Baptism is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.
However, the manner in which that water has been applied has varied during the
history of the Church. In our text, Paul says that we were buried with Christ
through baptism. This language suggests that at least some parts of the Church
used immersion as the means of baptism during the first century A.D.
first archaeological evidence of baptismal fonts that we possess from the third
and fourth centuries, indicates that the Church was not immersing in those
locations. These are fonts that a person
could down into for baptism. However, the water only came up to about the waist
of the individual and the physical layout of the font indicates that it was not
meant to immerse a person. Instead, from church art of the period we know that
the person stood in the water of the font – usually naked – and water from the
font was poured over the head. This
practice is known as infusion.
evangelism work of the Church in northern and northeastern Europe continued on
even after a 1000 A.D. However, after about 500 A.D. Christianity was
established in large parts of the Mediterranean world and increasingly in
Europe. Adult baptisms became less and
less common. Instead, the babies of
Christian parents were being baptized. During
the medieval period the design of baptismal fonts changed into large, deep
vessels. The priest baptized by taking
the baby by the feet and plunging it into the water of the font three times.
This is how baptism was done at the beginning of the sixteenth century when the
Reformation took place. Towards the end of that century, the practice with which
we are familiar began to appear as water was poured on the baby instead of immersing
it in the water of the font.
manner in which water has been applied in Holy Baptism has changed over
time. What has not changed is the
reality that the apostle Paul describes in our epistle lesson this morning.
Holy Baptism is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s
Word. Through God’s gracious gift he
addresses our past, our present, and our future.
text from Romans chapter six begins this morning as Paul writes, “Do you not
know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into his death?” This question – for which the Greek indicates that
Paul assumes they agree the answer is yes – picks up on a line of thought that
began in the previous chapter. There,
Paul had discussed the source of sin and how it has impacted all people. He said, “Therefore, just as sin came
into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death
spread to all men because all sinned.”
apostle tells us that Adam’s sin brought sin and death to all people. This morning’s Old Testament lesson puts the
mirror of the law right in front of us as we hear the Ten Commandments. We
learn what life that follows God’s ordering is supposed to look like, and we
know that certainly doesn’t describe us.
God’s word confronts us as sinners.
And in the same way, for many of us, the list of medications we take is
a reminder that as we get older we aren’t getting any healthier. Instead, as sinners, all of us are in the
process of dying from the day we are born.
just before our text, Paul declares the good news that God acted in the death
of Jesus Christ to make us righteous before him. He writes, “Therefore, as one
trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of
righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by
the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one
man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” Christ’s obedient death on the cross means
that God considers us to be not guilty – to be justified – and he will declare
this on the Last Day.
But then Paul says something that he
doesn’t fully unpack until chapter seven. He adds, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but
where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin
reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to
eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Part of Paul’s explanation about why the law can’t be the way to
salvation is that for us as sinful people the law actually becomes something
that prompts more sin – it becomes something that sin uses. Tell someone not to covet or lust, and that’s
exactly what the sinful nature focuses upon doing.
good news is that even as our sin abounds, God’s grace – his undeserved love in
Christ – super abounded. Because of
this, God’s grace ruled through his saving action in Christ to put all things
right, and the result for us is eternal life.
God’s grace in Christ overcomes all sin.
Yet in the verses just before our text, this raises a potential
question. Our sin is overcome by God’s grace in Christ, no matter how great it
is. God’s grace always superabounds to
give us forgiveness. So Paul writes: “What shall we
say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Is the
Christian life one in which I like to sin, and God likes to forgive?” The apostle answers, “By no means! How
can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Paul says it can’t be this way because we have died to sin. And in our text he sets forth what this
means, as he recalls the Romans to something they already know.
The apostle says: “Do you not know
that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized
into his death? 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.” Through the water of Holy Baptism you shared
in Jesus’ saving death for you. You were
buried with Christ into death. Jesus
Christ’s sacrificial death won the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is the means by which you have shared
in Christ’s death and receive the forgiveness he won for you. How do you know that you are forgiven and
justified before God? You have been
But notice, that in our text, Paul
does not only talk about death. He affirms that we have been baptized into
Christ’s 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.” Jesus Christ died on the cross and was
buried. But on the third day, God raised
him from the dead. We have been baptized
into the death of the risen Lord so that we can walk in newness of life
– life that pleases God. Baptism is not
only about the death of Jesus. It is also about what the resurrection of Jesus
means for us.
The key for understanding why this
is so is found in chapter eight when Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who
raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the
dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who
dwells in you.” It was the Spirit of God
who raised Jesus from the dead. As Paul
tells Titus, in baptism we received “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the
Holy Spirit.” Through baptism we have
shared in Jesus’ saving death and have also been given new life by the Spirit
who raised Jesus. The power that raised
Jesus – the resurrection power of Christ – is now at work in us enabling us to
live according to God’s will.
That is why Paul says in our text,
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die
again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he
died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you
also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ
Jesus.” Christ died to sin in order to
win us forgiveness. He rose from the dead by the power of the Spirit to defeat
We have shared in Christ’s death and
so are forgiven. We have received new
life by the Spirit’s work in baptism, and by his power – the power that raised
Jesus from the dead – we are enabled to live to God. We live in the ways God intended. God gives
us this ability, and that is why Paul says immediately after our text, “Let
not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its
passions. 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.”
Paul is clear that through baptism
the Spirit provides this ability. But at the same time, we also must consider the
question: Why then does Paul feel the need to talk about it and exhort
Christians to live in this way? The
reason is that while we are a new creation in Christ, we have not yet fully
been freed from the old Adam. The sinful
nature is still present. There are times when we let sin reign in our mortal
bodies. There are time when we obey its
passions. We present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.
When this happens, we do what
Christians do: we repent. We confess our sin. We return in faith to what God
has done for us in baptism. In the fourth question about Holy Baptism in the Small
Catechism, Martin Luther asks, “What does such baptizing with water
indicate?” We must understand that when
says “such baptizing with water” he is referring to the practice of his day
that I mentioned earlier, in which the baby was plunged down into the water of
the font and then brought back out of it three times.
He answers the question by writing,
“It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance
be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should
daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity
forever.” We return to our baptism as
through confession of sin and repentance we drown the Old Adam with his sin and
evil desires. Confession and repentance put to death the Old Adam.
We return in faith to the promise
God has made that through baptism our sins are forgiven, and we have received
the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who raised
Jesus from the dead is now at work in us.
He helps us to arise and live before God in righteousness and purity –
in ways that are true to God’s will and please him.
You will note that Luther says
“daily contrition.” The struggle against sin is an ongoing one. Through the
work of the Spirit do we have success? Do we present our members to God as
instruments for righteousness? Yes,
absolutely! We make decisions of
self-sacrifice and service toward others.
We choose to keep our mouth shut, instead of responding in anger or
spreading gossip. But we never do this perfectly and, and indeed the more the
Spirit is at work in us the more we also recognize the sin that is
present. Therefore we must return to our
baptism every day. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Therefore let all
Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all
the time. Every day they should be found
in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old man and growing up in the
This we do in the confidence that
our baptism provides the guarantee that the ultimate victory will be ours.
After all, we have been baptized into the death of the risen Lord. Because of baptism, the Spirit who raised
Jesus from the dead is at work in us. Therefore Paul says in our text, “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.”
Or as he adds a little later, “Now if we have died with Christ,
we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being
raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion
Jesus Christ has defeated death in
his resurrection. The risen and exalted
Lord will return in glory on the Last Day.
He will raise and transform our bodies to be like his. Freed completely
from sin and death, we will live with our Lord in the renewed creation, and
there will never be need for contrition or repentance again.