Romans 6:3-5 is often used as a proof text for the claim that baptism is essential for salvation. It is a strong comparison between our baptism and Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. On the surface, one could conclude that from these verses that baptism is part of salvation.
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,"
Is this section of Scripture teaching us that baptism is necessary for salvation? No, it is not. First, we know from the rest of Scripture that salvation is by faith--not by faith and something we do (Rom. 3:28-30). Second, we can see from other Scriptures that baptism follows faith. Take a look at Acts 16:30-33 where the Jailer specifically asks what he must do to be saved and where baptism fits in:
"and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household," (Acts 16:30-33).
If baptism were part of salvation, then Paul should have said, "Believe and be baptized and you will be saved." But, he did not. Also, consider Acts 10:44-48:
"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days," (NIV).
These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles, and they were speaking in tongues. This is significant because tongues is a gift given to believers--see 1 Cor. 14:1-5. Also, unbelievers don't praise God. They can't because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the ones in Acts 10:44-48 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved, and they are saved before they are baptized. This isn't an exception. It is a reality. This proves that baptism is not necessary for salvation.
What is Romans 6:3-5 saying?
"3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection."
The phrase, "baptized into," occurs five times in the NT in four verses as found in the KJV and the NASB:
- Rom. 6:3, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?"
- 1 Cor. 10:2, "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."
- 1 Cor. 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."
- Gal. 3:27, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
To be baptized "into Christ," "into His death," "into Moses," and "into one body" is to be publicly identified with the thing you are being baptized into. The focus is not the baptism itself but on the thing the baptism represents. In the case of Rom. 6:3-5, being baptized into Christ is a public identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection which is said to be the Gospel that saves in 1 Cor. 15:1-4. So then, baptism is a public statement proclaiming that the person is trusting in the sacrifice of Christ.
Baptism by immersion is a perfect symbol for this work of Christ with which the Christian is identifying himself. As Christ died and was raised to a new life, so, too, the Christian in Christ is said to have died (Rom. 6:11, Col. 3:3) and has a new life. This new life of regeneration is by faith--the internal work. Baptism is the external work of identification with Christ. This is why the reference to baptism in the Bible is dealing more with "our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism."1
- Baptism is being identified as a disciple (Matt. 28:18-9).
- Baptism may be compared to a new birth (John 3:5).
- Baptism is compared to Jesus' death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5).
- Baptism is compared to Israel's Exodus and passing through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2).
- Baptism is compared to Noah's escaping the flood waters by entering the ark (1 Pet. 3:21).
In each of the references above, baptism is an identification with something. When people were baptized into John the Baptist's baptism of repentance, it wasn't the baptism that granted them repentance or made repentance real. Repentance is something that happens internally and is the work of God (2 Tim. 2:25). To participate in John's baptism was to publicly proclaim that the person being baptized was accepting John's message or repentance. Hence, it was called a baptism of repentance. It wasn't the baptism that brought repentance, rather, baptism was the result of repentance. The person had to first decide to repent and then become baptized as a proclamation of his decision. Likewise, the Christian must first decide to repent, to receive Christ (John 1:12), to rely on the sacrifice of Christ by faith, and then participate in the public proclamation of identifying with Christ's work.
It is an identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that baptism represents. Jesus' shed blood is what cleanses us from our sins (Heb. 9:22)--not being washed with water. It is Christ's death that is the payment for sin. Jesus' burial is the proof that He, in fact, died. Jesus' resurrection is the proof of God the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ and that death is conquered. Again, for a Christian to be baptized is to make a public proclamation that he is trusting in Christ's work--that he is naming himself with Christ and trusting what Christ has done. This is why it says in Rom. 6:11, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus," (NASB). Why? Because "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me," (Gal. 2:20). It is on the cross that Jesus paid for our sins--not in His baptism and not in our baptism. It is our identification with Him, being counted "in Christ," that allows us to say we have been crucified with Christ so that we can say we are dead to sin. We are not dead to sin by our baptism. Rather, we are dead to sin by faith in what Jesus did in His sacrifice.
Romans 6:3-5 speaks to us of Christ's work and our public identification with it. In that ancient world of religious plurality in Roman gods, in the strict Laws of the Jewish system, and in the gods of different cultures, to be baptized was to make a bold statement of commitment to Christ as the risen Lord. It was not the water that saved but faith in Christ and His work.
- 1. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.), 1995.