The significance of baptism is more than simple symbolism. Baptism is not significant because it is somehow our “first act of obedience” as a Christian. In Romans 6, Paul makes the argument that the significance of baptism is nothing short of actual re-birth!
Or Do You Not Know?
Before discussing the relationship we as Christians under grace have with obedience to God’s law, Paul first reminds us. Reminds us? Yes, he reminds us!
Quite literally Paul writes, “are you ignorant” of what happened to you in your immersion. Immersion? Yes, immersion. I thought he is talking about baptism. That’s right, he is. Baptism – by definition and translation – is immersion. In fact, it should have been translated as immersion from its original Greek (baptizo). Unfortunately, following the teaching of Huldrych Zwingli, translators simply transliterated the word to baptize (and its tenses).
Nevertheless, Paul addresses the teaching about immersion and what happens in it as a foregone conclusion. This is something we should know. It should be part of the presentation of the gospel and explained to every convert. But in case you don’t know or have forgotten, Paul teaches and reminds us of what actually happened.
The significance of baptism is presented as something that has already taken place. It’s past tense. What you experienced – the work that God did in you – happened in the moment of your immersion. Knowing this will help you grasp you now new relationship to the law of God.
Under law, your failure to keep it perfectly was counted against you. Under the law of God you would be judged according your your ability to live it perfectly. But you are no longer under law (as a means of salvation; Romans 6:14), you are under grace.
Under grace you still need to live in obedience to the law but failure to do so will no longer be held against you. Why? Because your penalty has already been paid in full. But how do I live obediently? By keeping in mind the significance of baptism.