The Portrait Baptism Paints (a meditation)

We were buried therefore with Christ 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 the newness of life. ~ Romans 6:4

The Bible is a book filled with words because the gospel of Jesus is a message given through words. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ,” Paul wrote in Romans 10:17. But Jesus left his church more than words to remember, celebrate, and picture the gospel. He commanded for us two sets of actions (what we sometimes call ordinances or sacraments) to perform as visual displays of the gospel.

One is the Lord’s Supper in which we break the bread and share the cup which represent Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood on the cross for our sin. The other is baptism.

Baptism is the initial mark of discipleship. Jesus commissioned his already-followers to go out and lead new people to follow him, first baptizing them and then teaching them to obey what he commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). Peter compared baptism to a prayer, saying that through it we appeal or cry out “to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21). And Paul compared it to circumcision in the Old Testament—an initiation ritual signifying that we belong to God’s covenant family (Colossians 2:11-12).

In Romans 6, Paul viewed baptism from a slightly different angle. It is a visual picture and a reminder that if we belong to Jesus, then just as he died and raised from the dead, so we have died to the old life and raised to the new.

So, baptism becomes more than a ritual. It is a visual story told by a new Christian’s interaction with water.

Paul’s greater point was to remind us that even through where more sin existed greater grace was given in salvation, we are not to have the attitude: If I keep sinning, then I’ll keep receiving more and more grace (5:20-6:2). Grace is not a free pass, but a life-altering gift (Titus 2:11-14).

A Christian is not one who looks lightly at sin and laughs off failures. Rather, a Christian is one who sees his or her old self hung on the cross with Jesus, and finds new life through his resurrection. We realize that the cross and the empty grave are more than safe passages away from God’s wrath. They are a means to true freedom and new life.

In Christ you are a new creature, not meant to give yourself over to sin and unrighteous passions, but to give yourself to God and that which honors him (Romans 6:5-14).

To encourage those Christians in Rome to live in this new reality, Paul pointed toward their past to that moment they came to Christ and submitted themselves for baptism, to that portrait of the gospel of which they took part. He reminded them that the act of baptism, of being immersed into the water and then pulled out from its flood, pictured the death and burial of their old selves, and the resurrection and birth to life of their new.

So baptism stands as a place for us to look, a past reminder of God’s continuing grace. You and I are no longer the same persons as before we came to Christ. Something new and amazingly wonderful has emerged through Christ: a forgiven sinner who now stands as a child of the Living God.

Baptism also serves as a reminder of what is to come, a forward-looking hope. The symbolic will one day manifest; the physical will catch up with the spiritual. The new life we have in Christ will be matched with the resurrection of our bodies from the dead as we step into eternal glory.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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