Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3, ESV).
The following is a scene from Brother Where Art Thou? Three escaped convicts were in the woods cooking a squirrel for lunch when they heard gospel music. “As I went down to the river to pray, studying about that good old way when who shall where that golden crown good Lord show me the way.” Suddenly, the gang is surrounded by people clothed in white, headed towards the direction of the river. When the escapees reached the river, they noticed this singing congregation getting baptized by a preacher. While one of the convicts were mocking the people getting baptized, one convict decided to take the chance to get his sins washed away.
Coming back, he said, “Well that’s it boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done washed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out. And heaven everlasting is my reward … Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now. Come on in boys the water is fine.”
While one cannot expect Hollywood to understand the gospel message, this kind of thinking is prevalent among Restoration Churches like the Church of Christ and Independent Christian Churches. They believe baptism is the act one has to do to have all their sins washed away. This is the teaching Preacher Norm Fields presented in his discussions on Apologetics Live.
In fact, in his email to Andrew Rappaport he used Romans 6:3 – 4 to defend his belief that baptism connects one to the sacrifice of Christ. He even said in the interview that water was the element that God chose to appeal to God for a good conscience to save someone. In short, this means faith plus water equals salvation.
Yet, does Romans 6:3 – 4 actually teach baptismal regeneration? We will determine that by looking at what the passage says and the context of the passage. Only the context will determine what this passage means.
What the Passage Says
The passage Norm Fields presents is not the pericope, complete thought, of the apostle Paul. I would never preach just verses 3-4. When studying a passage one must find the complete thought of the author. It actually starts in verse 1 and ends in verse 14. Yet, for brevity’s sake we will present verses 1 – 12 and cover verses 13 – 14 with the rest of the context:
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. 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. 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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6: 1 – 12, ESV).
First of all, we see Paul is dealing with an objection to his teaching (v.1). What teaching will be seen in the context. It is clear the counter argument to his teaching is if one follows Paul’s teaching, people will sin so God’s grace will be shown greater than before. The Greek implies the answer to the rhetorical question is an emphatic no! To emphasize the point, Paul answers his own question with an emphatic, NO (v. 2a)! Sin is never the appropriate response to God’s grace.
Secondly, Paul asks another rhetorical question with the negative answer implied by asking, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2b, ESV). This causes Paul to explain using an illustration with an epexegetical οτι clause saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (v. 3, ESV).
One important rule of hermeneutics is not to literalize something meant to be symbolic. The whole point of an illustration is to explain a point using symbols, pictures, and stories taken from reality or fiction. Paul is using the real death of Christ, symbolized in baptism, to illustrate why believers should not continue in sin.
The word ἐβαπτίσθημεν is the aorist passive indicative of βαπτιζω. The aorist shows this was a completed action done in the past. The passive shows this was an action done to them, not something they actively did. Then the indicative presents this as an action of certainty, not something hypothetical. The root of this word means to “dip” or “immerse.” It often carried violent connotations of drowning, shipwreck, or death. It is the perfect illustration of their being dead to sin like Christ was dead to sin after He bore our sin. Also as John MacArthur says,
That is, it’s not talking about H2O. I think he’s speaking as he does in terms of baptism in 1 Corinthians 12 when he says we have all been baptized with the Holy Spirit. And he’s not talking about water there. He’s talking about an immersing ministry where the Spirit of God, the Christ is the baptizer, and through the agency of the Spirit of God, He immerses us in the Spirit and thereby in the church, which carries in it the universal life of the Spirit. Now these are profound thoughts, but it’s speaking metaphorically. We are fused into, immersed deeply into Jesus Christ. It speaks of an intimate, personal fellowship.
Thirdly, the next logical step in Paul’s argument that Christians should not live in an unbroken pattern of sin is the burial and resurrection of Christ illustrated in baptism (v. 4). Christians are not literally drowned in baptism to death. They are immersed and brought back up. This illustrates Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Paul says just as Jesus was resurrected and raised through the splendor and majesty of God the Father, so believers can live to God’s glory. This is emphasized with certainty in verse 5. Since believers have been spiritually joined in Christs death, they will certainly be like Christ when He raised from the dead.
Verses 6 – 12 further emphasize this is a metaphorical illustration by saying the “old man was crucified with Him”, “he who died has been justified from sin,” “we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him,” etc. (vv. 6b, 7b, 8b, LSB). These are metaphors used to illustrate the Christian’s responsibility to live a holy life of obedience to God because of the reality that Christ died to forgive and free the Christian from sin. These verses are clearly about sanctification (the process of growing in holiness), not justification (the act of being declared righteous by God).
The preceding passage is an illustration of justification. Sin started with Adam’s rebellion before the Law of Moses was given, and it brought death to all people (Romans 5: 12 – 14). Adam’s one act of sin foreshadowed Christ’s one act of sacrifice in that both brought the results to many; Adam gave death and Christ gave life (vv. 14 – 15). Verses 16 – 21 explain federal headship to show that Adam being our representative brought death and judgement and Christ as our representative brought justification and grace. God’s grace was clearly shown, after the multiple sins inflicted after Adam, because of Christ’s righteous atonement; so that those who have faith in Christ can have eternal life (v. 21).
Before that, Paul was explaining how believers can be saved by faith alone through Christ’s propitiation (Romans 3:21-31). Chapter 4 illustrated this with the faith of David, after the law, and Abraham before circumcision and the law. Then the first section of chapter 5 shows the results of justification by faith (5:1-11). Paul consistently shows that salvation is by grace through faith, not by works.
After our passage of study, Paul consistently uses metaphors of rulers, slaves and masters, and wills to demonstrate why Christians should live holy lives and not unbroken patterns of sin (6:15 – 7:3). The baptismal regenerationist is inconsistent with his or her hermeneutics when reading these passages. It is clear these passages are metaphors used to demonstrate spiritual truths. Yet, when it comes to baptism, they claim verses 3-4 must be taken literally. They teach baptism literally joins one by faith into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is a complete misrepresentation of Paul’s intentions here.
After looking at what the passage says and the surrounding context, it is clear this passage does not mean that baptism is necessary for salvation. It does teach baptism represents Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The text teaches that Christians are not supposed to live in unbroken patterns of sin. Also, it teaches sin is never an appropriate response to God’s grace.
God has freed the believer to live a holy life for the glory of the Father because of his or her union with Jesus Christ by faith. This is illustrated by baptism in that it symbolizes a violent death and the resurrection of a new life. By the power of Christ all the Christian’s sins are washed away. God graciously forgives the one who joins Christ by faith and frees them from the power and rule of sin. The only response to such amazing grace is obedience to Jesus Christ.
The problem with baptismal regeneration is it puts mere men in the place of Christ for salvation. The convict in O Brother Where Art Thou said the preacher washed all his sins away. That is no different than asking a priest or Mary to forgive you of your sins. It is idolatry. Christ is our only savior and mediator. As Paul said,
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3: 21 – 26, ESV).
If you want to dive deeper in your understanding in biblical interpretation, check out the resources section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of biblical resources to help you grow in your faith. Lord bless you.
 O Brother Where Art Thou, Directed by Ethan Coen, Featuring George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro, (Touchstone Pictures, 2000), DVD (Universal Pictures, 2000).
 Justin Pierce, Josiah Nichols, and Norm Fields, “Church of Christ Revisited”, Accessed February 12, 2022, https://strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive/
 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 246.
 John MacArthur, “Dying to Live Part 1,” Grace to You, December 26, 1982, Accessed March 23, 2022 https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/45-45/dying-to-live-part-1