“We have been buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Baptism has become so hotly debated among evangelical Christians that we have grown shy to mention it. Many churches make it optional and downplay its significance. We’ve found it far easier to ask folk to “raise their hands to receive Christ.” Baptism is an after-thought, a later declaration of what has already happened within us. It has little mystery, urgency, or grace associated with it.
The Apostle Paul seemed to feel differently.
It’s common to hear people say that baptism symbolizes a change in their lives. But in Romans 6, Paul does not use the word “symbol.” In fact, he doesn’t use the term anywhere. Instead, he seems to suggest that baptism actually initiates and produces a change in our lives. It is the definitive act whereby we “die to sin” (Romans 6:2).
At what other point, according to Scripture, do we die to sin? Repentance may be renunciation, but it is not death.
“Baptismal regenerationist!” some might say. No, not really. Paul does not suggest that baptism apart from faith makes any difference at all. But for the person who wants to follow Christ, and who trusts Christ, baptism is the most natural response in the world.
We are “buried with Christ” and “raised with Him” (Romans 6:4) — quite literally — in this extraordinary act. And somehow, in this moment of surrender and obedience, the “old self” dies, we get set free, and Christ empowers us “to no longer let sin reign in our mortal bodies” (Romans 6:12).
An old colleague of mine, Dennis Nutt, used to say that “Baptism is the end of justification and the beginning of sanctification.” I think he got it right.
I can understand baptism’s loss of favor among evangelicals, though it’s ironic that we have watered it down so much. Nobody likes to stand out. Much easier to slip up a hand when “every head is bowed and every eye is closed.” And nobody seems to believe much in mystery anymore. But Romans 6 takes a higher view of this powerful experience.
As we practice Lent, turning from sin and turning repeatedly to Christ, a deep reflection on baptism seems appropriate. And if you’ve not yet been “buried with Christ,” this would be a great next step.