10 Steps to Holiness[i] Four: Baptized into Christ
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.
5 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. 6 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. [ii]
Last week we saw that the apostle Paul never refers to believers as “Christians.” Rather, he refers to us as those who are in Christ. Union with Christ is a multi-dimensional doctrine. It has an eternal dimension, since God, as Paul writes in Eph. 1:4, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world”.[iii] It has a dimension in salvation history since Christ, in his incarnation, was the second representative man and obedient Last Adam. And union with Christ has a personal dimension since the Holy Spirit brings us into a real spiritual bonding with our risen and ascended Messiah Jesus.
Because we are united to Christ, Paul teaches we may be said to have been with him in everything he did for us as our representative and substitute. As we have seen, Paul writes that we have been crucified with Christ. In a couple of weeks, we will consider more of this principle. But today, we see Paul putting union with Christ under a microscope here in Romans 6:1-14. These are some of the most important verses in the entire New Testament, as we see details of how union with Christ is intimately related to our holiness, our devotion to God.
Paul asks a fundamentally significant question, “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”[iv] He appeals to both the fact and the meaning of our baptism – the action by which we are publicly identified with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This can be a challenging passage if we have been taught that baptism is a sign of what we have done, rather than a sign of what God has done for us. Paul says we have been baptized into Christ Jesus. He writes in the passive voice to teach that baptism does not primarily signify something we have done (this is true for both covenant baptism and baptism on the profession of faith, regardless of mode).
Baptism is not a sign of faith, but a sign of Christ upon whom faith relies. It is a sign and seal that points to Christ and our union with him by faith. It doesn’t point at faith so much as summon us to faith. The point of baptism is all that faith finds in Christ. Baptism says, “Look at what is yours in Christ,” not, “Look at the faith that brought you to Christ.” It is, Jesus says, a naming ceremony where we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In it, we are named for the Triune God. Baptism speaks to our faith, not so much about it, and says we are named for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and given a new inheritance with all the resources we will ever need to be brought from sin to salvation.
Paul writes this in response to allegations from the “Judaizers for Jesus” who held conferences in every town where Paul planted a church. “Yes, grace; but, grace in its proper place. Grace plus my working faith or faithful works is the answer. Grace and works are the two equal arms of the body of salvation,” said Paul’s opponents. Paul strongly denounces the idea that “too much grace” encourages sin. One who is baptized into Christ has a new name and a new nature free of slavery to sin as a governing principle. Sin is no longer the believer’s operating system.
Believers are now able to not sin. Should believers live without any conviction of sin? Good heavens no! It’s impossible for Christians to live entirely and completely enslaved by sin because, in Christ the Last Adam, we have died to sin (a once-for-all-time, past action). If union with Christ is the only source of holiness, then it cannot be any source of sin.[v] In verses 3-10, he explains WHY it’s impossible for us to be entirely ruled by the power of our sin nature. Our moral atmosphere has changed. Paul doesn’t say we’ve experienced new feelings. No, he writes we have learned new facts.
Four times in Romans 6, Paul appeals to the believer’s knowledge. “Don’t you know…” (v.3); “We know…” (v. 6); “We know…” (v. 9); and, “Don’t you know…” (v. 16). The fact that grace hyper-abounds where sin multiplies means Christians do not live under slavery to sin because they know certain propositions (6:1-10) by which they maintain certain attitudes (11-14) that produce holy actions. We know we are judicially and mediatorily represented by the Lord Jesus who dealt with sin through his cross work.[vi] In baptism, we died with Christ; we were buried with Christ; we arose to new life with Christ.
Let me put it into the language of modern technology. Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ has programmed new software and installed it into believers by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 7 Paul writes even though we have new software, it’s still installed on the old hardware. What happens when you have a very old computer (the body of sin, v. 6) trying to run the newest version of Windows or Apple operating systems? It doesn’t run smoothly or consistently. You have a conflict.[vii] Romans Chapter 6 is Paul’s explanation of the Grace Operating System’s (Adam 2.0) relation to sin. Romans 7 exposes the old hardware and new software conflict.
Some people try to make this old hardware/new software issue work by generating emotional experiences; if I can FEEL God, I can make everything run smoothly. Other Christians try to make it work by following certain prescribed rituals or checklists. Sanctification, the more efficient running of the new software, doesn’t come by feeling or rituals or checklists. Paul says it comes by knowledge – knowing your old software is wiped away, knowing one day your will receive new hardware (a glorified, eternal body), knowing that our new software frees us to stop focusing on ourselves and begin focusing on loving God and our neighbors.
It’s impossible for one known by Christ to return to the old operating system of Adam 1.0. You will not, you CANNOT be ruled by sin as a governing principle because your new OS brings the knowledge of crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection in Christ (all the things baptism signifies). The knowledge of the gospel corrects, cleanses, recalibrates, transforms, and sanctifies us emotionally and intellectually. The new operating system begins to transform our whole being. Baptism tells us the old life in Adam has gone and the new life in Christ has begun. Paul’s language describes a category. Christians belong to a new category with a defining feature: they are “those-who-have-died-to-sin” people.
This is upside-down to our old way of thinking and we need to apply our minds to it. It is vital to understand our new identity in baptism and work out its implications. If we live enslaved to the power of sin, we have not died to it. And, if we have not died to it, we are not Christ’s. Believers possess a new citizenship in a new creation. We are in Christ, who once died to sin and now lives forever to God. By trusting into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the resurrected and ascended Messiah Jesus, we are inseparably united to him. Until we grasp that fact, we do not fully understand what it means to be a Christian.
Died to Sin
Paul writes believers have died to sin. He means we have died to the reign, dominion, authority, and rule of sin. Our identity change is from self to Christ. Adam 1.0 is all about self: what I demand to feel satisfied, content, and in control of my own personal “kingdom of me.” Our new software (Adam 2.0) is all about Christ: what Christ has done, is doing, and will do.
The only remedy is for my outdated hardware to die (v. 6, the body of sin might be brought to nothing). Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Paul tells us the new reality is that our flesh (old hardware) already is counted as dead (past event; aorist tense) because when we are in Christ our old man WILL be killed off and we WILL receive the new resurrection hardware to run your new software perfectly (vv. 5-10: united in death … shall be united with him in a resurrection).
God is done with fallen humanity. The remedy is NOT for your fallen nature to get better by following more rules. It must die and be resurrected anew. Christ must increase; Adam 1.0 must and shall wither away and die. But, what do I do now as I await my new, perfect hardware? “11 So you also must be considering yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
This word translated “must be considering yourselves (dead)” is the same word translated previously as “reckon,” or “counted.” It appeared 11 times in Romans 4 to describe the great exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness. It will reappear in chapter 8. It’s where we get our words, “log” (log book), “ledger,” “logistics,” “logic,” etc. It refers to an actual /factual event. In this case, the actual/factual is what God has already done for us that we must constantly trust as true: Christ is dead to the power of sin; you must trust you, in Christ, are dead to sin’s power.
Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death and glorious resurrection have been counted/reckoned to you. So, you also must trust, count, reckon yourself as crucified, dead, and buried to sin and resurrected to a new life. You must trust what God declares. You cannot crucify yourself. Christ has already done that for you. This is not a command for us to die to sin. Jesus already died to sin for us as a once-for-all-time act (v. 2 died to sin, aorist tense: one-time past action). God is not interested in making Adam 1.0 a better person. He has declared your old Adam dead in Christ.
Paul is not saying sin is a dead power in me. I still have the flesh, the old hardware struggling against the new software. Paul is not saying sin has been completely eradicated. It will not be eradicated from the world until Christ returns and consummates all things to himself and gives his people new hardware. Paul is not saying we are “dead to sin” as long as we are fighting against it. That would make his statement experiential and subjective rather than the objective fact he clearly states. He’s pointing you to facts in the ledger book, not to feelings or personal experiences.
He doesn’t mean that counting myself dead to sin makes me dead to sin. That is completely backward. In Christ, we are already dead to sin and we are to count on, to trust that actual/factual event.[viii] Jesus paid sin’s penalty through his death. Jesus broke sin’s power and destroyed sin’s wages in his death and resurrection. Adam 1.0 can be reckoned dead already. New hardware is on order and its arrival is certain; it won’t get lost or damaged in shipping.
We count on, we trust the facts that we are dead to the enslaving power of sin AND we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. Once we were enslaved in sin, wrath, judgment, and death. But now by the gift of trust into Christ, we are alive to the new realities of grace, obedience, righteousness, and eternal life. This new life, this new software, frees us from slavery to the power of sin embedded in our old hardware like treasures in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). It enables us to not sin and sets us on a course to a new destiny, the perfect, eternal, and sin-free City of God.
Paul describes this new reality to the church at Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. …one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12–14).
Paul, in verses 12-13 tells us our old hardware is mortal. That is, our present bodies are subject to planned obsolescence. They struggle against our new software in “a continual and irreconcilable war.”[ix] But our flesh, our sin nature, does not have to control our lives. It often does; otherwise, Paul would not need to tell us not to let it dominate our lives.
Paul began this section by asking the Romans if they remembered their baptism. Were they living the “baptized” life? Did they really understand what their baptism was telling them? He returns to that idea in verses 13 and 14, writing, “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life….”[x] Knowing human nature hasn’t really changed since Adam’s rebellion, we can assume Paul’s readers were no different than we. Likely, if they ever thought back on their baptism they saw it as a sign of something in them (their trust in Christ) rather than as a sign of what Christ has done and who Christ is in us.
14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. The Law given to Adam and to Israel can reflect our sins back to us; it can instruct us on who God is and what God demands. But it cannot ever save the lost. Only God’s grace in Christ Jesus can deliver you from your guilt, buy you out from death row, and place you into a new life. Grace not only pardons but cleanses. God’s one-way love fully redeems.
If I were to ask you what your baptism means to you what you answer? Would you say it means fellowship with the Triune God through union with Christ in his death and resurrection? Would you say it teaches you that through faith you are united to Christ, have died to sin and been raised to a new life in a new creation? If you wouldn’t speak about your baptism that way, then you have lost hold of baptism’s power and usefulness.
Only when we recognize our new name, “in Christ,” are we able to respond to any commands in scripture. I can then count, reckon, trust the fact that I have died to sin and been raised to life in a new creation with Christ. I have Christ’s power to reject the efforts of sin to rule over me and to give myself to righteousness. Sin has lost the right to rule over me ever again.
Our baptized life of trust into Christ has a new rhythm: knowing we are united into Christ; believing this is so and acting on that conviction; and, discovering the power of the gospel to renew our minds and set us apart to love God and neighbor. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Why? Because union with Christ is ours the moment we trust into him, but understanding what has happened to us is a lifelong process. With our new operating system comes the power to not sin. With our old hardware, the temptation to make life all about me is always present.
Holiness says Paul in this passage, constantly asks three questions:
- Who do you think you are?
- Do you understand your baptism?
- Do you know who you are in Christ?
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
[v] Hodge, p. 191.
[vi] Johnson, Believers Bible Bulletin: Romans. Vol. 19:3
[viii] Lloyd-Jones, 116–118.
[ix] WCF, VIII:2.