NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson V)
British theologian F. F. Bruce explains the symbolism of water baptism this way: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,1 – i.e. you have been incorporated in Him, have become members of His body,2 and so have shared by faith-union with Him those experiences which were His historically: His crucifixion and burial, His resurrection and exaltation.” Bruce says we can get further enlightenment on Paul’s doctrine of baptism where he points out that all the Israelites who left Egypt are said to have been “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”3 Therefore, let’s think of Pharaoh and his army as the devil’s horde and the bondage of sin and the Red Sea as a baptismal river. Then, water baptism should seal the believer’s exodus, his deliverance from the bondage of sin, and his entry into a new life of freedom, just as the Israelites were freed from Egyptian bondage under the power of Pharaoh to live in freedom.4
Karl Barth says that we should see baptism as a sacrament of truth and holiness. To him, it is a sacrament because it is the sign which directs us to God’s revelation of eternal life. Once we realize this, then the Gospel is no longer a Christian “myth,” but the Word from God. Says Barth: “It does not merely signify eternal reality, but is eternal reality, because it points significantly beyond its own concreteness. Baptism mediates the new creation: it is not itself grace, but from first to last a means of grace.”5
John Stott gives an excellent exposition on how to answer those who ask whether Christian people are free to sin and how it betrays their complete ignorance of what their baptism meant. He says that in order to grasp Paul’s argument we need three clarifications about baptism. First, the word baptism means water baptism unless it is stated otherwise… Secondly, baptism signifies our union with Christ, especially with Christ crucified and risen… Thirdly, baptism does not by itself secure what it signifies. Writes Stott: “To be sure, the New Testament speaks of baptism in terms of our washing away our sins, our clothing ourselves with Christ, and even of our being saved by it, but these are examples of dynamic language which attributes to the visible sign the blessing of the reality signified. It is inconceivable that the Apostle Paul, having spent three chapters arguing that justification is by faith alone, should now shift his ground, contradict himself, and declare that after all salvation is by baptism.”6 Stott is not suggesting that Paul did have a change of heart, but that this would have been contrary to his own thinking.
Jewish scholar David Stern points out that the Greek word ‘baptizô,’ usually transliterated ‘baptized,’ comes from the root meaning to “dip, soak, immerse” into a liquid so that what is dipped takes on qualities of what it has been dipped in. This would apply to such things as cloth in dye or leather in tanning solution.7 He says: “This is why being immersed into the Messiah (v. 3) is equated with being united with Him (v. 5). These verses support the case that immersion is the preferred form of baptism, since baptism is compared here with burial, and burial resembles immersion but does not resemble pouring or sprinkling.”8
Verse 4: So when we were baptized we were buried with Christ in His death. And, as Christ was raised from death by the wonderful power of the Father, so likewise we were given a new life to live.
Paul now expands on how baptism both represents the end of an old life and the raising a new life with Christ as the source of our living spirit. No other religion teaches this concept. That’s why Paul was so excited about sharing it. He wrote about this to the Colossians: “When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and you were raised up with Him because of your faith in God’s power. God’s power was shown when He raised Christ from death. You were spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were not free from the power of your sinful self. But God gave you new life together with Christ.”9
It is clear that Paul is speaking of spiritual death and life, not physical. However, at the end of life, this process will be repeated after our physical bodies are buried and return to the earth, we will be raised with spiritual bodies to live forever with God. This is how Paul puts it: “Your old-self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. Yes, Christ is now your life, and when He comes again, you will share in His glory.”10 This was not new to Pauline theology, remember what he said to the Corinthians: “God will raise our bodies from death with the same power He used to raise the Lord Jesus.”11
But he takes this a little further in another letter to the Corinthians: “For although the Messiah was executed on a stake in weakness, now He lives by God’s power.”12 In other words, believers also were weak when their old nature was buried in death by immersion, but through God’s power they were raised to new life and continue to live that life by God’s power. Paul put it this way to the Ephesians: “You will know that God’s power is very great for us who believe. It is the same as the mighty power He used to raise Christ from death and put Him at His right side in the heavenly places.”13 Later in the same letter, Paul says: “We were spiritually dead because of all we had done against Him. But He gave us new life together with Christ. (You have been saved by God’s grace.) Yes, it is because we are a part of Christ Jesus that God raised us from death and seated us together with Him in the heavenly places.”14
So, the born again experience is more than just a spiritual catharsis, it also affects our physical bodies since they are now the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it this way: “When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world. The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new! All this is from God.”15 No wonder Paul had to admonish the Ephesians about letting down their guard: “You were taught to leave your old self. This means that you must stop living the evil way you lived before. That old-self gets worse and worse because people are fooled by the evil they want to do. You must be made new in your hearts and in your thinking. Be that new person who was made to be like God, truly good and pleasing to Him.”16
Paul also had words of encouragement for the Colossians for whom he prayed every day. He told them, this is what I pray: “That God will make you completely sure of what He wants by giving you all the wisdom and spiritual understanding you need; that this will help you live in a way that brings honor to the Lord and pleases Him in every way; that your life will produce good works of every kind and that you will grow in your knowledge of God; that God will strengthen you with His own great power, so that you will be patient and not give up when troubles come.”17 What a beautiful prayer that we can emulate when praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ on a daily basis.
That’s why Paul could say to them later: “Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the One who made you. You are becoming more and more like Him.”18 The Apostle Peter may have had this same thought in mind when he wrote: “Be careful that you do not fall from your strong faith. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Glory be to Him, now and forever! Amen.”19 No Christian should want to see a fellow believer fall or go astray. Unfortunately, criticism and condemnation are offered too often instead of compassion and care. Praying for one another should not be something we are asked to do, but something we do out of the graciousness and goodness of our heart.
Early church scholar Origen has an interesting commentary here in which he notes that since Christ rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, and we have died to sin and are buried together with Christ, that all who see our good works can glorify our Father in heaven.20 Consequently, it can be rightly said to have risen together with Christ by the glory of the Father so that we may walk in newness of life. For Origen, this newness of life occurs when we have successfully, “Put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man who has been created according to God,”21 and, “Who is renewed in the knowledge of God according to the image of Him who created him.”22 But Origen warns that we should not think that this renewal of life, which is said to take place once for all, is enough by itself. This newness must constantly and daily be refreshed.23 When Paul said: “That we too might walk in newness of life,”24 he was revealing the spiritual principle that as long as we are making progress, we may be said to be walking in Him. Christians should not be thought of as walking around aimlessly. Says Origen, “Rather, those who are making progress will eventually come to the place where they ought to be.”25
Early church Bishop Cyril emphasizes that Emmanuel gave up His soul for us. He indeed died in the flesh. So when we are baptized, does our flesh die in the same way His did? Not hardly. Origen then explains in what sense we were buried with Him in a death like His. Since Christ died in the flesh to remove the sin of the world, we do not die to the flesh but to guilt, As Paul wrote: “We must break down the power of sin within us by mortifying our earthly members.”26 Also, “As we have died a death like His, so we shall also be conformed to His resurrection because we shall live in Christ.”27 Origen points out: “It is true that the flesh will come to life again, but still we shall live in another way, by dedicating our souls to Him and by being transformed into holiness and a kind of glorious life in the Holy Spirit.28”29
1 Galatians 3:27
2 Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13
3 Ibid. 10:2
4 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 141
5 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit. loc. cit.
7 Matthew 3:1
8 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Colossians 2:12-13
10 Ibid. 3:3-4
11 1 Corinthians 6:14
12 2 Corinthians 13:4
13 Ephesians 1:19-20
14 Ibid. 2:5-6
15 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a
16 Ephesians 4:22-24
17 Colossians 1:9-11
18 Ibid. 3:10
19 2 Peter 3:17b-18
20 Matthew 5:16
21 Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10
22 Colossians 3:10
23 See 2 Corinthians 4:16
24 Romans 6:4
25 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit.
26 Colossians 3:5
27 Philippians 3:10
28 Ephesians 4:24
29 Cyril of Alexandria: on Romans, loc. cit.