Ritual or Reality

In the previous article (Enemies of the Cross) I talked about a first death and resurrection, which Paul uses in Philippians 3 to describe a continuous death to the flesh and a corresponding continuous resurrection into a new kind of life.  And, I referenced Romans 6:4 as a proof text for the term "new life" ("newness of life" or "new life", depending on what translation you read).  But I want to expand our examination of this, so let’s look at Romans 6:3-5.

"Don’t you know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, we too might live a new kind of life.  For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we will also be one with Him by sharing in His resurrection by a new life lived for God."

Now, I’m probably going to stir up a hornet’s nest here, but I have to explain something about this passage.  If you have ever submitted to what is commonly called "believer’s baptism", then you should be familiar with at least part of this passage.  Some form of verse 4 (underlined above) is usually what is quoted during ritual water baptism.  However, this passage in Romans 6 has absolutely nothing to do with water baptism.

In religion the words "baptism" (baptisma) and "baptize" (baptizo) are almost always related to ritual water baptism and their meaning is assumed to be "immersion" and "immerse".  So, anytime these words appear in Scripture, religious folks usually think they’re referring to ritual water baptism.  The true meaning of baptisma and baptizo has less to do with the act of immersion and more to do with the principle illustrated by it.  Let me explain by giving one of the common uses of baptizo in classic Greek.  Farmers, who were forced by circumstances into going to war, changed their hunting spears into warrior’s spears by dipping them in pig’s blood.  Now, is the true meaning of baptizo "to dip or immerse", or is it "to identify with something different in order to indicate a real change".  The difference is whether or not you put the emphasis on the ritual or on the principle behind it.  In the example I just used the emphasis is more on change (from hunting animals to killing men), and less on how the change was signified.

It is my firm conviction that the principle or the reality is always more important than the ritual.  And, it is my sad duty to tell you that religion always emphasizes the ritual, while giving lip service to the principle (or, by simply ignoring it altogether).  John’s "baptism" did indeed involve public, ritual washing, but the real emphasis was on repentance.  Go back and read it for yourself (Matthew 3:1-12, pay particular attention to verses 28 and 11). What was John preaching?  Was the emphasis of his message the importance of getting wet in the river?  Of course not!  It was repentance and personal preparation for entrance into God’s kingdom!  The emphasis is obviously on the reality, not the ritual!

If you do a study of the uses of baptism and baptize in Scripture, you’ll see they’re used in the context of repentance; fire (judgment); the Holy Spirit; Moses; Christ; His death and resurrection (representing death to self and a changed life, as noted above); and probably some others I can’t think of just now.  And every time it is the principle that is important and the meaning cannot be related to immersion but must be, identification.  And while I’m on the subject, if you’ve read the paper "The Blood of Christ", you may remember me saying there is only one ritual authorized by Jesus (or, for that matter, the apostles) in the New Testament and it is Communion; ritual water baptism in any form was never authorized.

Water baptism is a figment of religion’s imagination, a visual training device used only briefly during the formation of the early church until the Holy Spirit revealed a more detailed understanding of doctrine to the apostles. Paul is silent on the subject, giving no instruction on ritual baptism to the many churches he established, except to emphasize the fact that he came to a point when he did not practice it (I Corinthians 1:13-17).  And if you don’t remember the principle of progressive revelation, go back and read the paper in the section on parables "Part 2 – the New Cloth and the New Wineskins".  It is apparent from the Scripture record that when the apostles came to understand the principle of baptism and the reality it represents, they abandoned the ritual.

One more thing, then I’ll shut up about this.  As I’ve already said, "baptize" and "baptism" is used many times in the New Testament in different contexts, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with water or immersion.  And, in Ephesians 4:5 Paul tells us there is only one baptism for the believer.  So the question begs to be asked, if there’s only one, which one do you want?  If given a choice between the ritual water baptism practiced by religion or the reality of identifying my life with the death and resurrection of Christ and experiencing a new life, I’ll take the reality.

Romans 6:3,4 doesn’t say, "Don’t you know that as many as got wet into Christ Jesus got wet into His death.  We were therefore buried with Him by getting wet into His death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, we too might live a new life."  Do you see what I mean?  If you simply emphasize the ritual, the principle gets lost.  But what happens if you apply the principle?  When you identify yourself with Christ Jesus, His death and His resurrection a real change takes place.  You enter into a new kind of life.

Paul explains the principle in verse 5 above when he says, "For if we have become one with Him".  That’s what I mean when I say baptism means "to make an identification".  According to Webster’s Dictionary, when you identify with something, you become closely associated with it, you share in it.  Paul says when you "identify with Christ", "you become one with Him". It’s the same thing.

But what’s the principle? When we, as believers, identify ourselves with Christ, His death and resurrection, we’re launched into a newness of life.  It’s a new kind of life, a new quality of life; it’s a resurrection life different from the old life (as Paul explains as he continues in Romans 6:6-12).  It’s a life free from the tyranny of sin, alive to God, committed to His purpose.  It’s a life that illustrates continual change.  When Christ lived on the earth He was subject to the natural laws He had put in force when He created it (except on certain occasions when the Holy Spirit enabled Him to supercede them). However, following His resurrection, Christ was no longer subject to those laws.  He was different.  His was a new quality of life.  This is the principle of resurrection.  The end result of resurrection is always an improvement over what existed before that resurrection took place.  A resurrection life or new life is one that is becoming more and more like Christ, a vast improvement over the old life dominated by the flesh, unwilling to submit to Him.

That’s what Paul means when he uses the resurrection to illustrate a new kind of life not subject to what dominated the old life.  By embracing the cross, we identify with the death and resurrection of Christ.  And the resurrection illustrates a new kind of life, not dominated by sin, but by a dedication to God (Romans 6:11).  And so, we come full circle, back to Philippians 3:18, where we started in the previous article.  Enemies of the cross don’t want to identify with the cross of Christ, His death or His resurrection.  They don’t want their flesh to die; they don’t want a new kind of life.  Enemies of the cross like their life just the way it is (dominated by the flesh, focused on the things of the world).

Paul illustrates the difference between enemies of the cross and those that are committed to this first death and resurrection in Romans 8:13.

"For if you live your life only to gratify your sinful nature, then you will die.  But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you are continually putting to death the evil deeds of the body, you will surely live forever."

No mere ritual of being sprinkled with water, or immersed in it, will ever accomplish the new life Paul is talking about.  Only the daily identification and commitment to the death of the flesh and the reality of a continual resurrection into a changed life in the image of Christ will ever make us acceptable to Him (Romans 8:8).