Romans 6:3-4, “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.”
Sanctification, the process by which we are conformed to Christ by the Holy Spirit and grow in obedience to Him, is the second major theme of the book of Romans. Paul’s focus on sanctification in Romans 6–8 indicates that the epistle’s thesis tells us that those who are justified by faith alone in Christ enjoy eternal life and that those who enjoy a righteous status before God by faith will live in a manner consistent with that trust (Rom. 1:16–17; see Hab. 2:4). They take the Lord at His Word and seek to follow His law. They do not rest in their obedience to be right with God, for that would sever them from Christ (Gal 5:4); instead, they serve the Lord in gratitude for the righteousness that is theirs in Christ only by grace.
Justified men and women endeavor not to sin because they have died to sin. In baptism, they have been buried with Christ and have died to their old way of life, being raised with Him to a new life governed by the same Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Rom. 6:3–4; 8:11). This notion of our dying to the dominion of sin is an important one, and Paul considers it in more detail in the passage we will study tomorrow. Today, we will consider this notion of being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Is Paul teaching that our water baptism is the means by which we are united to our Savior and enjoy His benefits?
The answer must be “no,” considering what the Apostle has thus far said about the primacy of faith. Nevertheless, today’s passage indicates that baptism does do something. There is no effectual connection between baptism and regeneration such that everyone who is baptized is automatically regenerated. However, there is a theological connection such that the Lord communicates via baptism His promise of regeneration, although this regeneration occurs in God’s sovereign timing and is not bound to the moment of baptism. This sacrament is God’s visible confirmation to us that He washes us clean of the filth of sin when we believe. Just as an ancient seal made with a signet ring showed a letter’s origin, so baptism shows the origin of the cleansing we enjoy in regeneration and faith. By baptism, God tells us that He is the one who washes us clean, He is the one that buries us and raises us with Christ, and He is the source of regeneration and faith, which realities are invisible and occur when He sees fit.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received.” Baptism reassures us that God promises to regenerate His people in His own timing and cleanse us from all sin.