Published: 6 September 2021

“Buried With Him In Baptism”

Buried in baptism

Although he doesn’t use the phrase “born again,” Paul describes the process of rebirth when says that we are “buried with Him in baptism.” We know that being born again is somehow related to the work of the Holy Spirit, but what is the Spirit doing during a person’s conversion? 

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. 5 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. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:1-7 ESV)

Is Paul paralleling our conversion to that of a proselyte conversion? It sure seems that way. In embracing Judaism the proselyte dies to his pagan ways and undergoes circumcision and immersion. The community considers him to be born again and is in every way a Jew.

Baptism is a burial in water

Paul says that baptism is an immersion into Christ, that is, into Christ’s body which is the church. The prerequisite of baptism is dying to our old ways of sin. Naturally, we bury something which has died. Paul has a purpose in mind in describing baptism as a burial in water. 

We are buried “in order that” we may rise to “walk in newness of life.” This imitates Christ’s burial and resurrection. Paul is using this imagery to describe the experience of one who is undergoing “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5-7). This describes one who has been cleansed “by the washing of water” (Eph. 5:25-27). 

There are two times in this passage that Paul uses the phrase “in order that.” The first is when he teaches us that our burial is “in order that” (i.e. for the purpose of) we may arise to walk in newness of life. The second is that our old self was crucified “in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.” What is this “crucifixion” of “the body of sin”? 

Circumcised without hands

“[T]hat the body of sin might be brought to nothing.” What does this odd phrase mean? Paul uses the same wording in a related passage.

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Col. 2:11-13 NKJV)

In his letter to the Colossians Paul says that they were circumcised “without hands.” This is an idiom referring to work God does (see Dan 2:34-35, Mar 14:58). We can be sure that this circumcision is done upon our hearts by the Spirit because, “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit” (Rom. 2:29 NIV). But, what exactly is being cut away? 

Body of sin

What is the body of sin or body of the sins of the flesh? In Romans 8, Paul describes the flesh as the part of us opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit.

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  (Rom. 8:5-9 ESV)

In the second half of Romans chapter 7, Paul describes in very practical terms what it is like to be a Christian. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15 NIV) and so on. While this old nature of ours still struggles for dominance, the difference now is that it does not get the upper hand. For the child of God, the Spirit is constantly at work circumcising our hearts by cutting away the part of our nature which is in opposition to the sanctification that the Spirit is performing in us.

We are slowly but surely being transformed to desire the things that God desires. This is why Paul was able to tell the Philippians, “Yes, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases him, and he gives you the power to do it.”  (Phil 2:13 ERV)

Our hearts are circumcised during baptism

Is it mere coincidence that in discussing our spiritual circumcision that Paul brings up baptism? Paul clearly couples this circumcision of the heart and the forgiveness of our trespasses with immersion. At the same time we are being immersed (with or by hands) the Spirit is performing a work within us “without hands.” 

Once again, we can’t help but notice that like the proselyte, we are also circumcised when we become one who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:29). So, what is the answer to the question of “What does the Spirit do in our conversion”? 

  • He comes and lives within us
  • He washes our hearts clean and we are set free from sin
  • He regenerates, renews and re-births us; we are born of the Spirit 
  • He circumcises our hearts
  • He begins the process of sanctification

Does baptism have anything to do with our salvation?

There is a lot that happens when we are born again. It is striking how our immersion in water and cleansing by the Spirit are bound together and how neatly they build upon Jesus’s statement that we must be born of water and Spirit.

By now, some of you are thinking that I’m teaching baptismal regeneration or a works based salvation. I’m not. Please reserve your judgement; keep reading until the end of this series on baptism.

Given how the New Testament links immersion, regeneration, being born again, etc., on what basis does one separate salvation and immersion? Is it warranted? For that matter, at what point are our sins taken away? More on this in the next post.