This past Sunday, I had the joy of getting baptized at my church—Watkinsville First Baptist. It was a joy, not because it magically washed away my sin, but due to what it represented. Baptism is not what justifies me or makes me right in the eyes of God. Rather, it symbolized my union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. This symbol is incredibly significant to understand in order that our lives might exemplify the newness of life it proclaims.
As Paul says in Romans 6, “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” (Romans 6:3-4). Baptized into his death, buried by submersion under water, and raised from the water, we are baptized to signify the miracle God did through His Son and continues to do in our hearts for His glory and our new life in Him.
John Piper explains baptism with a symbol and a ceremony we are all familiar with—wedding rings at a marriage:
“When we say, ‘With this ring, I thee wed,’ we do not mean that putting the ring on the finger makes us married. At least, I don’t mean that when I’m involved in it. No, it shows the covenant. It symbolizes the covenant. But the vows — the covenant vows — make the marriage. So it is with faith and baptism. Faith unites us to Christ. Baptism symbolizes the ring: ‘With this baptism, I thee wed.’ ‘With this baptism, you are united to Christ’.”
Just as vows are said when you surrender your life to the Savior of the world, you are justified. Then, our union with Christ is symbolized publicly, as with the putting on the ring, by the baptism in which we participate.
However, before that ring can be put on and those vows can be said, a story had to be written, and that is precisely what God has done. As Matthew Henry commentates on the meaning of Romans 6, “Baptism teaches the necessity of dying to sin, and being as it were buried from all ungodly and unholy pursuits, and of rising to walk with God in newness of life. Unholy professors may have had the outward sign of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, but they never passed from the family of Satan to that of God.”
A ring without a spouse and a wedding without a commitment does nothing for the state of a marriage covenant, and baptism is the same—the symbol without the significance is fruitless. Right before Paul explains the significance of baptism, he asks “How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:2)? Baptism is not the work that renews our hearts but a significant symbol of the work God in Christ that has already been accomplished in us.
I was joyful that Sunday morning because I got to display and proclaim of the work God that started in my heart before I was even born. I got to look back on my life at the moments that led up to that day and think with the psalmist in Psalm 139:
“you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
We all have stories, but I am beyond thankful that I can look back and see God’s hand in them all. After submitting our lives to Christ, we get to put down the pen and stop trying to write our futures as we start “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The New Life
Baptism is the death, burial, resurrection, ring, and official symbol, so what now? We must put to death our old self that we might find life, freedom, and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord with the glory to God our father and strength in the Holy Spirit. As David Platt says in Follow Me, “There is indescribable joy to be found, deep satisfaction to be felt, and an eternal purpose to be fulfilled in dying to ourselves and living for him” (Platt 6). After you join with Christ in baptism, the newness of life that you were raised to walk in means living for Jesus Christ.
The “eternal purpose” that Platt mentions did not begin with your decision, but with God’s mercy and will: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). He is the merciful, all-powerful, trustworthy, sanctifying God of our salvation who will surely finish the good work he began (Philippians 1:6).
As we continue every day to die to self and live for Jesus, our desires and affections are continually being renewed. Our obedience does not become a work of our own begrudging willpower, but a new desire begun and accomplished in our hearts by a sovereign God, a risen savior, and an active and working spirit.
Platt later explains that Jesus’ command to the disciples in Matthew 4:19 to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” was the first example of many commands that he would give to them. However, “The commands he would give to them could only be accomplished by the work that he would do in them. As these disciples followed Jesus, he would transform everything about their lives: their thoughts, their desires, their wills, their relationships, and ultimately the very purpose for which they lived” (Platt 67).
The disciples are an example for us. When they began to follow Jesus, they were far from perfect. Questioning, not trusting, and even denying Jesus, these imperfect followers would be the same men to take the Gospel to the world and die for Christ. Jesus took these unlikely followers to display the heart-work only he could do, and he sent them the Helper (the Holy Spirit) who he said would “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Let us be beacons of the new life found in Jesus by dying to ourselves and following where he might lead. This is exactly what he calls us to do and what baptism represents.
Jesus tells us his yoke is easy, his burden is light, and his joy is full. But, the suffering is guaranteed, the life is far different, and the challenges are many. Do we trust him? Are we willing to follow the narrow path? Beware. Our thoughts, wills, desires, and ultimate purposes will change, but at God’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore.
“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11