We treat baptism way too lightly.
When we think about baptism we often giggle about the water being too cold. It can be so “cute” when little Johnny pretends like he wants to dive into the baptistery. Yet baptism was never intended to be cute; in the New Testament, baptism was a declaration of war and death to who we used to be before Jesus. This is why Paul reminds the church at Rome, “Do you not know that all of who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3). In the context, Paul has been answering the question in Romans 6:1-2: should Christians go on living in sin that grace may abound? In helping them ponder this question, Paul is asking the Roman Christians: “Have you forgotten what your baptism symbolized? Of course you can’t go on living in sin. You have died to sin, just like you symbolized in your baptism. The ‘old you’ that was dominated by sin was baptized into death.”
It is for this reason that baptism is not just a symbol; it is a pronouncement of spiritual warfare on sin and the principalities and powers of darkness. This is why as soon as Jesus was baptized, the Spirit immediately led Him out into the wilderness to engage in spiritual warfare with the devil for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4).
In that culture 2,000 years ago, when the readers of Paul’s letter heard the word “baptize,” it evoked images of violence. The word “baptized” was used of people being drowned, or of ships being sunk. The Jewish historian Josephus used it metaphorically speaking of crowds who flooded into Jerusalem and “wrecked the city.” In referring to his own violent, bloody, death on the cross, Jesus compared His death to a “baptism” in Luke 12.
So when we think about Christian baptism, we should not think in terms of gentleness, inspiration, and cuteness, but we should think of the violent death of whom we used to be. When we think about baptism, we shouldn’t just think about water; we should think about blood. The person being baptized is saying, “When Christ died, the ‘old me’ died with Him. My old way of life has been destroyed by the power and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished.” When we are baptized, we are saying to the world, “My old life is finished.”
The Christian’s public profession of faith is not walking an aisle. The Christian’s public profession of faith is baptism. It is our profession not only that Jesus is Lord, but it is a public profession of what has happened to us. Baptism is more than a symbol. What baptism symbolizes really did happen. We really did die in Christ. We really have been raised in Christ. This is why Paul writes in Romans 6:4,“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.” Paul is teaching us that what happened to Jesus Christ when He was raised from the dead is exactly what has happened to those of us who are in Christ. When we are raised up out of the water, we are saying to the world: “I am not who I used to be; I am a new creation in Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, if we claim to be a Christian, but we are still living the same old life, then we lied at our baptism. This is one of the reasons we do not participate in private baptisms. We are baptized publicly in front of the congregation, in part, so that the people of God can hold us accountable to the confession we made on the day of our baptism. When a professing believer begins to wonder from Christ and fall into habitual, unrepentant sin, Christ calls His people to pursue and confront the one who has fallen into sin (Matthew 18:15-20). As Paul implies in Romans 6:1-3, if a professing Christian begins to wander back into the world, we should ask them: “Have you forgotten the declaration you made at your baptism? Remember your baptism! You stood before Christ and His church and communicated that your old life was gone, and that you had been raised to walk in newness of life. The life you are currently living is making a mockery out of your baptism and the work you claimed that Jesus did in your life.”
Baptism isn’t cute. It’s a war cry. It’s a public pronouncement of the death and burial of our old self, and the resurrection of our new self in Christ. Christian, you are not who you used to be. That person is dead and gone. Remember your baptism!