The New Life of Grace

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September 21, 2021

To the unbeliever (and many Christians!), baptism can seem quite odd. What purpose could dunking someone underwater really serve besides a quick bath?

In Romans 5, Paul tells us that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been given an “abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:18). Because of Adam, all have spiritually died and are separated from God. In that separation, sin was our king and master. But Jesus Christ has offered us a free gift: eternal life in a relationship with God.

That raises the question: does the free gift of eternal life mean that I can now sin freely?

Paul’s answer in Romans 6:1–7 is no, but the reason he gives for that may seem strange. It’s because of baptism.

Photo by YUCAR FotoGrafik on Unsplash

Let’s look at two stories of God forming and freeing His people through water. This will help us grasp the importance and meaning of baptism and why Paul tells us that we should not freely sin.

1. Israel and Water

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul connects Israel’s passing through the Red Sea to baptism (1 Cor. 10:1–2). This story gives us important clues to understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 6. Let’s look at what happened.

God called the descendants of Abraham to be a people that bless the nations (Genesis 12:3). But those people, the Israelites, soon found themselves enslaved in Egypt.

Through twelve increasingly devastating plagues, God persuaded Egypt’s Pharaoh to let the fledgling Israelite nation go free. Pharaoh quickly changed his mind, and he took his armies to hunt down the Israelites and return them to slavery. He cornered them against the banks of the Red Sea. There was nowhere to go and no hope.

Then God made a way. He commanded Moses to strike the sea. The waters rushed away, and the Israelites passed from sure death to new life, surrounded by the sea that was nearly their death.

Then the water crashed down upon Pharaoh’s army as they attempted to pursue, killing Israel’s slave-masters.

Israel went into the sea facing certain doom but emerged a nation free from slavery.

2. Jesus and Water

In Matthew 12, several Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign to prove that He is sent from God. Jesus responds by telling them they will receive no sign except the “sign of Jonah.”

Jesus tells them that as Jonah was in the belly of a great fish in the watery grave (Jonah 2:1) and emerged to a new life by God’s grace and power, so will Jesus enter the grave and emerge into new life. But Jesus’ act will be far greater than Jonah’s. Jesus will be slain, and His new life will be the first of a new humanity.