The Logic of Baptism

Introduction:  We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the “forgiveness of sins.” Most people will affirm this tenet of the creed. The Christian belief in the forgiveness of sins is rooted in Christ’s death. It is a common, but decidedly erroneous opinion that forgiveness of sins is to be expected from God simply because we want Him to be forgiving. This coupled with the distorted notion that “grace” is understood outside its Biblical context as simply God’s forgiveness or unconditional acceptance without regard to repentance—it’s just something that everyone is entitled to because we are human, and prone to error—therefore, God is obligated to forgive. This is not the Biblical picture. John Calvin long ago warned, “False prophets … speak only of God’s freeness to forgive, and are profoundly silent about repentance.” We cannot expect forgiveness from God unless we are partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection. “Justification involves sanctification as a necessary consequence because the believer who is a sharer in the atonement is united to Christ and must enter also into the sanctified life which union with Christ involves. This is the greatest truth, which underlies Paul’s whole argument and connects justification with sanctification. It is the union with Christ which makes it impossible for a justified man to live in sin as his element.”[1]

Regrettably, much of modern day evangelicalism has lost interest in the great truths heralded by the Reformation. For example, 52% of all Evangelicals polled believe that it does not matter what religious faith you follow because all faiths are basically the same, people pray to the same God, regardless of their religious beliefs. Over 60% of those polled agreed that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Finally, over half of the Evangelicals polled affirmed that a person’s first priority and major responsibility is to find self-fulfillment.[2] Evangelicals, for the most part, are no longer people of truth. The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura is no longer operative in much that passes for evangelical today. Modern sources for authority are to be found in psychology and management theory. “Evangelicals are attracted by movements that have replaced theology with emphases that are relational, therapeutic, charismatic, and managerial (as in Church growth). Whatever their virtues, none of these emphases give truth and theology the place they require in the life and thought of a true disciple.”[3]

An article appeared in the Miami Herald informing us of the intellectual benefit kids gain from watching MTV. Gregory Ulmer, a professor of English at the University of Florida, contends that writing with images and sounds is the new literacy of the future, although he admitted, “logical principles for formulating and expressing ideas in sound and image have not yet been identified.”[4] Much like the Middle Ages when very few people could read, the postmodern age that confronts us today is preoccupied with the visual over the verbal. “We believe it if we see it, feel it, experience it. Thoughts get in the way of feelings; conversations are less important than relating. It’s like the ooze at the beach that squirts up between your toes, and the problem is that it is not being adequately resisted by Christians.”[5] In Romans 12:1, 2, the Apostle Paul admonishes believers: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”[6] Another survey revealed that most people in our society are not very happy with themselves. We are told that the vast majority of people today suffer from a tattered self-image. According to one recent article, America has ten times more psychologists, psychiatrists, and others involved in the ever-expanding field of mental health than any other country in the world.[7] Self-help books and those devoted to personal improvement appear with great frequency on the New York Times Best-Seller List.[8]

Two of the bestselling “Christian” books, Joel Osteen Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential and Joyce Meyer In Pursuit of Peace: 21 Ways to Conquer Anxiety, Fear, and Discontentment simply regurgitate the therapeutic psycho-babble of our secular culture. People want to change the way they are. People likewise dislike the way they look. The popularity of cosmetic and plastic surgery attests to this fact. Perhaps this preoccupation with our tattered self-image is nowhere more obvious than in the way people become obsessed with fad diets. One of the more popular ways to promote the latest diet craze is with before and after photos. Right before your very eyes is the compelling evidence that this diet works—at least it worked for the people in the photos. But if you read the fine print, you will find a disclaimer that says something like, “results vary from person to person. Your weight loss may not correspond to those depicted here.” The Bible tells us of a great change—a very real change, one that really does contrast the difference between the before and the after (and it is true for everyone who is in Christ). This is the point the Apostle Paul is seeking to establish—there is an enormous difference between what we were before we were Christians and what we are after we come to faith in Christ. I cannot overemphasize, however, the importance of knowing the doctrinal truth that the Apostle is seeking to underscore in this passage.

I.          First Things First (v.1-3):  The words “death,” “dead,” and “die” occur 13 times in verses 1-11. H. K. Moulton, acclaimed Greek scholar said that few word-studies reveal a greater difference between ordinary thinking and New Testament thinking than a study of the word Thanatos, Death. It occurs frequently, as we should expect, coming no less than a hundred and twenty times in all. Twenty-eight of these occurrences are in the Gospels, eight in Acts, twenty-two in Romans, seventeen in I and II Corinthians, six in Philippians, ten in Hebrews, six in I John, four in the remain epistles, and nineteen in Revelation. The verb die (apothnesko or thnesko) occurs exactly the same number of times, with roughly the same distribution, though it is found much more frequently in John’s gospel and less often in Revelation. To this terrible picture of the death of sin the New Testament provides the answer: Jesus Christ. He is the answer, both as Redeemer from death and as Victor over death; and we share both in the redemption and in the victory. He Himself spoke of drawing all men to Him by His death (Jn. 12:32, 33), and John saw the working out of that in the crucifixion (18:32). Paul goes on to speak of our being reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), and of our baptism being like His death, an act of release from all that holds us away from God; our old self is drowned and we can begin a new life, united with Him (Rom. 6:3-5).

Paul also links the other great sacrament with Christ’s death: “As often as ye eat this bread and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death” (I Cor. 11:26). His death took place to deliver us from our transgressions (Heb. 9:15). It was for this purpose that He was honoured by God, so that He tasted death for us all (Heb. 2:9) when He became obedient unto death, the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). In this death we share (Phil. 3:10), not only benefiting from it ourselves but joining in His redeeming work. Whatever the issue of Paul’s trial, whether life or death, Christ is to be magnified by it (Phil. 1:20). However near to death Epaphroditus was, it was working for Christ on behalf of the Philippians that brought him there (Phil. 2:27, 30). Christ’s followers must always be at death’s door for His sake, so that they may bring life to those whom they serve (II Cor. 4:11, 12). But even above redemption from death comes victory over death—Christ’s victory, and ours in Him. This is the theme of twenty references. At the resurrection God loosed the pangs of death for His Son (Acts 2:24). Christ abolished death and brought life and immortality to light (II Tim. 1:10). Through His death He destroyed the effectiveness of the devil with his power of death (Heb. 2:14). Death no more has any dominion over Him (Rom.6:9). He has the keys of death and of Hades (Rev. 1:18), and though death is the last enemy to be completely destroyed (I Cor. 15:26), yet the time will come when death and Hades will give up the dead that are in them (Rev. 20:13), and be cast into the lake of fire (20:14), and be no more (21:4). Christ’s victory, past and future, is ours too. This is at the heart of the gospel; we shall never see death in the deepest sense (Jn. 8:51). If we believe God (Jn. 5:24), and if we love as He commanded us, we have already passed out of death into life (I Jn. 3:14). When Paul was under actual sentence of death, God delivered him, and he can trust Him for all future deliverances (II Cor. 1:9, 10). Under all circumstances, physical and spiritual, we too can say, because of Christ, “Death is swallowed up in victory—O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (I Cor. 15:54, 55). All things, including death itself, are ours, because we belong to Christ, and He belongs to God (I Cor. 3:22, 23).[9]

II.         Foundational Truth (v. 4):  Union with Christ in His death and resurrection is signified by baptism—and to be baptized into Christ means as Stott observes, “to enter into relationship with Him, much as the Israelites, were ‘baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea’, that is unto allegiance to him as their leader.”[10] Contrary to the dogmatic claims of some Baptists, the mode of Baptism is not the issue, but rather the condition that Baptism pictures is what is significant.[11] (To return to I Cor. 10:2, the Israelites are said to have been, “baptized” into Moses in the cloud and the Red Sea—they were not immersed in the waters of the Red Sea, but the Egyptians were!) To focus attention on the mode is to miss entirely the import of the word “baptize.”[12]

III.        Factual Certainty (v.5):  Remember Paul’s focus. He is seeking to defend his Gospel from the charge of antinomianism—i.e., if you believe the Gospel, you can be indifferent about sin since grace allows us to live any way we wish. To drive home his argument, the Apostle zeros in on the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. Why? The resurrection stresses the newness of life as contrasted with sin and death. Paul will labor over the close analogy between Christ and believers. Christ’s experience, in a very real sense, becomes their experience. If we have been united with Christ in His death by our conversion, then we are also in a state of conformity to that death i.e., we cannot be indifferent to sin. This is not possible.

IV.       Forensic Condition (v.6):  The term forensic has reference to the public arguments or disputations of the courts of law. Paul’s language here is forensic. He declares that God has placed believers in a new position. We sustain a relational or positional orientation to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is illustrated in terms of the contrast between the old man and the new man. The old man is what we were in Adam, and the new man is what we are in Christ (I Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:12-21). ”Our old man” is the old self or ego, the unregenerate man in his entirety in contrast with the new man as the regenerate man in his entirety. It is a mistake to think of the believer as both an old man and new man, or as having in him both the old man and the new man, the latter in view of regeneration and the former because of remaining corruption. That this is not Paul’s concept is made apparent here by the fact that the “old man” is represented as having been crucified with Christ and the tense indicates a once-for-all definitive act after the pattern of Christ’s crucifixion. The “old man” can no more be regarded as in the process of being crucified than Christ in his sphere could be thus regarded. Furthermore, as was noted already, Paul is insisting in this context upon the definitive breach with sin which insisting in this context upon the definitive breach with sin which occurs through union with Christ in his death, and the appeal to the crucifixion of the old man is coordinate with this insistence and particularly illustrative or probative of it. Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9, 10 do not support the other view but confirm the conception stated above.”[13]

V.        Final Consequence (v.7):  Since we have been identified with Christ in His crucifixion, we no longer owe allegiance to the old way of life. We were slaves to sin. It is only by being in Christ that this bondage is broken. All who are still in Adam are slaves to sin. The believer is not enslaved to sin. Why? The believer has died with Christ and has thus been justified. Our sin deserved death, and we have died (we have been crucified with Christ). Murray speaks of the “judicial aspect from which deliverance from the power of sin is to be viewed.”[14] Paul’s point is clear, as Morris writes, “A slave who dies is quit of his master, and those who die with Christ are acquitted from their old master, sin. Sin has no claim on the justified person, just as the law has none on the one who has died.”[15]

Conclusion:  Exactly what does Baptism signify? The Apostle’s language links it directly with Christ’s death (note: he does not say that we have been baptized into Christ’s resurrection). That is the emphasis. Again, note how the theme of Christ’s death and our identification with it is underscored by our being buried with Him. This has nothing to do with the mode of Baptism (especially the unfounded claims of being buried under the waters of baptism). As Godet long ago pointed out “According to these words, it is not to death, it is to the internment of the dead, that Paul compares baptism.”[16] The late James Boice summarizes, “The reason burial is an important step even beyond death is that burial puts the deceased person out of this world permanently. A corpse is dead to life. But there is a sense in which it can still be said to be in life, as long as it is around. When it is buried, when it is placed in the ground and covered with earth, it is removed from the sphere of this life permanently. It is gone. That is why Paul, who wanted to emphasize the finality of our being removed from the rule of sin and death to the rule of Christ, emphasizes it. He is repeating, but also intensifying what he as already said about our death to sin. “You have not only died to it,” he says, “you have been buried to it. To go back to sin once you have been joined to Christ is like digging up a dead body.”[17] We began this message by pointing to the need for change that is the common quest of people the world over. The change that occurs when we come to saving faith in the Gospel of Christ is genuine change. “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (II Cor. 5:17). A radical transformation has occurred, and even though the believer still knows the reality of an on-going struggle with remaining sin, there has been a change. This is what the Bible means by the term “Christian.” A Christian is someone who has been changed (signified by Baptism), transferred from bondage in Adam to freedom in Christ.

Endnotes:

 


[1] Floyd Hamilton, The Epistle to the Romans (P&R, 1958), p. 99.

 

[2] The sources for the data: George Gallup and Jim Castelli, People’s Religion (Macmillian, 1989); George Barna, What    Americans Believe (Regal, 1991), and the Barna Update, Spring 2002

 

[3] No God But God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age, eds. Os Guinness and John Seel (Moody, 1992), p. 18.

 

[4] Miami Herald, Sept. 15, 1994, “MTV kids learning to think in images, prof. says.” The Arizona Republic, Sept. 18, 1994, carried the article. More recently World magazine (May 28, 2005) had as its lead editorial “Dinosaurs Dailies: Can a sub-group committed to the written word withstand cultural drift?” Joel Belz bemoans the growing numbers of evangelicals who reflect the societal drift from the printed page to the visual—something that he rightly declares to be “a discouraging portent.” (p. 6)

 

[5] Michael Scott Horton, editorial in Modern Reformation, July/August 1994, p. 2.

 

[6] This is how J. B. Phillips translated this phrase The New Testament in Modern English: Revised Edition (Macmillian, 1972), p. 332.

 

[7] An article that shows how this has affected the church is R. C. Roberts’ “Psychobabble: A Guide for Perplexed Christians in an Age of Therapies,” Christianity Today (May 16, 1994).

 

[8] This has not gone unnoticed by those in the church who always seek to be as trendy as possible when it comes to mimicking the culture. The best known of this crowd is undoubtedly Robert Schuller. His television program, “The Hour of Power,” claims to be the most watched religious program in the world. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame deserves mention since his philosophy of church growth is so popular among a growing number of evangelical churches. Hybels is so devoted to being relevant that he sees no problem with accommodating the message of the Bible to the popular culture, especially in terms of contemporary pop psychology. For an in-depth analysis see G. A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Service (Baker, 1996). Doug Murren is another high profile member of this club. He unabashedly writes, “I recommend this helpful exercise to all church leaders, whether you’re a lay leader or a professional. Load up your church board in a car after your next meeting and head for B Dalton Bookseller or Crown Books. Once you arrive, go straight to the self-help section. See if each of you can come up with three ideas for a practical sermon from the titles in this section.” The Baby Boomerang: Catching Baby Boomers As They Return To Church (Regal, 1990), p. 100.

 

[9] H. K. Moulton, The Challenge of The Concordance: Some New Testament Words Studied in Depth (Bagster, 1977), pp. 40-43.

 

[10] J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP, 1994), p. 173.

 

[11] The definitive work on the subject is, J. W. Dale CLASSIC BAPTISM: BAPTIZO: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of the Word As Determined by the Usage of Classical Greek Writers (rpt. P&R, 1986), Dale shows conclusively that the figurative, or metaphorical, use of BAPTIZO refers to a condition that results from baptism and to the cause of that condition, regardless of the way (i.e., mode) in which the condition is affected.

 

[12] The Baptist Fred Malone, whose work The Baptism of Disciples Alone (Founders Press, 2003) we briefly commented on last week, renders Rom. 6:3-4 this way: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized [dipped or immersed, not poured or sprinkled] into Christ Jesus have been baptized [dipped or immersed, not poured or sprinkled] into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism [dipping or immersed, not poured or sprinkled] into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (p. 239) Is this what Paul had in mind? Not very likely. The Apostle says elsewhere that Christians have been “baptized into one body” through the work of The Spirit (I Cor. 12:13). Note carefully we are not dipped or immersed into the body and then removed—(if we follow the argument of Malone who says that BAPTIZO always has reference to the mode or action then this is what he is forced to admit—something is dipped in and then taken out of a substance) rather we are permanently joined or united in the body. Why? Because Baptism is a “uniting ordinance”. To quote Dale once again, “Whatever is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state, or condition of any object, is capable of baptizing that object; and by such change of  character, state, or condition does, in fact, baptize it.” (p. 354) This can be done by pouring, or immersing, or sprinkling. Malone dismisses the repeated references to sprinkling and its connections with blood throughout the OT, but especially in passages like Heb. 9:13, 19, 21; 10:22; 11:28; 12:24 and I Peter 1:2—all of these texts link the sacrificial nature of Christ’s blood to sprinkling. It is striking to note that in Rom. 6:10 “the death He (Christ) died, He died to sin once for all”, the adverb EPHAPAX is used in reference to Christ’s atonement—as it is in Heb. 9:12, 13 and this is depicted as being applied by “sprinkling”, not by submersion! Malone further compounds his mistake by dogmatically claiming that the words “Baptism” and “Baptize” must be understood literally and not figuratively. But texts like I Cor. 10:2; Col. 2:11, and I Peter 3:18-22, to mention the more obvious, are clearly to be understood figuratively. Malone, driven by his Baptistic convictions, will not allow these texts to speak for themselves, claiming that the literal meaning must always interpret the figurative—but he still misses the point by insisting that the mode is what determines the meaning of the word. Malone’s insistence on the literal meaning of a word always determining its use figuratively is faulty. Take for example our English word “hit” which literally means “to strike”—but this does not (and cannot) imply that figuratively the word has to be interpreted literally. If I say that I am going to “hit the sack” or the trouble with my neighbor is that he is always “hitting the bottle” and that causes him to waste his money at the Casino hoping to “hit the jackpot” and when he is there he is constantly “hitting on the waitress”—the literal meaning of the word “hit” is totally nonsensical (other examples would be “hit the books” or that song was a big “hit”, or that cold drink really “hit the spot”—none of which mean “to strike”). This illustration applies with equal force to the word BAPTIZO. As pointed out last lesson, Malone appears totally unaware of the classic work of J. W. Dale who long ago established that, “The metaphorical use of this word is dependent in no-wise on any form or act. It is no more dependent on dipping, plunging, sinking, as forms of acts, than it is dependent on walking, throwing, falling. Nor does this usage turn on the picturing of an object as in a state of physical immersion, submersion, or envelopment. Cases of such picturing may, doubtless, be found; but they are not properly arranged under this head of metaphorical use; they belong to what is more properly designated as figure picturing. The secondary or metaphorical use of words does not draw pictures of primary use, but takes some leading thought pertaining to it, and makes an application of it as the case plainly indicates. Such, at least, we claim for fact in this case. In every case of physical envelopment there is an opportunity for the investing element to exercise its influence over the object in the highest degree; what the nature of that influence will be depends upon the element and the object. There is nothing more obviously natural than that the word, which is expressive of such envelopment, should be taken, not merely to draw physical pictures, but to represent, directly, that constantly needed thought of controlling influence. This, we say, has been done in the case of this word, and that such is its true metaphorical or secondary use. Hence a baptism can be effected by anything, of whatever dimensions, or of whatever nature, physical or unphysical, which is capable of exercising a controlling influence over its object, thus bringing it into a new condition. It was on this ground that the Greeks represented a baptism to be effected by a cup of wine, by perplexing questions, and by a few drops of an opiate. Whether these, or such like things, baptize by dipping, or plunging, or sinking, or overflowing, may be safely left to the determination of common sense. It will tax the powers of a very lively imagination to show, how an embarrassing question lets loose a water-flood into which the bewildered respondent is plunged, or by which he is overflowed.” (p. 78)

 

[13] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1966), p. 222.

 

[14] Ibid.

 

[15] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 253.

 

[16] F. Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (rpt. Zondervan, 1973), p. 405.

 

[17] J. M. Boice, Romans: The Reign of Grace II (Baker, 1992), p. 662.

365 Days With Calvin

Selected and edited by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

John Calvin exercised a profound ministry in Europe, and is probably one of the most seminal thinkers ever to have lived. A godly pastor, theologian and preacher, he led his flock by example and worked hard to establish consistent godliness in his city. A prolific writer, his sermons, letters, and, of course, his Christian Institutes have been published again and again. His writingsonce described as flowing proseare characterized by clarity, simplicity, and yet profoundness, too. In these heart-warming pieces, drawn from his commentaries and sermons, Calvin brings us to Christ, the glorious Savior of all his people.

Author/Compiler Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written or edited fifty books, and contributed hundreds of articles to Reformed books, journals, periodicals, and encyclopedias. His Ph.D. is in Reformation and Post-Reformation theology from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is frequently called upon to lecture at seminaries and to speak at Reformed conferences around the world. He and his wife, Mary, have been blessed with three children: Calvin, Esther, and Lydia.

Endorsements:

“Daily devotionalsspiritual aids to help us be accountable for a life of disciplined reading of Scripture and prayerhave been around for centuries and need a certain caliber of excellence and insight if they are to prove of lasting value through 365 days! Of those Id like to spend a year with as my spiritual guide and mentor, John Calvin is most certainly one of them. Joel Beeke guides us through the Reformers writings to help us discover the help and insight that every Christian needs to live a God-honoring life for Jesus Christ.” Derek W. H. Thomas, John E. Richards Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Hardback; 416 pages

Continue Reading on