NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson IV)
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster gives his view on the effect water baptism should have on our attitude toward sin: “Once we have been baptized, we should no longer sin since when we are baptized, we die with Christ.”1 Ambrosiaster goes on to explain that this is what it means to be baptized into Christ’s death. By doing so, all our sins have been cast off as dead, and being renewed we might rise as those who have been born again to new life, so that just as Christ died to sin and rose again, so through baptism we are seen as rising with new hope of resurrection day. Therefore, baptism is the death of sin so that a new birth might follow, which, although the body remains, nevertheless, we are renewed in our mind because all our old evil deeds are buried. With this understanding of what Paul is saying, it does make the thought of going back into sin even more incredulous.
Reformer Martin Luther gives his comment on the same subject: “We are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death, we merely strive to obtain (the blessings of) this death and to reach our goal of glory.”2 In Luther’s mind, when we are baptized, it signifies that we are going from certain death into a new life in the kingdom of heaven. But we do not immediately move into eternal life in its fullness. Rather, we have taken our first steps toward eternal life. Luther goes on to say, he believes baptism is necessary because it should place us on a dead-end road in search of sin.
John Calvin follows the same theme: “Paul takes up another principle — that we are then really united with the body of Christ, when His death brings forth in us its fruit; yes, he teaches us, that this fellowship [with Christ] is to be regarded in baptism as a form of death; for washing is not the only thing displayed in baptism, but also the putting to death and the dying of the old man.”3 From Calvin’s point of view, once we become partakers of the grace of Christ, immediately the effectiveness of His sacrifice as an expiation and propitiation for our sins takes effect. But the ultimate benefit of this fellowship as to the death of Christ will come later when we are raised to eternal life.
John Bengel also mentions that when Paul wrote this letter, it is clear that most Christians had been baptized by that time. So explaining baptism to new converts was well suited at this point because as adults they were worthy candidates for baptism, having passed through the experiences that Paul had been writing about. Bengel notes that Paul in his Church epistles,4 at the beginning of which he calls himself an Apostle, mentions baptism expressly. Also, that the ground upon which baptism is based is Christ Jesus. Bengel remarks that in some cases, the name Christ is put first because it is more apt for the occasion.5 Bengel likens baptism this way: When a person is baptized, they put on Christ, the second Adam. It is the same thing as if, at that moment, Christ suffered, died, and was buried for that person, and, that person suffered, died, and was buried with Christ.6 It is evident that Bengel is speaking here spiritually and figuratively.
Adam Clarke explains that every person who believes in the Christian faith and receives baptism as proof that he actually believes it, and takes possession of it, must be committed to living a life of doing what is right according to the teachings of Christ. For Clarke, to be baptized into Christ is to acknowledge the doctrine of Christ crucified, and to undertake baptism as a proof of the genuineness of that faith, and the obligation to live according to its precepts. Clarke writes: “As Jesus Christ in His crucifixion died completely, so that no spark of the natural or animal life remained in His body, so those who profess His teachings should be so completely separated and saved from sin, that they have no more connection with it, nor any more influence from it, than a dead man has with or from his departed spirit.”7 This is where sanctification blossoms after the new birth.
Robert Haldane shares his thoughts on this same subject. In this verse, Haldane sees Paul proving that Christians should consider themselves as dead to sin because they died with Christ. In his view, the rite of baptism exhibits Christians as dying, buried, and risen with Christ. The Apostle was referring to what he believed was well-known to those whom he addresses. They were aware that by faith believers are made one with Christ and that they become members of His body. For Haldane, this union with Christ is represented emblematically by baptism. Not only that but in baptism, they are also described as dying with Christ who bore their sins. Therefore, the satisfaction rendered to the justice of God by Christ, is a satisfaction from them, as they are now constituent parts of His body.
Haldane goes on the make a significant point: “The figure of baptism was very early mistaken for a reality, and accordingly some of the [church] fathers speak of the baptized person as truly born again in the water. They supposed him to go into the water with all his sins upon him and to come out of it without them. This indeed is the case with baptism figuratively. But the carnal mind soon turned the figure into a reality. It appears to the impatient man a too tedious and ineffectual way to wait on God’s method of converting sinners by His Holy Spirit through the truth, and, therefore, they have effected this much more extensively by the performance of external rites.”8 As Haldane says, this is an attempt on man’s part to go ahead and do what the Holy Spirit is ordained to do because they do not want to wait for God to act. However, if a person’s certificate of baptism does not have the stamp of the Holy Spirit on it, it is worthless even if the stamp of the church is displayed there.
Albert Barnes added his insight to the effect of baptism: “The act of baptism denotes dedication to the service of Him in whose name we are baptized. One of its designs is to dedicate or consecrate us to the service of Christ.” Barnes then points out that the Israelites are said to have been ‘baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;’9 that is, they became consecrated, or dedicated, or bound to him as their leader and lawgiver. Here in this narrative, the argument of the Apostle Paul is evidently drawn from the supposition that we have been solemnly consecrated by baptism to the service of Christ; and that to sin, therefore, is a violation of the very nature of our Christian profession.10
H. A. Ironside follows this same thought pattern: “Israelites were ‘baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’ They passed through death as a figure [of speech], and Moses was their new leader. Pharaoh’s dominion was ended so far as they were concerned.11 So we who are saved are now baptized the death of Christ. We have accepted His death as ours, knowing that He died in our place. We are baptized unto Him as the new Leader.”12 Ironside then asks if this the baptism in the Holy Spirit? He does not think so. He explains that the Spirit does not baptize unto death, but into a new life in the Body of Christ. In other words, water baptism signals the end of something old, whereas, Holy Spirit baptism signifies the start of something new.
But Charles Hodge raises an important point: “No fact is more obvious than that thousands baptized [today] are unregenerate. It cannot be, therefore, that the Apostle intends to say, that all who are [merely] baptized are thereby united with Christ in salvation. It is not of the efficacy of baptism as an external rite that he assumes his readers are well informed: it is of the import and design of that sacrament, and the nature of the union with Christ, of which baptism is the sign and the seal. It is the constant usage of Scripture to address professors as believers, to demand of them as professors what is true of them only as believers.”13 It’s another way of saying that water baptism does not save a sinner nor does it make the sinner a new creation in Christ Jesus. Baptism follows faith, faith does not follow baptism.
Hodge goes on to say that this is why we address a company of professing Christians as true Christians and why we call them brethren in Christ. We also speak of them as beloved of the Lord, partakers of the heavenly calling, and heirs of eternal life. Thus, baptism was the appointed mode of professing faith in Christ, of avowing allegiance to Him as the Son of God, and acceptance of His gospel. Therefore, when a person is baptized into Christ, they are baptized in the likeness of His death. So, Hodge asks, how then can a person who was sincere in receiving baptism with its intended design and import, live in sin? That is impossible. The act of faith implied and expressed in baptism, is receiving Christ as our sanctification as well as our righteousness.
Then Hodge adds that although justification is the primary object of the death of Christ, yet justification leads to sanctification. Christ died that He might purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.14 If such is the intimate connection between justification and sanctification in the purpose of God giving His Son to die for us, there must be an intimate like connection between them in the experience of the believer. The very act of faith by which we receive Christ as the propitiation for sin is spiritual death to sin. It is by its very nature a renunciation of everything which it was the design of Christ’s death to destroy. So we can see that regeneration and sanctification are part and parcel of the new birth.
Frederic Godet lays out his understanding: “When one is baptized into Christ, it is by virtue of His death that the bond thus formed with Him is contracted. For by His blood we have been bought with a price. Baptism serves only to give Him in fact what belongs to Him in right by this act of purchase. Baptism thus supposes the death of Christ and that of the baptized man himself (through the appropriation of Christ’s death).”15 And Charles Ellicott adds this: “Why has baptism this special connection with the death of Christ? In the first place, the death of Christ is the central and cardinal fact of the Christian plan. It is specially related to justification, and justification proceeds from faith, which is ratified in baptism. In the second place, the symbolism of baptism was such as naturally to harmonize with the symbolism of death. It was the final close of one period, and the beginning of another—the complete stripping off of the past and putting on of the ‘new man.””16
1 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians.
5 See Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:27
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 269
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 244-245
9 1 Corinthians 10:2
10Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 1 Corinthians, Chapter 10
12 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit., pp. 298-299
14 Titus 2:14
15 Frederic Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.