In two prior blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I wrote about the connection between baptism and the dynamics of honor and shame. I made the following summaries:
From Part 1: The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13–17) signified the inauguration of Christ’s ministry; it is an example of the motif of honor-status reversal in God’s Word. The occasion of Jesus’ baptism is punctuated by a voice from heaven—the Father gives immense honor and affection to the Son—and it immediately precedes Christ’s entering the desert to be tempted by the devil. This is an example to Christians: When we experience honor and worthiness accompanied by affection from God, it produces in us something called “shame resilience”—empowering us to fight temptation, to resist the shaming techniques of our communities, and to maintain our integrity and honor before God.
The key idea from Part 1: Baptism is a dynamic of honor-status reversal.
From Part 2: The Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:18–20 gives us the requirement of baptism for all new disciples of Jesus Christ. The meaning of baptism is “immersion that produces a permanent change”. This permanent change for followers of Christ is largely the result of being baptized into the honor of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” For Christians in societies whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame, this offers wonderful benefits—a King who offers them a new source of eternal honor (His own), the development of shame-resilience, and a community with whom to walk in a most honorable journey.
The key idea from Part 2: Baptism is “immersion that produces a permanent change”.
In this post, I want to explore a third key passage about the meaning of baptism for Christians. This is a reflection on the first four verses of Romans 6.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. (Romans 6:1-4 ESV)
So let’s observe what Romans 6:1–4 says about the first key idea:
Baptism is a dynamic of honor-status reversal.
1) Descending with Christ into shame. To be “baptized into Christ Jesus” means being “baptized into his death”. To identify with Christ means to identify with his death by crucifixion, a death literally full of shame. That is why, when going down to be immersed in the water, a believer signifies his identification with the shame of Christ’s death. The downward movement into water showcases the believer’s humble descent with Christ. The Christian identifies with the shame of Christ’s death and burial. “We were buried with him by baptism into death…”
2) Rising with Christ into honor. In Christ, death and burial are not ultimate, but rather, the means, the momentum—unto a glorious rise. Note that it says, “…baptism into death, in order that…”. The whole point of Christ entering that humbling descent of death was to be “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.” Christ experienced the ultimate honor-status reversal (Philippians 2:8–11). What a story! What a drama! Likewise, believers are baptized into Christ—His death, burial and resurrection—so they too “might walk in newness of life.” As believers enter into Christ’s life and story, it is no less a great and magnificent drama! There is clear parallel between the honor-status reversal of Jesus Christ, and the honor-status reversal of those who claim Him as Lord and Savior.
Now let’s observe what Romans 6:1–4 says about the second key idea:
Baptism is “immersion that produces a permanent change”.
To explore this second key idea, we must ask: To what does this “newness of life” refer?
What we observe both from the text in Romans 6, as well as from other New Testament passages, is this: As Christ experienced honor-status reversal and was raised from shame unto a multifaceted exalted honor (Philippians 2:9-11), so also followers of Jesus Christ experience an honor-status reversal (see also Ephesians 2:5–6) which the Bible describes in multiple ways. The honor possessed by believers, referred to as “newness of life”, represents an incredibly brilliant, multifaceted diamond. Here are just a few of those facets:
- The honor of freedom from sin (Romans 6:6, Romans 6:18)—a freedom far superior to that of being a free citizen of the Roman Empire.
- The honor of living before the face of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings—with an “unveiled face”, that is, without shame (2 Corinthians 4:16, 2 Corinthians 3:18).
- The honor of being adopted into a royal family (1 Peter 2:9, Ephesians 1:5).
- The honor of being ambassadors for Christ to share with others the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20).
- The honor of kingdom power through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) by which believers witness for Jesus Christ, and extend His blessing to other peoples to the very ends of the earth.
- The honor of possessing eternal life as an heir of the family of God (Romans 6:22, Ephesians 1:13–14)