Yesterday I made a case for speaking of Christ's death using the language of identification rather than substitution. Today I want to continue that thought by looking into baptism a little bit.
I have heard many times before people argue over whether baptism is necessary for one to be saved. I am one of those who believe that it most certainly is necessary but unlike most in that camp, I am not referring to the act of water baptism (though I do think it is important). Rather, when I speak of the necessity of baptism I am referring to having ones identity tied together with Christ’s which water baptism is symbolic of. Most people I believe do not think of baptism in this way but rather they think of it in the same manner that one thinks of vaccinations. You get saved, you get baptized at church (usually after doing some sort of membership or basic Christian principles course) and you pretty much forget about your baptism after that. I see more to it than that, let me quote my friend Jeremy Meyers on the deeper meaning of baptism which I think is brilliantly laid out for us in his book Dying to Religion and Empire. In one particular section Jeremy had the following to say:-
“In Greek literature, “Baptism” rarely refers to what we think of as “Baptism with water.” Instead, the word refers to a wide variety of events or ideas. It is used to refer to a sinking ship or a drowning person, and also to someone who is overcome by sickness and disease and “sinks” into death. In some Greek references, it refers to people who sink into sleep, intoxication, or impotence, or even to those who are overwhelmed by faults, desires, and the magical arts. So “Baptism” does not inherently include any idea of getting dunked under water, but rather refers to being immersed, overwhelmed, or overcome by something else. When a person undergoes baptizma, it means they are no longer who they were before, but are now fully identified with someone or something else.
Therefore, whenever you see the word “baptize” or “Baptism” in Scripture, it would be wise to stop and change the word into “immersion” or “identification” and then ask yourself, “Immersed or identified with what?”
This helps to clear up some confusing passages in Scripture which talk about 'Baptism'. Take 1 Corinthians 10:2, for example, where Paul writes about the Israelites being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The idea Paul is conveying is that the people of Israel fully identified themselves with Moses, and he with them. In the cloud and in the sea, Moses and Israel became one. We read something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as well where Paul says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The idea he is getting across is that we are all one in Christ. He is stressing our unity in our identification. Baptism therefore is intrinsically connected to Christ’s work on the cross. Just as Israel was baptized into Moses, the church has been baptized into Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 2:12 that we were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
In one of the most powerful portions of Scripture Paul latches on to the concept of identification and union with Christ when he writes:-
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” - Romans 6:3-8.
In Christ, we are more than just forgiven; we actually become partakers of the divine nature. Not that we become ‘gods’ ourselves but we receive it as a as a result of our union with Him. In Jesus, the One who overcame sin, we have freedom from sins heavy yoke. In the Elect One, we ourselves become elect and enjoy the privileges of Sonship. Yes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ”.
Can you see how the cross reaches far beyond merely someone else paying your debt? We are Christ’s very own Eve, members of His body, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Paul referred to this as a great mystery between Jesus and the church.
Even the verses that most clearly seem to advocate for substitutionary theology, like the ones describing the Old Testament sacrifices (see Leviticus 1 through 4) are understood by most scholars as a system of covering through identification with the animals by the laying on of hands on the animal’s head. Likewise when Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” was not speaking in a substitutionary manner, for the very next verse in chapter 6 verse 1 goes on to say, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
I believe that Jesus Himself was trying to convey this same message during the Last Supper to His disciples, He was not speaking about the divine pardon but rather a divine union. The secret to the Christian life is Christ! Just look at the language Jesus used in John 14 through 15 as I have highlighted some samplings of it below.
“In my Father’s abode are many dwellings…the Father dwells in Me…I in the Father and the Father in Me…and He will give you another Helper that He may abide in you forever…He dwells with you and will be in you…I will come to you…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…we will come to Him and make our home in Him…Abide in Me…He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit…by this the Father is glorified…as the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, abide in My love”.
If that does not make your heart dance then read it again and again until it does. Write it out, stick it on your bathroom mirror and read it daily until the penny finally drops. This is what makes the gospel so amazing and so beautiful. If you were looking forward to a six-bedroom, double-storey mansion up in heaven one day boy are you going to be surprised in the best possible way!
Adapted from my new book Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 123 to 127.