In the last post, we considered the meaning of baptism in the Gospels and Acts, figuring that our search for the center of the gospel might be found in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In this post, we’ll look at the meaning of baptism as presented by Paul.
Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus
(Rom 6:3-11) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Paul starts with the idea that baptism is not only a re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it somehow, mystically, causes us to be “buried with him,” joining in his death, resurrection, and hence, his new life. We’ll “certainly” join him at the Resurrection.
Jesus, in his resurrected body, cannot die and therefore he has mastery over death. And because he has overcome death, he has overcome that which causes death — sin. And if we participate in his resurrection, we must participate in the resurrected life that overcomes sin.
In other words, baptism has an ethical result. It teaches us how we live and that we live.
Baptism into Jesus
(1 Cor 1:13-17) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Paul is speaking, of course, facetiously. The Corinthians were divided over personalities. Paul, in words dripping with sarcasm, asks, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Of course, he reminds them they were baptized into the name of Jesus.
Paul’s point is that we are all baptized into the same name and therefore cannot be divided. Baptism means unity — not of teaching so much as of hearts and minds.
(1 Cor 3:16-17) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Paul pronounces a curse on those who destroy a congregation of God. God built the church and made us all one. Those who divide are, therefore, undoing the work of God himself.
Baptism teaches unity of congregations and of the church-universal.
Baptism into Jesus
(1 Cor 10:1-4) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
Paul is analogizing the Exodus to Christianity. We were baptized into Christ and we eat the same spiritual food. We have Christ as our rock.
Paul then reminds his readers that the Israelites had the same sort of blessings and yet became idolaters, sexually immoral, and grumblers — and so died in the desert.
Again, baptism has an ethical element. Those who’ve been baptized surrender sin to God.
Baptism into one body
(1 Cor 12:12-13) The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Baptism means unity. Not just friendship with nice people — a unity that crosses racial and ethnic barriers. A unity so strong that slaves and masters become equals and serve one another.
(1 Cor 12:21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
And baptism teaches us to need each other.
(1 Cor 12:26) If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
It’s a unity of heart and emotion. We feel for each other because we love each other as we love ourselves.