The Deeper Meaning of Baptism

Title: The Deeper Meaning of Baptism

Text: Romans 6:1-14

Time: September 17th, 2006

There’s an old saying that goes, “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye,” which means that there is more going on behind the scenes than we see going on in front. The Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans for five chapters has been trying to describe what is going on in the spiritual world while we live in the present material world. He has been trying to explain why things are the way they are in the physical, visible world, because of the way things are in the spiritual, invisible world. In the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul touches on a very practical matter: how we can live in this world as a result of the reality of Jesus Christ in our lives. For much of the first five chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul speaks about theological matters that are very important, but for the most part it’s a matter of understanding and believing; but in the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul applies all his teachings to instruct us how to live the Christian life on a daily basis. In a previous message I used the example of an iceberg, with the physical, visible part called the tip of the iceberg as representing reality as we can know it and the 90% submerged, hidden part representing the invisible, spiritual aspect of reality. In chapter six of Romans, Paul brings together the hidden, invisible reality with the visible, knowable reality in our lives to give us practical advice on how to live as Christians. Now one of the common problems the Apostle Paul ran into constantly was misunderstanding. We can see why, because he’s trying to explain hidden, invisible, spiritual reality and do so in a way that we can understand and apply to our lives. But in the process, people time and time again misunderstood him, sometimes seriously. One of the big misunderstandings of Paul was to think he was saying that because Christians are forgiven they don’t need to worry about being good any more, since after all, God accepts and receives them by faith not by anything good they do. So Paul has to try to explain what the proper Christian motivation is now for good works or living holy and good lives. If the threat of judgment and punishment is no longer a motivation for being good, what now is a Christian’s motivation for being good? The answer Paul gives comes from the physical, visible sign of our salvation, baptism. Paul explains the full meaning of Christian baptism and in the process explains the Christian motivation for living good and holy lives. If we seriously understand our baptism, we will understand how we are given a new spiritual power to resist living the old, sinful, deadly life we once lived before Christ. If we properly understand and never forget the meaning of our baptism, we’ll be motivated to live our new life by choosing the good, holy, and right. There is nothing more practical a Christian can learn than what Paul teaches here in chapter six of Romans. Romans 6:1-14 (read). There are three important points.

First, We died (in Christ, with Christ) to sin. Romans 6:1-7, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Now to understand all that Paul says we must first understand the iceberg principle: the physical, visible reality is only the tip of the iceberg of reality; 90% of reality is spiritual, hidden and invisible. Paul says we died to sin, but how so? Because Jesus died on the cross to the law, to sin, to death and because of our identification with him by faith, we too are counted as dead to law, sin, and death. Somehow, someway Jesus took upon himself our sins, bore our punishment for sin, suffered our judgment and condemnation for sin. Somehow or another, Jesus fulfilled the law in our place for us with his perfect life, and in dying, died to the law for us also. There was so much more going on in the invisible, spiritual reality than the physical, visible reality revealed to us about Jesus. For example, during the perfect life of Jesus, he fulfilled the law of God in his life and because by faith we trust in him, his life counts for us in our life; Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness. On the cross, Jesus died for our sins, he took our punishment, and died our death for us. Now, because we trust and identify with Jesus by faith, his death becomes our death; we died with Christ to the law and sin in the invisible, spiritual world. And our lives should begin to show this reality in the visible, physical world, but only as the tip of the spiritual iceberg. The spiritual reality is already a totally and completely done deal, but our visible, physical reality is now becoming more and more conformed to the hidden reality. All of this truth and language is difficult to grasp because it is describing an invisible, hidden reality that is behind the scenes. Our identification with Jesus isn’t just poetic language, it isn’t just a metaphor for something, it’s a reality, but it’s a reality that we must take by faith because it is impossible to see directly. So in order to explain it in a better way, Paul uses the example of baptism.

Everyone who becomes a Christian is baptized, and in baptism three things happen: first, the person is lowered into water, second, the person is kept for a moment in the water, and third, the person is raised again out of the water. These three steps represent our life of identification with Christ. First, we are lowered into the water at baptism, which represents our dying with Christ on the cross. Second, we are kept under the water for a while; this represents our identification with Christ in the burial grave. Third, we are raised up out of the water; this represents us rising to live again with Christ in resurrection. We died to sin with Christ on the cross. We died to the law with Christ on the cross. And we rose to a new life with Christ in the resurrection. All of this is symbolized in our baptism. Some people think that baptism is just a religious ritual, but it’s more than that. It’s symbolizes a hidden, spiritual, invisible reality. We can’t see into the spiritual world, we can’t see our sins dying on the cross with Christ, we can’t see the law being abolished through Christ on the cross, we can’t see our old sinful selves dying on the cross with Christ, but these are all realities nonetheless, and baptism shows this in a visible, physical way. What baptism symbolizes really took place in our lives. Paul answers the question: “Shall we just keep on sinning because now we are forgiven anyway?” by pointing out “We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” Or in other words, “How could we even think about living in sin any longer, because we died to sin with Christ on the cross?” That raises an important second question: “Why are we even tempted to return to our old, sinful life once we’ve died to the law, sin, and death with Christ on the cross?” We’ll get to that on the last point of this message, but just to give a teaser answer: we are tempted to sin even after we become Christians because we aren’t used to living in our new life existence. But Paul wants us to remember, and never forget, that our salvation symbolized by our baptism represents everything we need to know to understand our new Christian life. Through Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins and we actually die to sin. Through Jesus we are given righteousness, not our own, but Christ’s. Through Jesus we fulfill the law and in Christ’s death, we die to the law. And through Christ, we die to death (the really deadly part of death is over, although we suffer physical death, that is only but the tip of the iceberg of death; the really dangerous part, eternal and spiritual death, is now over). But all of this is just half the story.

Second, We live (in and with Christ) a new life. Romans 6:8-10, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Again, Paul is using language to describe a hidden, invisible, spiritual reality, and that’s what’s so hard for us to understand. All of this takes place in the invisible reality. The Greek philosophers before the time of Christ used to describe the study and discussion of the invisible, hidden world as metaphysics. Philosophers today still speak in terms of metaphysics when describing, for example, the mind reality as opposed to the brain. The brain is a matter of biology and physics, but the mind is a matter metaphysics, or meta, which means “alongside” and physics. The mind is a reality alongside of the physical reality of the brain. What is the mind? It’s a hard question to answer. Where is hope? Where is love? Where is consciousness? All of these things are said to exist in the metaphysical world, as the philosophers call it. The Apostle Paul uses language to describe metaphysical reality too. He says that just as Christ rose from the grave to a new life, so we too also rose with Christ to a new life. We shouldn’t go back into our old life of sin because we were raised with Christ (in the spiritual, metaphysical reality) to a new life. We must begin to think and act according to our new reality not according to our old habits of life. I remember times when I’ve moved from one place to another, yet my mind was still in the old place where I once lived. In the middle of the night I’d get up to use the bathroom and my mind was still thinking I was where I used to live, so I’d move in the direction of the bedroom door only to find out it’s a wall. My old bedroom has a door in that place, but in the dark I can’t see that my new bedroom has the door on the other side of the room. I run into the wall because I’m still thinking in the old way not the new way. That’s what Paul is saying to Christians about the new life in Christ. No longer live in the old sinful way of life, because just as baptism symbolizes, you died to that old way, and just as baptism symbolizes rising to life, live in your new life. We must train ourselves to think and act in new ways that reflect our new spiritual reality, a reality which we can’t see directly but which is nonetheless real, which our baptism represents visibly for us. We must remember our baptism because our baptism represents the truth we can’t see yet. But we can see our baptism and that should remind us of our new life. But there’s another issue Paul talks about that is very important.

Third, We are free to live a new life and not go back to the old life. Romans 6:11-14, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Here Paul instructs all Christians to flat out refuse to yield themselves to sin any longer, which assumes that all Christians have a choice to choose now right from wrong. Through Jesus Christ we now can choose to be holy, righteous, and good! Before our salvation by faith in Christ we were slaves to sin. We really didn’t have the power to resist, since we inherited from our original father Adam the original sin nature that enslaved us in sin that leads to death (physical, mental, spiritual). But through Christ’s life and death and resurrection things changed for us. We died to sin with Christ, we died to the law, we died to death (the fullness of death), and we now live a new life in and with Christ. We now have the power to choose sin or righteousness, death or life. If this is so, why would we ever be tempted to choose sin as before? Again, it’s because we don’t always grasp the fact that we have a new life in Christ, we forget, or we are deceived into thinking we are back in the old life. It takes time before our minds and behavior respond to the new reality in Christ that is ours. I remember watching a movie called The Shawshank Redemption, where a prisoner is released after spending years in jail. This man couldn’t function at first in the free world because he kept on thinking like a prisoner as if he were still in jail. He finds it hard to adjust to freedom after living for so long without freedom. Old habits, old patterns of thought, old instincts are hard to break. The movie shows some guys released who never do adjust, some volunteer to go back to prison! The Apostle Paul states emphatically: “Christians, don’t go back into the prison of sin.” Romans 6:12, “Therefore, don’t let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” It’s as if he’s saying, “You now have a choice. Don’t sin that leads to destruction of life. Don’t return to guilt, shame, rebellion against God, remorse, grief, fear, anxiety, etc. and all the things you died to with Christ on the cross. No. Choose to live a new life with Christ in holiness and goodness, that leads to life, joy, peace, love, etc.” So we must choose to live new lives as Christians. We must choose to not go back into the old life of sin and death. We can choose because we died with Christ to our old lives and we rose again with Christ to a new life, so let’s live a new life, and not return to the old life. The only thing that could stop us is if we allow ourselves to forget we are free or let ourselves be deceived into thinking we aren’t free. But if we constantly keep in mind we are free to live the new life in Christ, nothing can stop us, and we will in fact live the new life. That’s what Paul says for us to do.

Are you living your new life in Christ, or are you forgetting that you have a new life, or are you letting someone or something deceive you into thinking that you don’t have a new life or that you are still back in your old life? If you are living in your new life with Jesus Christ, keep this reality alive by constantly remembering your baptism and what it symbolizes in your life. Never forget the spiritual reality that it represents, even as you face temptations to forget or doubt it. If you have forgotten that you are able to live a new life, maybe because you forgot that you died with Christ and you rose again with him to a new life, then begin again to remember this important truth. Reread Paul’s teachings on this in chapter six of Romans until you understand and believe it again. You may be like the prisoner released in the movie The Shawshank Redemption who temporarily forgot he was now free. He was free to live a new life outside the prison, but he kept forgetting where he was and who he was. He kept treating himself as if he were still a prisoner. He kept acting and behaving as if he were still in the prison. Finally, it took someone to tell him that he didn’t have to think that way anymore. He finally began to understand that he was free and could choose to live a new life and not return again and again to the old way of thinking and behaving. He wasn’t able to live his new life until he began to believe and think differently. Maybe that’s what you need to do, believe and think differently. The first thing to remember is that now you have a choice, you can choose. The second thing to remember is that you don’t want to choose the old life, you want to choose the new life in Christ. Remember where the old way life leads to, that old sinful way of life, and the walking death that it produces. There’s another old movie called Night of the Living Dead, which illustrates how it’s possible to be living and dead. As Christians we don’t want to return to the old life of sin, which leads to a kind of living dead existence. We want to use our freedom to live the new life in Christ that leads to living life. Finally, we don’t want to ever be deceived by anyone or anything, to go back into the old life of sin and death again. Sometimes we are tempted to go back into sin, but other times we are deceived by someone or something to go back to sin and death, but we must resist all deception. We can resist it because we are free to choose now. We must reflect and review the reality of our new life in Christ. We must remember our baptism, which illustrates our spiritual reality. And by reviewing and remembering it we can live our new lives and never go back into the old life. That’s what Paul is teaching.

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