The Marks of the Church: Ordinances, Part 1
The Marks and Works of the Church
Ordinances, Part 1: Baptism
This morning we will begin our discussion of the third mark of the church, Ordinances. The first mark was Orthodoxy. The second mark was Order. We spent one week on Orthodoxy and five weeks on Order. We will spend this week and next week on Ordinances. This week we will cover baptism and the next week we will cover the Lord’s Supper.
Before we begin this morning, I need to make some introductory comments. The first comment concerns the nomenclature we use to discuss baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The terminology I’ve used thus far is “Ordinances.” You might find me, however, in personal conversations or in this sermon, also use the word “sacraments.” The term “ordinances” is usually used by low-church Christians, like Baptists and non-denominational Christians. The term “sacraments” is usually used by high-church Christians, like Presbyterians, Anglicans, or Lutherans. The reasoning for this relates to the question of whether baptism and the Lord’s Supper mediate grace to the recipient. Low-church Christians do not see grace mediated in baptism and the Lord’s supper; high-church Christians do see grace mediated in them. The term ordinances” deemphasizes the idea that grace is communicated. The term “sacraments” emphasizes the idea that grace is communicated. I find the hard distinction between the two terms unnecessary. Merriam-Webster defines “sacrament” as
a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.
That is a non-controversial definition, one that Baptists and Presbyterians could agree to use. As this definition highlights, a hard distinction between the two terms is hard to maintain and therefore unnecessary. Thus, the terms can be used interchangeably, which I will do.
Second, I will not be covering everything that should be covered when discussing baptism.Baptism is a broad theological topic. I could spend weeks on it. Important subjects related to baptism will not be discussed. One specific issue I will not address is Spirit baptism. This is an important topic in Scripture. Unfortunately, I will not discuss it today. In this sermon, when I discuss the notion of baptism, I will not be referring to Spirit baptism. I plan on addressing Spirit baptism in next week’s “From Pulpit and Paper.” So, I would encourage you to look for that in next week’s bulletin.
My goal this morning is more modest that talking about baptism as a broad theological concept. What I want to do this morning is discuss one of the central texts, if not the central text, for baptism in Scripture. Baptism is discussed throughout the NT, but some texts give us greaterinsight into the topic than others. My goal is to discuss one of those texts. Our text this morning will be Romans 6:1–5. Turn with me there. The passage reads thus,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.
There are three points about baptism that I wan to pull from this passage this morning.
Baptism Assumes Our Union with Christ
The first point for us this morning is this: Baptism assumes our union with Christ.
Before we can understand this passage, we must first dive into some NT theology. This passage, this chapter in fact, assumes a very close and intimate connect between Christians and Christ. Look at verse 3. Paul mentions that Christians were “baptized into Christ’s death.” Verse 4 mentions that we were “buried with him.” Outside of our passage, look at verse 5. We “have been united with him in a death like his.” “We will also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Verse 6, “our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 8, “we died with Christ.” Again verse 8, “we will also live with him.”
Now, obviously, Paul is not saying that the Roman Christians were actually crucified along with Christ, that they were actually buried with him, or that they died with him. No. Paul is not saying that. Jesus died with two other criminals and was laid in a tomb by himself. This type of thinking would be an erroneous interpretation. If that isn’t how we are to interpret these sayings, how should we interpret them?
These statements, and a whole host of statements found in the NT, can only be made sense of in light of a doctrine of union with Christ. This doctrine, to put it simply, refers to us in Christ and Christ in us. Turn to John 15:4. The passage reads, “
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
This is a beautiful text for this doctrine. Here we have this indwelling of Christians in Christ and Christ in Christians.
One scholar writes,
union with Christ, rather than justification or election or eschatology, or indeed any of the other great apostolic themes, is the real clue to an understanding of Paul’s thought and experience.”
Another scholar writes,
union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption.
John Calvin explains,
union with Christ has “the highest degree of importance” if we are to understand justification correctly.
Here’s a definition of this doctrine:
It is an intimate, personal, vital, Spirit-established relationship in which we find our life, strength, blessedness, and salvation, and in which Christ mediates his power, grace, and love to us.
This doctrine serves as the background all of what we encounter in Romans 6 and the doctrine of baptism. The reason why Paul can say that we participated in Christ death, burial, and resurrection through our baptism is because prior to our baptism the Spirit puts us in Christ and Christ in us. When we have faith, there is a union between Christ and us that is applied by the spirit. This union was predestined by the Father from the beginning of time and secured by Christ 2000 years ago. God can unite our activities that we do now to what Christ did 2000 years ago. Our actions here are united with Christ’s actions in his death, burial, and resurrection.
Without this understanding of a union with Christ we cannot make sense of the theological implications of baptism. We are united with Christ by the Spirit. Therefore, our baptisms have great theological significance. Baptism is not just about getting wet. It is about our participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our union with him makes these theological truths a reality. Baptism assumes our union with Christ.
Baptism Signifies Our Death to Sin
Our second point this morning is that baptism signifies our death to sin. Paul begins chapter six with the rhetorical question found in verse 1, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” One of Paul’s rhetorical devices in Romans specifically, but also in his other epistles, is to ask questions of the reader. This question specifically raises an issue that Paul’s discussion in the end of Romans 5 dealt with. Go to Romans 5:20. It reads,
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
One implication of this theological point made in this passage—specifically from the point of “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”—is that we should sin so that grace would abound. In 6:1, Paul is preemptively correcting an incorrect idea that a reader might infer from 5:20. The reader might say, “Wow, Paul. If grace abounds where sin is present, then I should just go ahead and sin, right.” “Wrong,” Paul states in 6:1. Or, as he puts it, “By no means!”
Paul’s rationale for the point that Christians should not live in sin is found at the end of verse 2. He writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” If we were to turn this question into an assertion, it would be, Christians cannot live in sin because Christians have died to sin. Here I am paraphrasing Paul: Should Christians live in sin? No, they should not. Why should they not continue in sin? Because Christians have died to sin.
In verse 3, Paul introduces the concept baptism. He states, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized pinto Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” He continues with baptism in verse 4, “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.” To summarize: verse 2 discusses the Christian’s death to sin. Verses 3 and 4 mention baptism. From a high vantage point, we must conclude from the pairing of these verses (verse 2 speaks of death to sin; verses 3 and 4 speak of baptism) that baptism has something to do with the Christians death to sin. Baptism has something to do with death to sin. There is an intimate, close connection between death to sin and baptism. Well, Pastor, what is that relationship?
There are two dangers we want to avoid here. The first danger is overemphasizing baptism. An example of over-emphasis would to conclude how various Church of Christ churches believe. This sect of Christians generally believe that baptism washes away sins, that baptism is essential for salvation. We believe here at CBC that such an idea overemphasizes baptism. Such an idea does not cohere with what Paul says in Romans 4 regarding justification.
The other danger is to underemphasize baptism. An example of this would be those Christians who emphasize revivalism. Within a revivalist mindset, walking down an isle or praying the sinner’s prayer is enough to signify that one is a Christian. This was a tendency in my theological heritage. This sect of Christians generally believe that baptism is peripheral to the Christian walk, that baptism is not a center piece of the Christian faith.
Both tendencies ought to be rejected. This middle road we want to take with baptism that baptism is the means by which our burial with Christ is made known. It is the occasion of our burial with Christ. Baptism is the way our burial with Christ made known. Because we are buried with Christ in baptism, we die to sin in baptism. Baptism signifies our death to sin.
Look at verse 4. This verse reads, “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.” You see that prepositional phrase, “by baptism?” That is a key phrase. It is modifying the verb “buried with him.” It is telling us how this verb is accomplished. How are we buried with him? By means of baptism. Baptism is the occasion when and the means by which we make know our burial with Christ and our death to sin.
Here I have been stressing baptism as the occasion or the way that we know we have died to sin. My point is that baptism signifies our death to sin. I have not said that baptism is our death to sin. My contention is that what Paul discusses in Romans 4, justification by faith alone, is why we ultimately die to sin. Baptism is the way this death is made known. It is the way we identify with Christ in his death. Here I am making a distinction between a reality (dying to sin) and the way that reality is made known (death to sin being made known).
To illustrate this point, let me share a story with you. The first week my family and I moved to Pierre I did not have any pastoral duties. The elders were kind enough to allow me a week of flexibility where I could get things done around the house. That week they even were so kind to compensate me, even though I wasn’t fully functioning as the pastor. If I would had met someone around town who went to CBC, I would tell them that I was the new pastor. I wouldn’t say, “Well, next week when I am ordained I will be the pastor.” No. I would tell them that I were the pastor then. The reality of me being a pastor here at CBC was already the case. It existed. However, when I was ordained, my second weekend here, my position as the new pastor was made known. Did this ordination create the reality of me being the pastor. No. That past week I was already the pastor. What the ordination did is that it made known the reality that had previously occurred. That is the way I want you to understand baptism. It itself is not the reality of dying with Christ and dying to sin. Those things are what God does in our lives through the Spirit. Baptism is the way we participate and make known our dying with Christ and thus to sin.
This middle road helps us to avoid the error of thinking that baptism saves. This passage does not teach that. You can’t find that here or in the Bible. But, also, this middle road helps us avoid the error that thinking that baptism is peripheral. Baptism is not peripheral to the Christian faith.
According to this verse, the way you identify with Christ is through baptism. It is the means by which we know we are Christians. It is the first step in the Christian walk. It is the event that signifies our death to sin and life in Christ. If you are an unbaptized follower of Jesus Christ, you are in a very odd place. The prevailing norm in Scripture is that those who have committed to follow Jesus Christ are baptized. I would go even so far as to say that the NT does not recognize unbaptized followers of Jesus Christ as Christians. You might be a Christian, but the world, the church, and the NT does not recognize you as one. Baptism is the way that we ought to identify with Christ. It itself is not the reality that we have died to sin but it is the symbol by which this
beautiful reality is made known.
Baptism Symbolized Our Death, Burial, and Resurrection with Christ
The last point is that baptism symbolizes our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ.
Baptism is a powerful symbol of our participation in the work of Christ. Proper baptism includes immersion, submersion, and emersion. Immersion is when we are placed in the water. Submersion is when we are fully under water. And emersion is when we are brought out of the water. There is a dunking, a complete submersion, and a rising out of the water. This threefold activity in baptism spatially symbolizes what Christ did in his death, burial, and resurrection.
Look at verse 3 mentions Christ’s death. The text says that we are baptized into his death. I want you to see the waters of baptism as a place of death and judgment. Throughout Scripture, water is presented as something that brings about judgment. The flood, drowning of the Egyptians, Jonah is thrown into the deep. Further, we know that water is not a place where human life can live. If you stay down in the water long enough, you die. Our baptism into Christ’s death is symbolized with us being plunged into the water, into a place of death and judgment. Going down into the water is our participating with Christ in the death that he bore for us.
Verse 4 mentions Christ’s burial. We “have been buried with him through baptism.” The climax of Jesus’s death was his burial. He was laid in the tomb. He body was cold. No heartbeat. No pulse. Dead. In baptism, when we are completely submerged, we are symbolically dead. We have been plunged into the waters due to our participation with Christ and we lie there dead. In baptism, the waters overtake us and symbolize our complete deadness with Christ. We are “buried with him.”
(Let me pause here and state that sprinkling of water cannot accomplish this notion of buried with Christ. To be fully engulfed by the water is to between picture being buried with him. To sprinkle someone for baptism misses this notion of being buried with him.)
Verse 4 also mentions Jesus’s resurrection. It states, “Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father.” Now Paul does not mention here that we are raised in baptism as Christ was raised. I think it’s implicit here. It’s implied but it’s not explicit. Turn with me to Colossians 2:11. We’ll read through verse 12. It states,
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Paul makes explicit in this Colossians passage what was implied in the Romans passage. Do you see that “in which you were also raised?” That “in which” is referring to baptism. Stated differently, Paul says, “having been buried with him in baptism, in baptism you were also raised with him.” Here we have the idea that in baptism we are buried with Christ (we go down into the water) and we are raised with Christ (we come up out of the water).
Pulling all these pieces together, baptism is a symbol of the gospel. The gospel is the idea that Jesus Christ, God-incarnate, suffered the penalty for our sin. He was judged. He was condemned on the cross. He bore our penalty of sin and suffered the full consequence of that sin, which was the judgment of God. As a result of this judgment, he died. His body was laid in a tomb. He was buried. Three days after his death, when he was still buried, life returned to his body. His spirit was rejoined with his body. He rose bodily from the dead and has forever conquered sin.
Baptism enacts this narrative. We are baptized, we are immersed into water. We symbolically participate with Christ in his judgment. Because water is an unlivable place, the waters symbolize a judgment. We are completely submerged. We lie in the water dead. But due to the grace of almighty God, there is a hand that rises us up out of the water. We rise with Christ in baptism to live a life of victory over sin. Hallelujah.
To bring all these points together, let me offer a definition of baptism for you this morning. Baptism is the NT symbol of our union with Christ in which we participate with him in his death, burial, and resurrection.
I have three points of application for you this morning.
For those who have neither believed in Christ not been baptized: I invite you to believe in Jesus Christ. I exhort you to come to him. Come find life in Jesus Christ. Come find life by dying with him. He has risen from the dead and he offers you this hope. Grab his hand by faith. Come and die with Christ so that he may raise you from the dead.
For those who have believed in Christ yet have not been baptized: You need to be baptized. You need to join with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection in the waters of baptism. The NT does not recognize you as a Christian. In order to be recognized as a Christian, by the NT, the world, and this church, you need to be baptized.
For those who have believed and have been baptized: We need to restore baptism to its proper place here in this church. It is not walking an isle to the altar, raising one’s hand in a revival service, or praying the sinner’s prayer that leads one to identification with Christ. It is baptism. That is the symbol we have for Christianity. What Scripture commands is baptism is the sign of Christian conversion. Any other sign that competes with this one, ought to be rejected. We do not have the “right to replace baptism as the exclusive biblical and historical faith response to the gospel message with some man-made tradition.”
Pray with me.