It would be incorrect to ascribe the baptism of Romans 6:3-4 to the water baptism of John the Baptist, Jesus, or Peter at Pentecost. You will search in vain to find any mention of water even in the entire book of Romans! Furthermore, the verse clearly says that we are baptized into Christ, not the river Jordan, or into any other water. There is a significant difference between being baptized into water and being baptized into Christ (See ‘What is Baptism’ for a definition).
Strangely, many continue to use Romans 6:3-4 to justify water baptism in this dispensation. They are quick to point out the symbolism of going under water to a burial, and coming up out of the water to resurrection. Yet, Paul never makes that symbolic connection having never mentioned water baptism, and so the verse must be forced to say what it never has.
John’s Water Baptism and the Cross
When John the Baptist came baptizing, scripture clearly states the method and function of his baptism.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:4-5
It is clear that John is the baptizer. It is also clear that the function of his baptism was ‘for the remission of sins’. Lastly, it is clear that John baptized with water, specifically, ‘in the river Jordan’.
What must be pointed out is that while John the Baptist came preaching repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, he never preaches the cross of Christ, his death, or resurrection. In fact, even Jesus’ disciples who were most likely baptized by John with water and themselves performed water baptisms were ignorant of the cross and resurrection years after their own baptisms!
“And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again….And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. ” – Luke 18:33-34
The only thing that is certain is that water baptism was preached of repentance for the remission of sins.
Water baptism could hardly have been performed as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ, if the death and resurrection was not understood by those who were baptized or by the very baptizers.
Peter’s Water Baptism and the Cross
In Matthew 28:19-20 we see the resurrected Lord Jesus commanding the disciples to ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’.
In response Peter at Pentecost offered the crucifixion of Jesus as a testimony to the wickedness of rebellious Israel’s need for repentance. The Jews then present ‘were pricked in their heart’ (Acts 2:36-37).
Peter’s response was that they should ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.’ This message of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins was the same that John the Baptist taught. The fact that this baptism was into water is evident from Acts 8:36 and Acts 10:47.
Yet, it is instructive to see that Peter was not preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, but water baptism for the remission of sins, just as John the Baptist.
Paul’s Water Baptism and the Cross
It is not uncommon for adherents to John’s water baptism to point to the water baptizing done by Paul in Acts 18:8 and 1 Cor 1:14. However, notice what Paul says about his water baptizing and the cross.
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. ” – 1 Cor 1:17
Paul was not sent to baptize. Yet we read earlier in Matthew 28 :19 that the Lord Jesus sent all his disciples to water baptize. Furthermore, Paul separates the gospel from water baptism saying ‘but to preach the gospel’.
If the gospel preached of John the Baptist and Peter at Pentecost included baptism for the remission of sins, then how could Paul exclude baptism from his gospel presentation?
The answer lies in the revelation given to Paul after Pentecost where Christ sent Paul with a separate commission.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Gal 1:11-12
Jesus appeared many times to Paul with further instructions for this current dispensation (Acts 26:16, Eph 3:1-2). One of which was that he should cease water baptizing for it would make the cross of Christ of none effect to those who were water baptized. The implication is that since Christ did all of the work necessary for our salvation on the cross, some believers who were holding their water baptism in higher regard than their trust in the cross of the savior.
Paul then makes a clear separation between water baptism and the cross of Christ, water baptism and the gospel.
Romans 6:3-4 not a symbol
The absence of the gospel of the cross in John’s water baptism, and Peter’s water baptism, as well as the separation of water baptism from the gospel of Christ and the cross by Paul is ample evidence that water baptism was not intended to be a symbol of the gospel.
Instead, Paul means exactly what he writes in Romans 6:3-4 that we are baptized into the personage of Christ and as a result are crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). This baptism into Christ is performed by the Spirit.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” – 1 Cor 12:13
This baptism done by the ‘operation of God’ (Col 2:12) into Christ himself places us in position to be not only take part in his death but also his resurrection, which is the exact teaching of Romans 6:3-4.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:3-4
Notice the baptism leads to death, which is a far cry from the function of water baptism. The only baptism that can lead to death is the baptism into Christ by the Spirit by which we are crucified with Christ.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” – Gal 2:20
The baptism of Romans 6:3-4 is our baptism by the Spirit into Christ not the baptism by John or Peter into water.