Baptism and Romans 6:3-5

Baptism and Romans 6:3-5

Romans 6:3-5 is often used as a proof text for the claim that baptism is essential for salvation. It is a strong comparison between our baptism and Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. On the surface, one could conclude that from these verses that baptism is part of salvation.

"3) Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4) Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism 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. 5) For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,"

Is this section of scripture teaching us that baptism is necessary for salvation? No, it is not. First, we know from the rest of scripture that salvation is by faith, not by faith and something we do (Rom. 3:28-30). Second, we can see from other scriptures that baptism follows faith. Take a look at Acts 16:30-33 where the Jailer specifically asks what he must do to be saved and where baptism fits in:

"30) and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31) And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." 32) And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33) And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household," (Acts 16:30-33).

If baptism were part of salvation, then Paul should have said, "Believe and be baptized and you will be saved." But, he did not. Also, consider Acts 10:44-48:

"44) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45) The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46) For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47) ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48) So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days," (NIV).

These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles and they were speaking in tongues. This is significant because tongues is a gift given to believers, see 1 Cor. 14:1-5. Also, unbelievers don't praise God. They can't because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the ones in Acts 10:44-48 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved and they are saved before they are baptized. This isn't an exception. It is a reality. This proves that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

What is Romans 6:3-5 saying?

"3) Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4) Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism 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. 5) For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,"

The phrase "baptized into" occurs five times in the NT in four verses as found in the KJV and the NASB:
  1. Rom. 6:3, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?"
  2. 1 Cor. 10:2, "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."
  3. 1 Cor. 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."
  4. Gal. 3:27, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
To be baptized "into Christ," "into His death," "into Moses," and "into one body" is to be publicly identified with the thing you are being baptized into. The focus is not the baptism itself, but on the thing the baptism represents. In the case of Rom. 6:3-5, being baptized into Christ is a public identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection which is said to be the gospel that saves in 1 Cor. 15:1-4. So then, baptism is a public statement proclaiming that the person is trusting in the sacrifice of Christ.

Baptism by immersion is a perfect symbol for this work of Christ with which the Christian is identifying himself. As Christ died and was raised to a new life, so too the Christian, in Christ, is said to have died (Rom. 6:11; Col. 3:3) and has a new life. This new life of regeneration is by faith, the internal work. Baptism, is the external work of identification with Christ. This is why the reference to baptism in the Bible is dealing more with "our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism."1
  • Baptism is being identified as a disciple (Matt. 28:18-9).
  • Baptism may be compared to a new birth (John 3:5).
  • Baptism is compared to Jesus' death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5).
  • Baptism is compared to Israel's Exodus and passing through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2).
  • Baptism is compared to Noah's escaping the flood waters by entering the ark (1 Pet. 3:21).
In each of the references above, baptism is an identification with something. When people were baptized into John the Baptist's baptism of repentance, it wasn't the baptism that granted them repentance or made repentance real. Repentance is something that happens internally and is the work of God (2 Tim. 2:25). To participate in John's baptism was to publicly proclaim that the person being baptized was accepting John's message or repentance. Hence, it was called a baptism of repentance. It wasn't the baptism that brought repentance; rather, baptism was the result of repentance. The person had to first decide to repent, and then become baptized as a proclamation of his decision. Likewise, the Christian must first decide to repent, to receive Christ (John 1:12), to rely on the sacrifice of Christ, by faith, and then participate in the public proclamation of identifying with Christ's work.

It is an identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that baptism represents. Jesus' shed blood is what cleanses us from our sins (Heb. 9:22), not being washed with water. It is Christ's death that is the payment for sin. Jesus' burial is the proof that He, in fact, died. Jesus' resurrection is the proof of God the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ and that death is conquered. Again, for a Christian to be baptized is to make a public proclamation that he is trusting in Christ's work, that he is naming himself with Christ and trusting what Christ has done. This is why it says in Rom. 6:11, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus," (NASB). Why? Because "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me," (Gal. 2:20). It is on the cross that Jesus paid for our sins, not in His baptism and not in our baptism. It is our identification with Him, being counted "in Christ" that allows us to say we have been crucified with Christ so that we can say we are dead to sin. We are not dead to sin by our baptism. Rather, we are dead to sin, by faith, in what Jesus did in His sacrifice.


Romans 6:3-5 speaks to us of Christ's work and our public identification with it. In that ancient world of religious plurality in Roman gods, in the strict Laws of the Jewish system, and in the gods of different cultures, to be baptized was to make a bold statement of commitment to Christ as the risen Lord. It was not the water that saved, but faith in Christ and His work.


Pastor Bob said...

The baptism of Romans 6 has no water in it. It is a baptism of death to the old man or sin nature. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death” Then will we know the reality the sixth verse. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” This is the only way verse 22 can become a part of our life. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
The early preachers of the gospel preached a death route. We must die to sin, self and worldly pleasures to have real victory and power with God. This we do by faith believing or reckoning our self dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Lloyd said...

Pastor Bob - I want to thank you for your clarification regarding this verse. I agree with you that "water" is not mentioned at any point in Romans 6. The word "baptism" literally means to be dipped or immersed into something, but not always or necessarily water. When Romans 6:3 speaks of being "baptized into Jesus Christ" it is not a reference to being immersed in water. Instead, it refers to being immersed directly into the Lord Jesus Christ so that we may then say that we are "in" Christ Jesus (Rom.8:1; 16:3; 1Cor.1:2, 30; 4:15; Gal.2:4; 3:28; Eph.1:1; 2:10; Php.1:1; 4:21). In the same manner, we are baptized into His death according to Romans 6:4, that is we identify with His death. God bless, Lloyd

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

It seems like you guys are on the verge of claiming that Jesus and the early church did not baptize in water at all but only "in Jesus" (assuming an antithesis between the two). But we certainly see from reading the Book of Acts that baptism with water was seen as an essential step in the process of "passing from death into life" or from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of God.

Of course Romans 6 is talking about water, that is what baptism means among the early Christians (as is abundantly clear from Acts and other early post-biblical texts).

So too is 1 Peter 3:21. That passage blew my mind, and pushed me beyond an individualistic and non-sacramental theology of baptism (as 1 Cor. 10 had already pushed me on Holy Communion). The subject of the sentence in 1 Pet. 3:21 is "baptism" the verbs is "saves" and the direct object is "you." I have heard all sorts of contorted attempted to make this verse fit into non-sacramental schemes, but fit it will not. The subject of the sentence remains "baptism" and the verb remains "saves" and the direct object remains "you." This is what the Bible says (and the reference to Noah's flood).
I think the key to sorting this out in our heads is "covenant." Baptism (with water) is the sign of the covenant and is to the New covenant what circumcision was to the old. Here the catholic writer Scott Hahn is very helpful in his book "Swear to God" in which he explains in great and Biblical detail (you can see his background as an evangelical Presbyterian pastor in his Bible-focus). I don't agree with all of his conclusions (obviously since I am not Roman Catholic); but his basic argument that "sacraments" are "covenant oaths" through which we formally accept God's covenant of grace is thoroughly convincing and deeply biblical.
I came of age (theologically) in American evangelicalism and I always wondered why, if the altar-call and sinners prayer are so central, why did Jesus give us baptism and communion instead? It seemed to me that the way we did church would not be different in any fundamental at all if these sacraments had never existed. We would still be having altar calls, getting people to fill out decision cards and then training them to bring others to Christ just as we are doing now (with the sacraments or ordinances as a sort of after-thought and add on). Any theology that glorifies human inventions like the sinners prayer or the altar call and relegates the sacraments that Jesus gave us to mere afterthought or add on surely cannot be Biblical or correct. And yet I find many evangelical bloggers who bash the sacraments (presumably because that is 'too catholic') but cannot really explain what all these sacramental passages actually DO mean, except to say that these passages (like the one I've cited above) don't REALLY mean what they plainly say. Our evangelical traditions trump what the Bible plainly says. There is something amiss about that, wouldn't you say?
So I went back to the United Methodist church, since John Wesley's theology brilliantly (and biblically) weaves together the evangelical and the sacramental/catholic.

Lloyd said...

Daniel - I sincerely thank you for your visit and comments. I read your comments several times just to make sure that I was not missing anything. I am pleased that you have been able to find your nitch in life with the United Methodist Church. It seems as if you have found a church family that you are happy with and are able to worship our Holy God in all clear conscious. Myself....I am happy and have a clear conscious worshiping God and my Lord Jesus Christ in an evangelical church.

I have always been interested in the history of the church and the different theological views that seems to clutter the internet in Christian blogs and websites. I know if I were a non-believer, I would really have a hard time finding out what is the "truth" and who are the "false teachers"....because no one can agree upon certain scriptures in the Holy Bible. And I think we can all agree that our Holy God is not the author of confusion and He definitely does not contradict Himself.

You are correct in saying, "There is something amiss about that, wouldn't you say?" But like you, I came to age (theologically) in American evangelicalism and there I stayed because of my deep rooted convictions that I have in my Lord Jesus Christ.

As far as the Holy Scriptures in Romans 6:3-5 dealing with baptism... I tend to go along with Mat Slick and what he has to say about it. Matt is a very competent theologian and apologist. I have also studied these scriptures and come to the same conclusion as Matt: "Romans 6:3-5 speaks to us of Christ's work and our public identification with it. In that ancient world of religious plurality in Roman gods, in the strict Laws of the Jewish system, and in the gods of different cultures, to be baptized was to make a bold statement of commitment to Christ as the risen Lord. It was not the water that saved, but faith in Christ and His work."

Thank you again for your visit. God bless you and your ministry. Lloyd

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Thanks Lloyd for your engaging and charitable reply. I agree with you that with all the different interpretations and denominational perspectives that are out there "cluttering" the discussion, it can be very difficult to discern what is true. Everyone is in agreement that the Bible is God's Word, but in disagreement about how to interpret or apply it.
When he originally made the case for "sola scriptura" Martin Luther assumed and argued for the "perpescuity" of Scripture, that it's meaning was always plain and abundantly clear. I would say that this has proved to be untrue and has lead to the miserable failure of the Reformed/Evangelical/Protestant church to keep any semblance of unity or "communion" with itself.
How then should we interpret Scripture?
Based upon the Promise of Christ that the disciples *as a group* would receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit into all truth in John 16:13 (note the plural pronouns), and based upon the statement of Paul that the Church of God (not the individual believer with Bible in hand) is the pillar and bulwark of the Truth in 1 Timothy 3:15, it seems clear that the whole Church as the Spirit-filled community is the only proper interpreter of Scripture - and not individual Christians, pastors, or scholars (or popes).
If we want to know what Scripture says on any issue that is not abundantly clear, we need to ask "What has been the consensus of the whole (i.e. "catholic") community?" Not only the whole church alive today, but also the church triumphant that has lived in ages past. In other words, we need to look to the teachings, the hymns, the creeds, the liturgies, the commentaries, that have been accepted and confirmed by the WHOLE church if we are to surely receive that truth that the Spirit has been leading us to (as a group).
We see the approach illustrated in the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) when the representatives of the whole church got together to decide a contentious issue. This same pattern was followed by the early Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the first few centuries before the major split between East and West (and long before the further splits in the Western church during the Reformation). In describing the work of these ecumencial (i.e. "universal" or "catholic") councils, St. Vincent of Lerins said that we only articulated "what was believed always, everywhere, by everyone" in the Church. They were very explicitly appealing to the Spirit-led mind of the whole church.
If we look for a consensus regarding baptism across the whole of the church, we find that the views of those (mostly 19th and 20th Century, mostly free-church Protestant, mostly Westerners from industrialized cultures) folks who few baptism as basically unconnected to our covenant relationship with Christ in any substantial way are far outside the mainstream of the whole church always and everywhere.

Lloyd said...

Daniel - Thank you again for your visit and comments. I really don't want you to misunderstand me regarding my comments on cluttering the internet with false doctrines. When I said this I was referring to the RCC. It is interesting how those that profess to be Catholics usually do not refer to their self as Christians. It still amazes me how folks can believe all of the doctrines put out by the RCC, but I suppose Catholics think the same about those that are not subjected to the authority of the Pope or the RCC.

Please read my sidebar "Rightly Interpreting the Bible" and "What is Roman Catholicism" which will enlighten you regarding a Believer in our Lord Jesus being filled by the Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) being fully capable of interpreting the Word of God from the Holy Bible. The problems arise when individuals will attempt to read something into scripture that is not there or attempt to interpret scripture without the help of God's Spirit.

The problem with attempting to discuss the Holy Scriptures with someone who is bound by the RCC is that they actually believe that the RCC is the only "true church" on earth. Whereas non-Catholics believe that the church is the total body of believers who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is why the only thing I can say to you and all other RCC members, or off-shoots from the RCC, is that I love you as Christian brothers and sisters, but I will continue to witness and pray for you to come to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May our Lord be with you. Lloyd