What Does Baptism Mean? I Have Been Joined To Jesus
Why do we immerse new believers in the first place? What is the meaning or significance of this act? Baptism signifies three vitally important realities in the life of a new Christian. It is a display of Trinitarian glory, for it declares that the believer is joined to Jesus, that the believer has been forgiven by the Father, and that the believer is being sanctified by the Spirit.
Joined to Jesus
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. (Rom. 6:4)
In Romans 6:4, Paul explains that there is a parallel between baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus: “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.” Again, this is why baptism is properly understood as the full immersion of the new believer in water. As one is plunged under the water in baptism, and as one emerges from the water to breathe once more, the burial and resurrection of our Lord is re-enacted before everyone watching. Baptism is a declaration: “I have been buried with Christ”—my old life is over, I am now dead to who I used to be—“and I have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life”—I now live a new life, I now follow an entirely new path. So baptism signifies or represents something Christ has done for us, on our behalf. He died for us. And he rose for us. We were dead in our sins, but God made us alive together with Christ—by joining us to Christ in his death and resurrection, so that his death is counted as ours and his resurrection becomes the promise of ours.
Baptism says: I have been joined to Jesus in death and life.
Does baptism cause us to be joined to Jesus in this way, or does it represent this union? Is it our human action—whether by submitting to baptism, or by performing baptism on someone else—that joins us to Jesus in his death and resurrection, or is it God’s action? Paul answers that question in Colossians 2. Even as, in verse 12, he uses the same language as he does in Romans (“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 stresses that this union is God’s work, not man’s. Paul says that believers have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11)— the “putting off...of the flesh,” the change that happens inside the believer, is “made without hands.” That means it’s God who does it, not man, and it means also that baptism, while it’s connected to it, can’t itself be that circumcision (because baptism requires human hands, obviously!). Then, in 2:13, Paul says that even though we were once “dead in your trespasses,” hopelessly unable to help ourselves, “God made [you] alive together with him.” Dead men can’t raise themselves, and so if we are joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection, it’s only because God joins us to him.
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