Tens of thousands of converts to Christianity are being baptized with water in churches each year. Yet how many of them really understand its full significance? Christians are taught that they ought to be baptized because Jesus Himself was baptized and that it is commanded in the Bible for all believers in Christ to do so. While these may be true, they are not the most important reasons why a Christian should be baptized with water. Just in case you didn’t know, Jesus was baptized into John’s baptism of repentance, not the Believer’s Baptism which we read about in the Book of Acts. In that sense, Jesus did not set a precedence for all believers to be baptized with water. Nevertheless, water baptism is a important event in the life of a believer.
Water Baptism typically signifies two things: a bath and a burial. Those undergoing Water Baptism can be said to be taking a bath to cleanse themselves of their sins. While water of itself is not effective in washing away sins – it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us of our sins – it is a powerful symbol of a spiritual reality nonetheless. When Joshua told the Israelites to sanctify themselves because in three days God was going to do wonders among them, the people, in all likelihood, complied by washing their bodies and their clothes (Josh 3:5). What’s more, when a person wants to rid himself of a sense of guilt or shame, he usually washes himself with water. This was so in Pilate’s case: he washed his hands with water to indicate that he was innocent of the blood of Jesus (Matt 27:24). Thus, in Water Baptism, the believer is affirming through his outward act that his sins have been forgiven and he has been washed clean by the blood of Christ.
Just to show you how spiritually significant Water Baptism is, I will relate to you a story that was told of a motorcycle gang member who was converted and was about to be baptized with water. His body was covered with tatoos. But of all the tattoos, he was most embarrassed by the one on his back. It was the face of the devil. Days before his water baptism, he tried to removed the tattoo surgically but was unsuccessful because the process was too long and too expensive. He went ahead and was baptized anyway. When he came out of the water, all of his tattoos remained except one. You guessed it: it was the one with the face of the devil.
When a believer undergoes Water Baptism, he is acknowledging two facts. First, he is acknowledging that he is buried with Christ. And secondly, he is also acknowledging that he is raised “by the glorious power of the Father” with Christ (verse 4). The Message Bible describes the whole Water Baptism process very succinctly: “When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus.”
When a person undergoes Water Baptism, something spiritual happens: his “old man” is put to death and his “body of sin” is destroyed, rendering him no longer “in bondage to sin” (Rom 6:6). Hereafter, he is enabled to live a sin-free life.
A sin-free life? Is it really possible?
Yes, it is. I was one of those who thought that it was not possible, that we would have to struggle with sin until Christ returns or when He calls us Home. Many identify with Paul’s own struggle with sin, and are encouraged by it. He said, “I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do” (Rom 7:15 GNT). While Paul did struggle with sin in his life, he also spoke of being “made free from sin” more than once (Rom 6:18 and 22).
From his personal struggle with sin, Paul concludes that if he does what he does not want, it is not him who does it but sin that dwells in him. It might sound like Paul was absolving himself of the responsibility for his own sins. But know that it wasn’t the case. Paul was simply saying that he has reached a point where sin has taken over control over his body, and sinning has become almost second nature to him. It has become a law that rules his members.
At this stage, all seems lost. There is no way to escape the “law of sin”. Or is there? A few verses later (ignoring the man-made chapter division), Paul testifies that he has found a way out – a cure, if you will – for this bondage to sin. He reports that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has made him free from “the law of sin and of death” (Rom 8:2).
The Law of Sin
In these two chapters (7 and 8) of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we are introduced to three laws: the law of sin (and death), the law of God and the law of the spirit of life in Christ. Allow me know to help you understand the role each plays in your life.
The law of sin, also known as the Sin Nature, dwells and works in your “members”, or your body (Rom 7:23). It is something we are all born with. Make no mistake about it: the Sin Nature is not the same thing as sin itself. We are born with the propensity to sin; but we were never born with sin. In the course of our lives, we become sinners when we obey the Sin Nature, and the law of sin is activated in us.
The Law of God
The law of God typically is a reference to the Mosaic law (or the Law of Moses). This is applicable to the Israelites or the Jews. Gentiles are not given a set of laws like the Law of Moses, but they nevertheless have a law “written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). More precisely, it is written in the mind because it is there that the law is understood and the decision to either obey or not is made. The mind, emotion and volition make up the soul of the person. Hence, you can say, the law of God resides in the soul of the man.
The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ
Finally, the third law that Paul mentions in these two chapters of his epistle is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ. It operates out of the spirit of the man and is, apparently, more powerful than the law of sin (and death).
The Law of sin and death and the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ are both spiritual laws. The best way for me to help you understand how they affect our lives is by using the example of two natural laws: the Law of Gravity and the Law of Aerodynamics.
Gravity is the force that pulls all physical objects towards the earth. And since nothing escapes it, it is said to be a law. Throughout history, there have been many who believed that they have the ability to defy gravity and to fly like the birds. Ultimately, all of them had a new found respect for Gravity.
Many failed attempts and years later, Mankind stumbled on a way to actually defy Gravity. If you have been on an airplane you’d know the drill: to fasten your seatbelt and get ready for take-off. When all systems are go, the airplane begins to race down the runway; gaining speed as it goes. At a certain point, the airplane lifts off the ground and begins to soar. All the while, as the airplane was gaining momentum, the law of gravity was working to keep it on the ground. But when the necessary conditions are fulfilled, another law kicks in and enables the airplane to take-off. This law is the Law of Aerodynamics.
On the technical front, the airplane is able to take-off partly because of how it is designed and built. Its wings, in particular, are aerodynamically designed so as to produce lift when air flows over and under it at high speed. At 250 km/h, sufficient lift is produced to lift a Boeing 747 off the ground. To attain that kind speed, the airplane relies on its powerful engines to thrust it forward.
Translating this to the Christian life, you had previously been bound by the law of sin and death. There was no way for you to break free and soar even if you wanted to. But once you were in Christ, everything changed. You became a “new creation” – a Boeing 747, if you will – that is pre-disposed to soar. With your wings stretched out and your tanks filled with the fuel of grace, what is needed now is faith – the thrust that will move you down the runway.
Experienced pilots will tell you that the most crucial part of a flight is during take-off and landing. When they are taking-off, for example, and as the plane is racing down the runway, the pilot does not think about gravity and what it can do – it only creates fear in them – but thinks about the Law of Aerodynamics. He keeps one eye on the speedometer and the other eye on the runway to make sure the plane is aligned correctly. Once the speed of 250 km/h is reached, he pulls back on the yoke and the airplane is airborne.
The same is true in the spiritual sense. You cannot be focused on the Law of Sin and Death. It only produces fear in you (not faith) and fear has been the cause of many aborted “take-offs”. Rather, you should focus on the Law of the Spirit – that you have been set free from the bondage of sin. Too often, we have tried to avoid sin by repeating to ourselves “I must not sin. I must not sin.” By saying “I must not sin” you are trying to avoid sin by your own strength. You should know by know that your strength is unable to keep you from sin. What you should say, rather, is “I am free from sin, therefore I can choose not to sin”.
If you have experienced an aborted take-off, take heart, do not give up, but try again. Pilots undergo hours of training just to overcome their fear and doubt and to have perfect confidence in the Law of Aerodynamics. I did not get it right the first time, either; so I do not expect that you will.
Once the plane has taken off and have reached cruising altitude, the pilot switches on the “Auto-pilot” and lets the computers steer the plane towards its pre-determined destination. Now, the pilot is free to do anything he wants to, even take a nap. He only needs to check, once a while, that the plane is still in its shape and the speed has not dropped to a dangerously low level where the plane will stall and spiral earthwards. Occasionally, there will be turbulence. But seldom are they life threatening. At all times, the pilot is not thinking about the Law of Gravity but about the Law of Aerodynamics. As long as the requirements of the law are fulfilled – speed and lift – everything will be fine. Such is the Christian life when the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ is at work in the believer.