Buried with Him by Baptism
Romans 6 is key chapter in BR. When quoted it is usually verses 3-5 as follows:
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…”
If you were to ignore Romans 4 through 5 which is a doctrinal treatise on justification by faith, then I can understand why one would look at Romans 6 and think that baptism is a means by which one is regenerated. But since Paul himself has been affirmed through the book of Acts as not being a baptismal regenerationist, we can confidently say this chapter on baptism is what I briefly described earlier as identifying with Christ through this ordinance.
When you read this chapter with chapters 4 and 5 in mind, Paul has already said that in Christ we are justified through faith in His blood and sacrifice. It is in the end of Chapter 5 that Paul makes the case that grace reigns and has power over sin (v 20-21). But, as he begins in Chapter 6, does that mean we should keep sinning that grace can abound? How shall we who died to sin continue sinning Paul asks? Then, Paul continues by revealing how if you are baptized into Christ you are identifying with His death. Notice, we did not literally die as Christ did when we were baptized. This is figurative speech that seeks to demonstrate a spiritual principle, and is antitypical as Peter says, which we will look at later. Paul’s point is that if we who are in Christ, that are justified by faith, and have received reconciliation from God through His sacrifice, have been baptized, don’t you know you are uniting yourself with Him in the “likeness” of His death by baptism? In other words, if you call yourself a believer, the reason why you do not go on sinning and living a life of sin is because in identifying yourself with Christ through faith, you are declaring death upon your old nature (v 6 and 11), proclaiming that you are being freed from sin (v 7), and now you can look forward to the resurrection of the body (v 5). It is because of this that Paul states that those that have been “baptized into Christ have put on Christ” in Galatians 3:27. Chances are (sarcastically speaking) if you are made a “son of God through faith in Jesus Christ” as it states in Galatians 3:26, you will identify yourself with Christ in baptism as proof of your faith. Therefore, those that have been baptized with Christ have put on Christ, because baptism is sign of your faith (assuming that faith is genuine).
If I asserted those that have been reading their Bible, since their salvation, have put on Christ, does that mean reading your Bible is the essential means of regeneration? No. Although the word of God is what saves men initially via the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (something else we will explore later), the continual reading of God’s word has a sanctifying means to it. Furthermore, if I said that those who hate sin and are fighting against it have put on Christ, does that mean that fighting against sin is how you become born again? No. Fighting against sin and reading your word are both signs that your faith is genuine. Therefore, those that have placed their faith in Christ, have been justified through faith, and made sons of God, and also have been united together in the likeness of His death by baptism in order to proclaim their reconciliation to Christ, their death to sin, and their hope for the resurrection! It is a public proclamation and identification, not a necessary element of regeneration.
If we were to go to Colossians 2:11-13 Paul clears this confusion of baptism being the means of salvation by saying:
“Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…”
Notice, Paul continues to use symbolic language to project a spiritual principle. In Christ is how we receive the “circumcision made without hands,” but not by baptism. Although we are buried with Him by baptism, it is “through faith” that we are raised when we trust in the “working of God” who raised Jesus from the dead. The reason why these illustrations were used was to reveal that through the law, because we were “dead in [our] trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh” (making reference to our Gentile desires prior to being born again and covenant separation from God), we cannot save ourselves. But through Christ we are “made alive together with Him” having our trespasses forgiven. The point being that the Colossians (and Gentile believers as a whole) are lost and dead in their uncircumcision, and we who are united with Christ are counted as circumcised because of the circumcision made without hands by the body of Christ. And also, in baptism through faith, we identify with His sacrifice by putting off the old man (Adam), and are raised to new life by the power of God that raised Jesus (which is the Holy Spirit).
What we have here is double metaphor that proves that baptism is essentially a symbol of our faith. If we are dead in our trespasses and sins, but yet baptism spiritually crucifies and buries the old man in Christ only to be raised up, how can Christ kill a dead man? Or better yet, can a dead man die twice? The fact that the Bible calls sinners dead is illustrative of a spiritual principle, and the same goes for baptism in burying us with Christ. By Paul using circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2, he was using separate illustrations to declare one truth – that He has raised us together with Him and has forgiven our trespasses (v 13).
Note: The fact that the Bible describes the second death for those outside of salvation doesn’t equate to someone dying twice in the sense that I am explaining it here. Also, Adam did die twice, but spiritually, then physically. We are born spiritually dead, and if we physically die without Christ, we will face the second death in hell (remember that we still receive physical bodies when we are resurrected for judgment – John 5:29). However, while we are physically alive, if we are not saved, we remain spiritually dead, and are in need of a spiritual resurrection prior to the physical resurrection in Christ. So to ask “How can a dead man be killed?” or “How can a dead man die twice?” is to identify a merging of metaphors to explain that, in baptism, there is no regenerational transaction taking place. In other words, how can we who are spiritually dead die twice? Because death signifies separation, we are dead in trespasses and sin, therefore we are spiritually separated from God. That is why uncircumcision is mentioned as well. If we have died with Christ, we are spiritually separated from the world, sin, and Satan. Yet, nowhere does the Scripture deem that baptism is how that separation is enacted upon us. It is only when we receive the Holy Spirit that separation from the world has begun.
If we turn the pages of our Bible to Ephesians 2:5-6, we would see similar language being used, except without baptism being referenced as it was in Colossians 2 and Romans 6. It says:
“…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”
Later on in verse 8 it speaks about how it is by grace we are saved through faith. If Paul wanted to make the case that baptism is the cause of our regeneration, and the means by which we experience (spiritually) the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in which the blessing of His sacrifice are imputed to us, then why would he not just say so here? Or anywhere else? Why couldn’t he just say that it is “by grace we are saved through faith in baptism”? The fact that Paul here reveals a raising up with Christ by grace, because we were dead in our sin, shows that baptism is only a figure of what happens to us by grace through faith as he states in Colossians 2:12, and Romans 6 would be no different.
I highly suspect that at this point one would say, “But Paul clearly revealed that salvation is through baptism in Romans 6, Galatians 2, and Colossians 2, you just see what you want to see.” If you are a baptismal regenerationist, maybe you are thinking along those lines, or have had someone else tell you that that is what I am doing. To help us understand that this is not what I am doing, I will turn now to a portion of Scripture that some proponents of BR use in order to convince someone that water and the Holy Spirit are always associated with one another, and therefore is proof that baptism is the means of regeneration. In other words, by expounding on this portion of Scripture, I hope to reveal that I am not cherry picking, nor am I ignoring what Paul is saying in Romans 6, Galatians 2, or Colossians 2. I am simply taking all such mentions of water baptism that a baptismal regenerationist would use to build their case, and am making a systematic (there goes that word again) conclusion based off of an inclusive effort of every portion of Scripture available to me. As I mentioned above, if all the Scriptures that were available to me were what the baptismal regenerationists pointed out, I would believe in BR. Thank God that is not the case. With that said, let’s move on to Titus 3:4-7.
(Continue to Part 6 concerning the washing of regeneration)