Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Baptism into Death and Life

Døpefont i Nidarosdomen (ca. 1915)
Døpefont i Nidarosdomen (ca. 1915)
Text: Romans 6:1-14


Those of us in the Reformed theological circles believe that the sacrament of holy baptism is to be administered upon the children of believing parents as a sign of the new covenant to those born into the community of faith. Under the old covenant, this covenant sign was given in the rite of circumcision. Under the new covenant, the sign is baptism. And so we gather today to welcome Malachi into the covenant community of the faithful by this administration of this sacramental sign, trusting God through His grace working in and through Connie, Eric, and all of your, that Malachi will come to personally know, trust, and declare faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course one of the things that is clearly indicated by the administration of this sign to infants is that it is tangible symbol of how God’s grace works in our life. We are known and claimed by God before we are made aware of this claim. The helplessness of the infant mirrors our inability to achieve salvation under our own power.

But one of the truths about baptism is given even greater poignancy when administered to infants - that baptism in a very real way a death and burial. Before we get to the resurrection and glory, there must be a death and burial. That is a huge part of our text this afternoon, and a key to unlocking our passion for serving the Lord today.


In our text today, Paul is answering a sharp criticism of the gospel of grace that he was known to preach. Paul himself alludes to this criticism earlier in 3:8
[8] And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. (Romans 3:8 ESV)
The allegation is that Paul was teaching what we commonly refer to as “cheap grace.” A grace that forgives sinners and let’s them basically do whatever they want. In fact, the allegation was that Paul’s preaching would enable something even worse: If God’s grace were magnified by the presence of significant sin, wouldn’t not even more sinning bring about more grace? So sin away! God’s grace will be poured out.

In fact, in the verse just precede our text, Paul writes these words:
[21] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign in righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Believe it or not, this is still an issue today with many people, and it may come a surprise to you. People still criticise the gospel of grace because they believe it will lead, not to holiness, but to lawlessness. Long ago, a term was coined to describe this kind of lifestyle: Antinomianism. Anti meaning “opposed to” or “against.” Nomos is the Latin word for law. So antinomianism means anti-law. If we really are justified by faith alone in Christ, and all of our sins are washed away, past, present, and future, then we have no fear of our sin (true). All of this is true. The error of antinominism then rears its head. If it’s all forgiven anyway, then let’s have some more sin!

Like any other heretical doctrine in the church, there is just enough truth there to convince some people. God forgives us entirely by his grace. But he forgives us with a purpose, the purpose of making us like Himself, glorious in holiness.

This is attested to in several other passages in the New Testament. For example, Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica, knew that the sexual temptations of that pagan culture loomed large. Therefore, he wrote to them:
[3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; [4] that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, [5] not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; [6] that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. [7] For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. [8] Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 ESV)
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says:
[13] But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)
Did you see that? You are saved by grace and are being saved through your sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit whereby not only are your sins washed away and not counted against you, you are progressively advancing to actually kill off sins that still beset you and actually live in holiness. Sanctification isn’t independent of our justification, our declaration in our baptisms that we are not counted guilty of our sin. Sanctification is the fruit of our justification. Holiness is the fruit of real God-given forgiveness. And holiness is commanded by God. And we have been empowered for it by Christ.

The law, which the Jews pursued with great vigor in order to be considered righteous by God, actually reveals the depth of our depravity in sin and our helplessness before a holy and just God. Everyone thought that God could be persuaded by us to grant us entrance into the kingdom. But that’s not how salvation works. Salvation is granted as a gift from a holy God to unholy, God-hating sinners who, when they are shown just how bad their situation is, and just how costly it was God Jesus to grant them forgiveness. And then, out of love and adoration of that Savior, the newborn Christians strives to live a life of holiness totally for His glory. If you do not understand that basic distinction between the function of the law and the function of grace, then you do not really understand what the gospel is about and what baptism really represents.

And even if we know this to be true, we sometimes forget. We need a reminder. The Romans needed a reminder, as well. And so that is what Paul gives them. He reminds them of the centrality of the gospel of grace by reminding them of what? Baptism.

Remember what 5:20 read:
[20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, (Romans 5:20 ESV)
So then, Paul, you think it’s okay then to do whatever we want. Right? Right?

[1] What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)
Paul answers the objection of his Jewish opponents head on, suing the strongest possible objection “By no means!” And then he says how can anyone who is dead to sin still live in it? To be dead to sin means that sin has no power over you any more. He’s stating here that sin, for the Christian, should be impossible.

And then Paul says:
[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3 ESV)
That is a huge statement. When the sacrament of Holy Baptism is administered in a few moments, I want each of you to be thinking of these words. When we are baptized, we are baptized into the death of Christ. That is why the death represented in baptism is so crucial. Our death in Christ’s death is a death to sin. When that happens, sin loses its ability to enslave us. Before we have faith, sin is, for all practical purposes, our owner. But if we have truly died with Christ, we have died to sin. It perished with Jesus when he was crucified.
[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. (Romans 6:4 ESV)
Having become dead to sin in baptism, we are raised from the dead, the world of sin which brings death, and are granted to walk “in newness of life.” The old life, characterized by slavery to sin, is gone forever. Wiped away by God’s grace.  We are now, in that grace, inexorably united with our Savior.
[5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:5-11 ESV)
So let’s sum up what this text is telling us about baptism. It represents:
  • Our death to sin (which is equated with freedom from slavery to sin)
  • Union with Christ.
  • Our adoption into the Father’s household.
  • Hope for the future.
  • Eternal life with God.

There is also a command in our text, a command to live in accordance with this new nature we enjoy in union with Christ of King:
[12] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14 ESV)
And so Paul fully and finally answers the objection that grace means lawlessness. No. Grace means freedom from our old master, sin, and newness of life in joyful compliance with our new master, whose name is “The Lord is Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15). Gospel freedom doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want. It means that increasingly what you want will be in full accord with what God intends for you, your holiness.

So as you witness this baptism this afternoon, I beg you to please reflect on the reality of your own baptism and everything that baptism signifies. When tempted to sin, remember that you are dead to sin by the grace of your baptism. Think of this as a great mental check on temptation. You’re sitting in front of the computer. You see an ad. You are tempted to sin. At that moment, discipline you mind. “I am dead to this because of my baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.” When you heard a rumor and are tempted to share it. “I’m dead to this because of my baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.” I will show my love for the Savior through my desire to honor Him by living for Him in Holiness. As you parent your baptized children, parent them in the grace you have received in baptism, and raise up your children in the knowledge of that grace. Preach this gospel to them, trusting that the Holy Spirit will grant to your children the true freedom offered by Jesus.  As the writer of the Hebrews said in 12:14:
[14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)
You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Baptism shows this. Glorify God in your body. Commit yourself to live in the light of your baptism, so that God may be glorified. As Paul says, you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus [6:11].


Given by Christopher D. Drew
at Salem Lutheran Church
on the occasion of the baptism of Malachi Dennis Hullstrom
Jackson, Minnesota
Copyright © 2015

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