On Baptism, III. Redemption from the Slavery of Sin

Continued from previous post: “Therefore, Ezekiel declares, as the apostle Paul declares, that baptism results in the obedience of God’s people. How? Because God places in his people a new heart and a new spirit, and he puts his Spirit in us so that we will ‘walk in [his] statutes and be careful to obey [his] rules.’ Therefore, man’s inability to fulfill the obedience of faith is remedied by God’s ability, for it is God who works in his people to bring them to obedience through Jesus Christ. The question that remains then is, ‘How is this accomplished?'”

This obedience which God accomplishes in his people comes about first through the emancipation from sin that baptism affords. Paul addresses this truth thoroughly in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. However, before we look at that text, I would like to explain how the apostle structures his argument. Yes, baptism is the apostle’s topic in Romans 6-8:17, however he does not come at the topic directly as though he were writing an essay on baptism, but he does it in response to certain objectionable questions, each question raised by a prior claim of his. The reason he structures his discourse in this way, I believe, is because he is preparing the church for the false teachers who will inevitably spring up among them proclaiming destructive heresies. He expresses this concern at the end of his epistle, writing, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rm. 16:17). Therefore, the apostle structures his discourse on baptism in such a way that the church will have a defense against those who bring in a false gospel.

The first question that is raised in objection to the apostle’s teaching is found in v. 6:1: “What then, are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” This question is founded upon the previous statement of the apostle in v. 5:20, viz. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The apostle’s answer to this objection is an emphatic, “No!” He writes, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” His answer to the objection brings in a new facet of the discussion. In the previous section of the discourse, the apostle goes to great lengths to highlight the superiority of the work of Christ over the work of Adam, yet he does not demonstrate how that effects those who have been taken out from under the headship of Adam and placed under the headship of Christ. The apostle, however, introduces the concept in v. 5:21, viz. “So that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” however he does not expound on how this reign of righteousness occurs in the life of a subject of Christ until this point. Thus, from his response to the objection, we find that this reign of righteousness first happens through Christ’s subject’s death to sin.

How did this death to sin occur? The apostle writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him 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 newness of life (v. 6:3, 4). Though the apostle does not deal with the cause for our death to sin directly in these verses, he intimates its cause through baptism’s end, namely, so that “we might walk in newness of life.” We who have been baptized into Christ, that is, we who have in some mystical and spiritual way been identified in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, have been identified for the purpose of our “walking in newness of life.” In other words, we who were formerly walking in the oldness of death under the headship of Adam have been taken out from under Adam and identified with Christ so that that which was old and leading to death might be made new so that we would no longer live as we once lived.

To demonstrate how this newness of life comes about in the life of those who have been placed under Christ, the apostle uses a literary structure that is common in his writings where he takes two concepts and structures them in such a way that each concept comments upon the other. This structure is an A B B A structure, where concept A brackets and comments upon concept B and vice versa (cf. Rm. 2:7-10; 10:9, 10). The structure is thus:

A. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (v. 6:5).

B. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (v. 6:6).

B. For one who has died has been set free from sin (v. 6:7).

A. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (v. 6:8).

Concept A is that dying with Christ guarantees living with Christ in eternity. This living with Christ is the hope of our salvation, for the apostle writes later, “For in this hope we were saved” (v. 8:24). Concept B is that our dying with Christ has accomplished that which we could not accomplish, namely that Christ’s death redeems us from our slavery to sin under the headship of Adam. Therefore, our union with Christ in his death freed us from the bondage of sin, for our union with him, as the apostle writes, “Crucified our old man with Christ in order that the body of sin would be eradicated.”

The structure of the text is thus, because the hope that with have of living with Christ is contingent upon our emancipation from sin’s bondage. We cannot live with Christ apart from freedom from sin, for no one will see God unless he be righteous and do the works of righteousness. For God will, as the apostle writes earlier, “Render to each one according to his works” (v. 2:6).

Now it needs to be noted that the apostle does not write, “He will render to each one by his works,” but that, “He will render to each one according to his works. The difference is that God does not repay salvation based upon the merits of good works, but that he gives salvation in accordance to the works that he produces in those who are in him. This notion is seen everywhere in Scripture and perhaps most clearly in another epistle of the apostle Paul, where he writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Why? “Because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Ph. 2:12, 13). Therefore, God is just to render to men according to their works, because they do not work for God in their natural and foul state, but they work for God in their state under Christ.

It is for this reason that the apostle ends the previous section, writing, “Grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life” (v. 5:21). For God in his divine ordinance, has not chosen to save men by merely granting to them life in eternity, but he saves men in such a way that they become righteous now, and the fruits of that righteousness lead to life everlasting.

Next: On Baptism, IV. Let Not Sin Reign in Your Mortal Bodies

Categories: Theology

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