Do you remember your baptism? I was baptized in the baptistery overlooking Bayou Meto Baptist Church in rural Jacksonville, Arkansas (twice actually, but that’s another story for another time). The yellow-bricked meetinghouse is situated just off of Hwy 107 in a wooded and ridge-wrinkled community of central Arkansas.
Most of my readers can imagine the kind of baptistery I’m talking about. This baptistery was elevated above the choir loft so everyone from the back row to front row could see what was going on. In the dark, dressed in a white robe, I carefully ascended some dusty stairs behind the choir loft and waited my turn (there were others being baptized as I recall). Soon it was my turn. I went down into the water, and I was asked if I would like to profess my faith in Jesus Christ. My profession was simple: “Jesus is my Lord!” On the basis of my profession of faith, I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. My pastor, Randy Owens, lowered me into the water saying, “Buried with Christ in the likeness of his death.” Then (thankfully) he raised me back out of the water with the words, “And raised to walk in newness of life.” Dripping wet, I ascended the steps on the other side of the baptistery and found my way out down a similar set of stairs on the opposite side.
Verbally confessing “Jesus is Lord” and being baptized in front of the congregation made a dramatic impression on me. I’ve recalled that experience many times since.
The sweetness of this memory is certainly connected to the fact that in my baptism I publically professed my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded disciples to be baptized (Matt 28:18-20). As such my response to this command was at once an act of obedience and devotion to Christ. After all, Jesus also said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). In this way, my baptism is a memorable moment of faith, obedience, and devotion. The memory is also sweet as my membership in the local church was also connected with my baptism. Thus, through my public identification with Jesus I was also publically identified with his body, the local church.
As significant as these memories are, there is another key way in which we as baptized believers need to remember our baptisms.
Another way of Remembering
In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul lays out a robust presentation of salvation by grace through faith (cf. Rom 1:16-17; 3:19-26; 5:6-11). Having trumpeted the excellencies of God’s grace in these chapters, Paul anticipates the temptation to abuse this grace in chapter six. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).
Here, we note that Paul, to correct their understanding of how a disciple is to live, uses baptism as his lesson. He admonishes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3–4).
Paul uses baptism as a symbol to remind them that in Christ “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6). Because of our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection we are to recognize several realities. His death for sin is our death to sin. His triumph over death is our triumph over death. His resurrection life is now our resurrection life. This life is not just for the final day when he returns, but it affects our day-to-day existence in the here and now.
The net effect of Paul’s baptismal lesson in discipleship is a new mindset: “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). Baptism makes concrete what is otherwise an abstract idea, namely, the believer’s union with Christ. Baptism paints a graphic portrait of this gospel and the believer’s participation in it. Here, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are displayed in the immersion and emersion (raising out of the water) of the one being baptized. Baptism re-enacts the work of Christ, but it is not a mere re-enactment. No. In each administration, baptism outwardly identifies a particular person with that work. It is a participatory sign, in which the participant is part of what is being signified. In essence, the one being baptized is saying “I am staking my life in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; He is my Lord.”
In Romans 6, then, we see that Paul uses baptism as a teaching instrument (a mnemonic device if you will) for communicating how a believer is to think about and remember his or her new identify in Christ. The believer is no longer to live in slavery to sin, because, in Christ, the believer has died to sin and been raised to walk in newness of life! Baptism is a key mnemonic device that helps the believer remember these life-changing realities.
ConclusionSo, do you remember your baptism? I do, but not as well as I need to. I must confess that I struggle to remember my new identity in Christ that was so graphically portrayed in that baptistery years ago. If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I hope you have followed our Lord’s command to be baptized (Matt 28:19). If you have obeyed this command, do you remember your baptism? In light of your union with Christ (as depicted in baptism), do you consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ? May God give us grace to remember our baptisms in this sense even as we call others to respond visibly to Christ in faith too.
If time permitted we could explore this connection in other letters as well; cf. Col 2-3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes an interesting observation: “Where the Synoptic Gospels [i.e., Matt, Mark, and Luke] speak of Christ calling men and their following him, St Paul speaks of Baptism” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship [n.p: SCM Press Ltd; New York: Touchstone, 1959], 230).