What does your baptism mean? What does baptism mean for the church? The command to baptize is part of Christ’s Great Commission to his church just before he ascends to heaven. Romans 6:1–14, against the background of Genesis 17, helps you understand how important your baptism is.
Your baptism means that you belong to Christ and his body. God marked Abraham and his descendants as belonging to him. God had made his covenant promises to Abraham earlier in Genesis. Now he give circumcision as the sign and seal of that covenant. This is not just a sign of national identity. It speaks to God’s relationship with his people. They are commanded to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 44). A non-Israelite could become one of God’s people, and that involved receiving this sign. At the heart of the covenant is God promising to be a God to his people. The covenant is a relationship, one that is important enough that in both the Old and New Testaments, God himself ordains a sign and seal of that covenant.
In the New Testament baptism distinguishes the body of Christ. As Acts, Galatians, and Romans make clear, in the New Testament, God’s people no longer need to receive that sign. Instead, baptism, as commanded by Jesus—in the name of the triune God—is administered to those who believe. In Romans 6, as Paul points out how contradictory it is to what you are in Christ, he points to your baptism. That baptism marks you as belonging to Christ. In Galatians he says that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Your baptism is a sign and seal of belonging to Christ. Roman Christians were aware of the importance of baptism–Paul can assume they know its meaning and what it seals. (The sacrament is not unimportant or a mere formality.) You are united with Christ. Baptism involves the concept of union. The people of Israel were baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1,2), and Paul rejects the notion that the Corinthians had been baptized into Paul (1 Cor. 1:13)! You are united with the triune God, Mt. 28:19. Don’t separate the work of the three Persons.
Baptism involves God marking you as his. Neither the Old Testament sacrament nor the New Testament one are first of all the believer saying something to God. Sometimes the sign and seal follows a conscious expression of faith, as was the case with Abraham (see Romans 4:11—it is a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith before he received the sign). But other times it was administered, at God’s command, long before the person had conscious faith. Isaac was eight days old when he received the sign. And the New Testament sign is for believers and their children, Acts 2:38–39. On its most basic level, baptism is God saying, this person belongs to me. Don’t water down the force of that just because there are some who receive the sign who ultimately perish. “The first thing that baptism points to and validates is God’s gospel. To the person being baptized, and to all who witness or experience the event, or to all who even consider the symbol, baptism testifies to tot he truth of an enduring promise which God himself made, which he continues to proclaim, and which he continues to honour: it is the promise of redemption for all who trust in Christ alone for their righteousness.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 366).
Your baptism means that you have died. You have died to the curse and punishment for sin. In Romans 6 Paul makes the point that you must not sin because your baptism says that you died with Christ and were buried with him. Christ’s perfect life of obedience, but particularly his death on the cross as your substitute means that you who are united with him are set free from both the guilt of your sin and its punishment. In Romans 5 Paul made the point that Christ died as the second Adam, as the representative for his people. Appropriately, the New Testament sign involves water (setting aside the amount and the mode of administration for now) with its cleansing properties.
You have died to the enslaving power of sin. Your Lord Jesus Christ died. He died to death, v. 9. Death is past, unrepeatable for him. Christ died to sin, v. 10. Not that Christ ever sinned, but rather that he is no longer in sin’s domain. You too died to sin. Like a prisoner in the Gulag, your only escape from the enslaving power of sin is through death. And that is what happened as you were buried with Jesus in his death. We usually think of sanctification as the process of becoming more holy. While that is biblical, this passage treats sanctification as a definitive act. You died to sin. You are no longer under its power and control. Paul says that is true of you who have been baptized into Christ. You can make progress in your daily growth in grace. You don’t have to go on sinning. As a Christian you can’t say “can’t”! 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Pay attention to the warnings involved in baptism. The Old Testament sign clearly had a warning aspect. It involved cutting with a knife or a sharp piece of flint. But before the cutting in the sacrament in Genesis 17 comes the cutting of the animals in Genesis 15, where the Lord symbolically takes the curse of the covenant upon himself. Only because of God’s faithfulness can Abraham live in covenant fellowship with God. The New Testament sacrament is not bloody, but water does have a judgment aspect. In 1 Peter 3 the apostle ties baptism with the judgment water of the flood. Christ sufferings were his baptism (Mark 10:38), and because he went through that, you can be his people. Appreciate the blessing of your baptism, but remember that it is a warning as well, summoning you to faithfulness to your Lord.
Your baptism means that you have been raised with Christ. You are a new creation! You live a new life. You will live, v.8, and you do live, v.11. Your former way of life must be put off, v.12. Your baptism means that you have put on Christ. You are united with him in his resurrection.
You have been set free to serve your Lord. Christ was raised through the glory of the Father. His glory is his majesty, the sum of his perfections. This is brought to bear in raising up Christ. The Father’s raising of the Son vindicates him. You share in that glorious vindication as you are united to Christ. The Lord, with whom you are united, sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. You belong to him. You are part of his body. Your baptism reminds you that it is true. “As surely as Christ rose from the dead so surely shall we walk in newness of life.” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, p. 216).
Take hold of the blessings of your baptism! Your baptism tells you that you belong to God. Remember that when you are tempted. Take hold of it when you are discouraged. God gave you the seal to assure you that he is your God and that he is utterly faithful. Children, you may not remember when you were baptized, but your baptism calls you to live as someone who belongs to Christ, trusting yourself to him and him alone, living to serve and glorify him. Focus on the heart of what baptism is. It may be helpful, as you go through trials and temptations, to remember that you have entrusted yourself to God, that you believe in him. But it is a far greater thing to remember that it is not first of all you speaking, but rather God saying, “You belong to me. I am with you. I care for you. I have made you part of the body of my Son, and because of him, you are precious to me. “Baptism is most basically and universally—just as circumcision was—about the works and the righteousness of Another, and not about the righteousness of ourselves. The enduring importance of baptism rests in what it always says about God and his gospel, and not what it sometimes says about the person who is baptized.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 367).
Your baptism tells you that when Jesus died, you died with him. You no longer belong under the power and domination of sin. Your baptism tells you that when Jesus was raised, you were raised with him to a new life. It challenges you to live this week as someone who is really alive in Christ.