1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ Romans 6:1-4
In Romans 4-6, Paul keyed on the realities of salvation by grace through faith. Pointing back to both Abraham and David, Paul taught that no matter who you are, Jew or Gentile, Old Testament or New, salvation comes only by faith in Jesus and not by works or obedience to God’s Law (since we can’t perfectly obey). Works flow from salvation not to salvation. Our justification before God comes from the life, death, and works of Jesus alone. (The Old Testament saints looking forward to him as God slowly revealed through the prophets; us looking back to him as he came as the Savior-King.)
While Paul taught this there were some who tried to twist his message to give the idea that free justification in Jesus means we can do whatever we want, even if it’s sin.
At the end of chapter 5, Paul went so far to say that where more sin existed God’s grace came more abundantly. Then into chapter 6, Paul either confronted an argument some were making or anticipated one which might come from those twisting his message. He asked the question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”—so, if we have freedom, if we’re justified apart from the law, and if greater grace covers greater sin; then we can keep on sinning and be good, right?
Paul answered with an emphatic: No. No! NO!—May it never be!
And he points to the reality that our old sinful selves are crucified and buried in Jesus, and the lives we live now are new lives from Jesus. What he called in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “a new creation.”
As a new creation, then, you and I are to “walk in the newness of life.” As he fleshed this out and came to Romans 6:11-14, he said these realities should impact how we see ourselves (dead to sin, alive to God in Jesus) and how we live (presenting ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness). Yet within all of this, Paul pointed to something specific to remind us of these realities: our baptism.
He said that being baptized into Christ is to be baptized into his death. It’s to have the old self buried and the new self rise up in Christ (a spiritual reality now, looking forward to the physical reality at Jesus’ return).
At different points throughout the Bible, water represented the grave, death, and God’s judgment. You can think of the time of Noah and the flood (which Peter connects to baptism in 1 Peter 3). You can think of the exodus and the waters of the sea crashing down upon the Egyptian army after the Israelites crossed on dry land (which Paul called a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10). You can think of Jonah being tossed into the water. Swallowed by the fish, Jonah began to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God, recounting how the “waters closed in over me to take my life” but Jonah cried out “from the belly of Sheol” and God heard and rescued (Jonah 2:1-10; Sheol meaning the grave or the place of the dead).
So the waters of baptism, when we are plunged in, represent death and judgment. But we pass safely through because we are united to Christ by faith. Emerging from the water, then, we are raised to new life. The old, the sinful, the rebel against God has been left behind.
And so Paul essentially tells us when stare down the temptation to sin: remember who you are in Jesus. Later in his letter he speaks more about the Holy Spirit and we could add as well: remember Who is in you through Jesus.
Like partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Communion) reminds us of what Jesus did in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood to take and cover our sins; so thinking back upon our baptism reminds us that the old self is dead, buried, and gone in Jesus. In its place is a new, resurrected creation—a holy child of God.
Remembering who we are and remembering the symbols of our faith helps us to live in this reality, and to live as people who desire to reject sin for the newness of life in Jesus.
This post is a devotion as part of our journey through the Bible as a church.