming out from the flood was the promise by God he would not destroy so that redemption’s plan could be realized. Thus, physical creation goes from the corrupt existence (Gen 6:3) through the water to the repurpose for redemption (Gen 8).
Now with these events as the backdrop for our baptismal understanding, the Bible puts the understanding in action with such images as the children of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. In this image, we see their slavery in Egypt under the reign of Pharaoh to picture humankind’s slavery to sin under the reign of death. The children of Israel had looked to (mostly complained to) Pharaoh for their living conditions. But after passing through the Red Sea to freedom, they looked to God in their freedom. Of course, that pictures humankind’s looking to our own physical essence as the source of TGB until we undergo our own baptism to freedom, looking to God’s essence for TGB. Our baptism, Paul explains, is the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the picture of the children of Israel, Paul describes it well in 1 Cor 10:1–2: “Our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” In remarkably similar language, Paul explains what that image pictured for humankind in Romans 6:3: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”
Notice then that the idea of baptism as that which moves from the state of corrupt or non-purpose to the state of rebirth to Godly purpose is held in the analogy. And that is what the water rite of baptism should picture for us—a moving from corrupt purpose in our lives toward a new birth in purpose for God. Of course, our new birth has occurred for our spirits but still awaits for our physical essence. Thus, water baptism has both the significance of a change of spirit and a future hope to be realized with the return of Christ.
This discussion also has implications for Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. There Nicodemus approaches Jesus and opens with saying he believes, based on Jesus’s works, that God is with Jesus. We need to be careful of how much credit we give to Nicodemus at this point. He is not calling Jesus divine or even hailing him as necessarily better than anybody else. Remember our discussion of the Jews’ attitude in Romans. The Jews thought that they were, by no greater virtue than their physical birth, in everlasting covenant relationship with God. God was, as Nicodemus said of Jesus, with them. Nicodemus was merely voicing his opinion in the controversy of whether Jesus was a blaspheming sinner. Nicodemus said no; Jesus was like the rest of the Jews. God was with them, and God was with Jesus.
That idea is what prompted Jesus to respond as he did. Jesus immediately cuts down Nicodemus’s understanding. No, Jesus seems to say, you cannot be in forever love relationship with God simply by being born a Jew. There must be more. “Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
This statement startles Nicodemus. How could they be born again? They had been born as Jews. How could they be reborn as something else that has any more connection to God than they? That would require another physical birth which was impossible.
But Jesus comes back to deny that it is physical birth that leads to relationship with God. Here’s the point: Jews believed their physical birth as Jews put them into relationship with God. And they believed that based primarily on the rescue by God of this nation from Egypt as they passed through the waters of the Red Sea to be covenanted with as a nation at the base of Mt. Sinai. So, in Jesus’s answer, he replies that that baptism through the waters of the Red Sea resulting in Mosaic covenant with God was not enough for everlasting love relationship. That water baptism was not enough. “Unless someone is born of water AND the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Paul’s use of baptism imagery is, therefore, absolutely appropriate in showing the change realized through Jesus’s death. Being baptized into Jesus means, then, as Paul says, being baptized into his death—or sharing in his death. This baptism is what salvation is all about: Jesus providing us with his death through faith for relationship so that sin is done and death no longer has a hold on us. We have changed status. We no longer live under sin and death. We have been baptized into Jesus. We have been baptized into his death. We now live under grace and not in sin.