WE WERE BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH AND RAISED TO NEW LIFE.
Romans 6:3&4 “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.”
This chapter reflects the development and the momentum of this letter. The epistle begins with the plight of all men in sin. That is the status of everyone in God’s sight; he sees us all as ‘sinners.’ “I am a sinner?” Yes, you are a sinner; you have fallen short of God’s standard which is the glory of God. All of us have come short of that. Then in this letter Paul keeps moving on, and he deals with how God sent his Son to save all who entrust themselves into the eternal safe-keeping of Jesus Christ. All such are declared righteous and justified because of what the Lord Jesus has done.
Now in this sixth chapter Paul is showing us that what he’s told us of a full and free justification is merely the beginning. Immediately God accelerates the work. He sets up a purification plant and by it we are washed, and we are cleansed. He, as it were, starts to change us, the technical biblical word is sanctify us, to make us loving and holy and Christ-like people, and the foundational way – the indispensable way in which he does that is by uniting us to his Son. Like a jockey is joined to the back of the racehorse and so flies through the air on a stallion’s back, and with him he clears fences and brooks, and covers a mile in less than three minutes, so every Christian is united to Jesus Christ in his life and death, and in him we mount up with wings as eagles, we run and don’t grow weary. We walk and we don’t faint – all because of our union with him. We have his life and the divine energy enabling us to do the things that are needed. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
The vivid phrase that Paul uses in the text before us to describe our solidarity with Christ is that we have been “baptized into Christ Jesus . . . baptized into his death” (v.3). Let’s consider how and when baptism was practiced in the New Testament and what it teaches us.
JESUS OF NAZARETH, SON OF GOD, CHOSE TO BE BAPTIZED.
John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. He was Jehovah’s messenger sent by him to prepare Israel and to awaken the land so that the people in the various provinces would start again to think seriously about religion, and the living Jehovah, and about the promise God had made that one day he would send to his people the Seed of the woman, of the line of Abraham, and the son of David. John began to preach telling them all, “He’s coming soon, he’s at hand, and he will baptize not with water as I do but with the Holy Spirit.” Then one day Jesus of Nazareth turned up at the river Jordan where there was plenty of water for John to baptize thousands of people. Jesus stood in a line of candidates for baptism. In front of him in the line there may have been a repentant thief, and in front of the thief a converted formerly avaricious tax-collector, and behind Jesus there could have been a repentant drunkard, and behind him there was an adulterer who was convicted of his sin. There was a long line, and in the middle of that queue of convicted, believing men and women all waiting for John to baptize them as they confessed their sins was our Saviour appearing no different from any of them, except that the lines that sin writes on our faces were absent from his visage. But he was ‘found in fashion as a man;’ that is how he appeared. Imagine it! The holy and loving Son of God there in that line of wrong-doers, identifying himself with sinners. Christ was standing with them affirming, by his actions as much as by his words, that he wholly supported John’s words that they all needed to repent and be baptized. Jesus was saying in effect, “You can put nothing between me and John and all that Old Testament prophetic dispensation that he exemplified. I am in total agreement with what John has said to you.” Jesus was saying that all men and women needed to turn from their sins in repentance and be baptized. So the sinless Jesus himself, in the teeth John’s reluctance, was baptized by him in the river Jordan. That is where we meet baptism for the first time in the New Testament, in the baptism of Jesus by John.
ALL JESUS’ DISCIPLES WERE BAPTIZED.
We are told in John chapter 3, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized” (Jn. 3:22). I presume that many of those 500 disciples whom he met after his resurrection had been baptized as professing disciples of our Lord, but then John clarifies his words telling us, “it was not Jesus who baptized but his disciples” (Jn. 4:2). You see the picture, the Lord Jesus preaching his heart out to huge crowds of people, and many being deeply affected, repenting of their sins and then being baptized, but not by Christ. You see John and Peter and Andrew and James standing in the river and four lines of people waiting to be baptized by those apostles. They had some words with the candidates before their baptism, and Jesus was standing there on the riverbank, looking kindly at them all, approving of everything that was done. They were being baptized into Christ Jesus as his servants and followers. As he had stood in solidarity with sinners to be baptized by John so here they were standing in solidarity with him, with his teaching and his claims to be the anointed one of God, to be baptized in his name, identifying with him.
So from that time onwards every single new convert who put his faith in Jesus Christ was baptized. Baptism was not chosen or voted for for sentimental reasons, selected because it was a nice tradition. Our Lord required it; he gave them this command to baptize new disciples in his Great Commission; “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 24:19&20). So just ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven the 3,000 new believers on the day of Pentecost were told to repent and be baptized. That was the pattern for all that followed. The new believers of Samaria were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16). The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized. When the scales fell from Paul’s eyes “he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). Peter ordered those in Cornelius’ household that “they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). Lydia was baptized, and also every believer in her house, as was the Philippian jailor. So every single convert in the Acts of the Apostles was baptized. And here in our text Paul writes to the whole congregation in Rome and he says to them, “all of us . . . were baptized into Christ Jesus” – ‘us’ – “me as well as you!”
WHAT BEING BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST’S DEATH MEANS.
The figure to be baptized into someone means to be identified with him and joined to him. The apostle talks about being baptized into Moses, for Moses gathered the people together under him and led them through the Red Sea and then through the wilderness for 40 years. They couldn’t get by on their own. The other tribes in the desert and in Canaan would have picked them off and abducted them and killed them. They could only survive by being baptized into the people of Moses, being joined to them, into their power and protection and triumph. When you profess that you’ve become a Christian one of the things you are saying is that from now on I’m belonging to Jesus Christ, and I’m announcing this by my baptism. You have been initiated into the redeemed people of God, and into the saving means of grace, and into the fellowship of those who possess the Holy Spirit, joining with those pilgrims on their way to heaven. “That is where I’m going,” you are saying. You are going a new way. You are immersing your life into the life of Christ and his people.
A preacher could say when he’s baptizing a Christian that baptism is like a sermon but without preaching a word. When a person stands in the water he is representing his union with Jesus hanging on the cross. When he is lowered into the water he is picturing Jesus being buried in the tomb. When he is raised out of the water he symbolizes Jesus rising from the dead. When you see a person being baptized then that man or woman is enacting a sermon though he doesn’t say a word. He or she is pointing to the dying and rising of Christ and that they are united to him. “He is all my salvation and my life.” That is what Paul is saying in our text, that we’ve been completely united to the Lord Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, and it is signified in our water baptism in his name.
So Paul has raised this question that if all our sins have been forgiven through Jesus Christ shouldn’t we continue sinning to give the grace of God plenty of scope. No, says Paul, for the unbelieving, non-Christian, unregenerate you no longer exists and so you can’t live like you did, or act or think like that because that old fellow is dead and buried. Your old friends and family go out searching for the man they used to know but they can’t find him. The godless person that you used to be is no more. You’re dead meat. You passed away; you were joined to Jesus Christ when he died, and now you are living a new life. The old man is unfindable.
Let me use this illustration of Ray Prichard. Imagine you could be a time-traveler and being transported back about 2000 years to a Friday afternoon outside the wall of Jerusalem. On a little hill some crosses have been ercted where three men have been crucified. You walk nearer until you can see their faces. The one in the middle seems strangely familiar. He reminds you of someone you vaguely recognize. Who is that man in the middle? Could it be Jesus of Nazareth? You get closer and . . . who is that . . . you know who it is . . . no it can’t be . . . yes it is. You know it’s Jesus, but the face . . . the face is yours. You died on the cross with him. You were buried in the tomb with him. You rose from the dead with him. You and Christ are one.
My concern is this, that we are making Romans 6 some theological transaction, something that occurred in the realm of dogma and doctrine, but I am anxious to say to you that your union with Christ did not occur in the realm of religion but in the realm of reality. It was on the cross that you and Jesus were made one. In Gethsemane there were strong cryings and tears from our Lord. On Golgotha there was a shout of such pathos, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” There was agony and bloody sweat, there was the desperate sucking in of air to keep breathing; there was mockery and gambling. Calvary was a shambles with a sledgehammer and nails, a spear and the gushing forth from an extended stomach of water and blood. In that time and place and pain and nakedness and by a sovereign imputation of God you and Christ were joined together utterly indivisibly, making you one for ever.
Now consider Paul’s question again. How can you who were crucified with Christ in all that agonizing horror – how can you who died in him, struggling to keep alive in him on Golgotha, how can you live any longer sinning, the sinning that nailed him to a cross? If that was the price of your redemption how can you trifle with your sin a moment longer? Your sin crucified him. You died when he died, and the only reason you live as a new creation is because he lives.
So the Bible says these things; it teaches union with Christ, and I preach this truth from the Bible, but there is another way in which this reality surrounds you, your own baptism points to this. God has condescended to speak to you about your being joined to Christ in another quite unique way, not with words to your ears but to your senses, to your touch and sight and smell, by means of water and baptism. Just like he speaks to you about it in . . . the taste of a piece of bread and a drink of wine at the Lord’s Supper! In that way God also shows forth the Lord’s death. In baptism and in the Lord’s Supper our focus is set on Jesus Christ. In him you died to the dominion of sin when he died and in him you rose. In him you are fed and nourished.
You’re no longer under the condemnation of the law. You’re in covenant with Christ, you’re united with Him. You’re a beneficiary of his work and what he has done. You have been baptized into his death. There were many great works that Jesus did but the greatest work he did was to become the Lamb of God and as our substitute and sin-bearer to take sin’s curse that it was completely and eternally removed from us. His death broke the power of sin once and for all.
And Paul emphasizes how radically the break of the dominion of sin is by his using three phrases in the following verses; see them, ‘crucified’, ‘dead,’ and ‘done away with’. You couldn’t find three words that better stress a total discontinuity between the old unbelieving life and the new life joined to Christ. If you have been crucified, you are ‘good and dead.’ If you have died, you are ‘good and dead.’ If you have been done away with, you are ‘good and dead.’ You’ve heard of the joker saying that death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down. Well, death brings an emphatic end to the life that has gone before it. The apostle is saying, “Look, if you’ve been baptized, and that baptism accurately reflects the reality that the Holy Spirit has brought in your heart, then that baptism itself is saying to you, “You died to sin; you died to the dominion of sin, and the power of sin.
4. WHAT BEING RAISED FROM THE DEAD WITH CHRIST MEANS.
Furthermore, on the positive side, it points to our new resources, that every Christian is now living a new life. Look at verse 4. “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” New life! The life of eternity, life that never grows decrepit or sick or dies because it is always in Christ, joined to the one who lives in the power of an endless life. We are dead to sin, yes, and we are also alive and living a new life. So Paul is pointing to the resurrection there. So the first reply that Paul gives in response to the question, “Well, shouldn’t we go on sinning?” is to remind you what’s happened to you, that you have died and have been buried. Now, he says, you have new life, not perfect life, not sinless life, but real new life.”
Let me contrast this approach with a typical situation which we hear of today. There’s a very talented young woman, who’s graduated from medical school; she’s married, she has children, she’s a practicing general physician. She is the most popular doctor in the group practice in her town. She’s a member of a local Christian congregation. Then she has a serious accident, and she has to go on pain medication during the course of her recovery. But unfortunately she becomes addicted to the medication. She begins to steal drugs from the hospital where she works, and from her surgery. She then begins to engage in other types of illegal activities. This comes to the knowledge not only of her colleagues, but also to the powers that be, and suddenly, as her marriage is breaking up, and her parenting is falling apart, she is also actually facing judicial problems. She’s called to appear in court, but a merciful magistrate says to her, “There are mitigating circumstances here. Therefore, I’m going to let you off the hook. I’m not going to sentence you to a year in prison. I can’t speak for the medical association. I don’t know whether they’ll take away your license. I can’t help you with your marriage and with your family; but what I want you to do is, I want you to go into rehab; this drug problem has to be dealt with.”
Notice what the judge is doing. He is being very good. He is saying, “I’m going to spare you the legal challenges here. You’re not going to face the penalties for the laws you’ve broken, but you are going to have to go out and as best you can, through therapy, help yourself to deal with these personal problems that you have.” That’s all the magistrate can do. He’s being kind. He’s being discerning. He can’t change her life. He can’t deliver her. He can’t repair the breach in her marriage. He can’t solve the problems in her career. But he can try and help. He spares her the punishment that is due for her thieving.
Now that is the human response, very natural, but it is not what God does when he redeems us. He justifies us, yes and then he breaks the power sin has over us. And he gives us new life from heaven. Strong life, renewed life, a life of hope and mighty energy. Paul is talking about living out this life in our fallen world day by day. What wonderful reality, and many of you know this. You have for many years been living a new life compared to how you used to live. Paul is saying, “See, when God forgives you, he doesn’t summon you to court and then think for a while and say, ‘Look there’s some mitigating circumstances, and I’m going to let you off the hook. Suspended sentence, but as for the rest, you’re on your own, kid.’” That’s not the picture at all. When you stand before God with your sins you hear him say, “Right. I’ve read the file. There are no mitigating circumstances. You deserve a long sentence. In fact you deserve to fry, but because of my Son, the perfection of his life, his death on your behalf, and his resurrection, I’m going to justify you. I am going to forgive you. The slate is to be wiped clean and I’m not going to send you out now to do things on your own, because without me you can do nothing. There will be no improvement, no change at all without me. What you need and so what I’ll give you is new life. You’re dead in sin, but I’m going to put an undying injection of new life in you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That new life in you will bring about a total life personal transformation.”
The believer has risen with Christ. There is this negative past of this old unregenerate who now has ceased to be. There is also this positive counterpart, a new man with new life, people who’ve risen from the dead in Christ. These structures are gong to take over your future, and again, this is not an obligation. Paul is not exhorting us here, “Rise with Christ!” He is not speaking of any process which is to go on. He’s not saying to us that today we are rising with Christ, but he is saying to us that in our past we’ve experienced the gift of new life in Christ. What the believer was, that has ceased to be and in its place there is a risen and a transformed life.
Now that is a challenge isn’t it? I ask you and me is our own life a risen life? Is it what Paul calls a new life’? Is it resurrection life? Is it transfigured life? A glorious life? Where is the glory of the Father, that Paul speaks of here? We’re not asking yet, “What is the content of this?” We’re asking simply, has any elevation taken place in our own lives? Is there any difference in point of behaviour as a result of our Christian experience? Are our lives, in the broadest and yet in a undefined sense so far, risen and transformed? It is the question, “Is there elevatedness, majesty, glory? purity, and power?”
If there is transformation, is it transformation of these dimensions; a transformation comparable to that effected in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death to life? Is there anything in our existence, not in point of feelings, not in point of gift, but in point of Christian conduct, in point of Christian love, in point of Christian purity, which would tell men, that our lives had been touched by the power that made the world, that our lives had been touched by the power which raised our Lord from the dead? Is there transformation? Are our lives quite different to what our unregenerate lives were? Are our lives different from the lives of those who still constitute the mass, the unregenerate world? Do we stick out? Are we salt in the midst of putrefaction? Are we light in the midst of darkness? Is the transformation such as to argue that in us now there’s working the Almightiness of the Lord God? As we face the temptations of this life, does the way that we emerge declare that we have faced them and overcome them, by the power of an omnipotent Creator? And as we undergo whatever this life may hold for us of testing and suffering, do we have a courage and a patience that would argue that the Lord is holding us up with his own strength, and made over to us the resources of his own power? And as we face the obligations of our own Christian position, as we ask the Lord for a knowledge of his will and we identify his will and we endeavour to do his will, do we do it so effectively, that it might be known that we’re not doing it in our own strength, but by the power of him who raised the Lord from the dead?
It is one of the great and urgent questions for our day: what is the life, what is the bearing of the Christian Church, of our congregation? Are we light in the world? Are we the salt of the earth? Are we indeed shining in the midst of a crooked and a perverse nation? And do our lives bear testimony, not only to the sincerity of our theological convictions, but to the reality and the nearness and the relevance of the power that we proclaim?
Our own lives, are they new? Are they different? Are they transformed, transfigured ? Are they elevated, pure and noble? Are they patient and courageous? Are our lives all these things according to this measure and this standard? Is it transformation according to the resurrection of our Redeemer? And if I have this transformation in such proportion, what is the source of it ? What has transformed me? Paul says this: “Joined to Christ I am different, and I am different according to the measure of God’s omnipotence. How and why am I different? Because I am with Christ. I am united
to, engrafted into him, a member of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. In me there is his presence. In me there is his Spirit. In me there is the power of a risen Saviour.”
And this is not the privilege of an elite. It is not the privilege of the eminent believer, or the person who has had the second blessing, because there is no child of God, there is no man or woman born again, but that person is a man or woman who has this peculiar position, standing in this peculiar place, standing there almost physically, standing in union with a risen and a living Lord. That is why their lives are new, because they face the sufferings of the present time with him, because they face the wiles of the devil with him; because they face their every obligation with him. They cry, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”.
We are told today by so many that there is a crisis of power in the Christian Church, that there is a lack of force and spiritual energy. Men think that the great compensation would be the out-pouring, by the Spirit of God, of splendid and of spectacular public apostolic gifts. But is there a crisis of power? Does the believer lack potential? Does the Church, even as she is today, suffer from a poverty or an inadequacy of resources? Where is the church? Where do the people of God stand ? They stand in Christ. They stand with Christ. They live, stand, move, and have their being in the power of the risen, livingChrist. It is not that there is no power. But there is certainly a failure to appreciate the power that we have, to realise that we are in the Lord, that we are with the Lord and to appropriate that power.
It is not revelatory charismata, not apostolic gifts, not miracles, that we need. What we need is to realise the true position of the ordinary Christian believer, that he or she is a person who is in Christ, one with him for ever and ever. To realise that that is the position of all the Christian Church, that we are with him, is the most fabulous and life-changing discovery. This is what we are not because our faith is great, but because our faith is real in a real Lord. The most backward believer, the youngest child in Christian experience, where does he stand? In Christ! There is nothing wrong with the resources, nothing wrong with our individual resources. We are in the Lord, and Paul’s whole emphasis here is this: “I am going to tell you in this letter how a believer should live. I am going to tell you this, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Roms 12:17-21). Paul is going to say those things, but he wants to begin by telling you what a believer is. He is a person risen with Christ. And he expects you to live like a risen man, and he expect you to live like a man who is in, and who is with, Christ”.
The great thrust of all Paul’s teaching and conduct is this – be what you actually are. He says in verse 11, “Count yourselves dead to sin.” It is not only that they are dead, but that they are to account themselves as dead. They are to keep on saying to themselves, “I died to sin”. They are to keep on reminding themselves that they are risen with Christ. I am not sure that sometimes we are putting our humility in the wrong place. We are not ashamed of our status, or of our station, or our position; and it is time for us to realise what is our real dignity, to realise what is our potential, in the Lord. There is nothing wrong with our power if we would reckon ourselves possessed of the power, if we would work out what the Lord has wrought within us. We are transformed people, transformed by the re-creative power of Almighty God. And we are transformed because we are in Christ. Are we living according to this kind of teaching? Are we living new, living transformed, living elevated? Are we living powerfully? Living in Christ? Living by the resources, living out of the power of the God who is our refuge. Our Redeemer is strong! It is not only love and pity and compassion, and it is not only meekness that men need to live the Christian life, but they need power. “Finally, my brethren, be strong, and be strong in the Lord” (Eph. 6. 10). The Lord expects me to live according to what he has done in me, and according to the resources that he has made available to me.
8the February 2015 Geoff THOMAS