Photo by Caelen Weber

It’s commonly held that baptism is merely a sign. That is, it’s an event where the believer confesses Jesus publicly, with their immersion symbolizing the fact that they died with Jesus, and their appearance from the water displaying their new life and anticipation of the resurrection body. In other words, to put it crudely, baptism doesn’t do anything but represents what has already happened through one’s faith in Jesus. Therefore, it becomes optional for the believer: if it doesn’t do anything, then it isn’t essential. This unfortunately leads to neglect.

But do we even have baptism right? Does the New Testament support our traditions and practices? Paul seems to say that baptism is more than a sign in Romans 6:1-11 and on Monday we saw that Robert Ewusie Moses argues that it releases one from the domain of sin. The logic goes like this:

  1. Christ’s death and resurrection freed Him from the powers of sin and death (Rom 6:9-10)
  2. We can also be free from sin’s power if we are united to His death (Rom 6:2-3, 6-7)
  3. We can have resurrection power now – and actual resurrection later – by being united to His resurrection (Rom 6:4-5)
  4. We are united to Christ’s death and resurrection through our baptism (Rom 6:3, 5)

Commenting on this passage in Practices of Power, Robert Ewusie Moses says, “baptism is the means through which believers participate in Christ’s career” (p59). Andrew Wilson says the following, “Baptism is part of conversion, and it most decidedly does something. Being buried with Christ, and rising with Christ, happens in baptism, through faith.”

Is it just me, or does this all sit very uncomfortably? Taking Rom 6:1-11 at face value, what does it mean? If one is united to Christ in baptism, and one cannot be saved apart from union with Him, then is every unbaptized believer in fact unregenerate? What professing believers who were never baptized? Are they saved but just not freed from sin’s dominion? None of this seems right, but how do we resolve the issue then?

In this post I wanted to press the issue a little further. I do have some thoughts that I believe help resolve this issue, but will save those for next post. In the meantime, I’d appreciate comments! Is baptism merely a symbol of what’s already happened through one’s faith in Christ? Or is it essential for regeneration, or at least sanctification?