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Baptism and the Covenant

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Feb 23, 2014 12:54 AM
Baptised into Christ

The image is a difficult one. To be baptised into Christ conjures up all kinds of mental impossibilities. In most cases the idea of Baptism in the New Testament is one of “inclusion”, i.e. to be made part of something. The word baptise can mean many things; to dip, immerse, sprinkle, cover, wash…to comprehend the thought of being baptised into Christ, we could be forgiven for misunderstanding it. The concept put forward by the apostle is not limited to the idea of a literal water baptism, even though it alludes to it. But our water baptism points to baptism by the Holy Spirit in regeneration, and moreover our inclusiveness into the benefits of inclusion with Christ who procured salvation for us at Calvary. This was what Paul alluded to in Chapter 3:2 where he makes the point that the work of salvation is a spiritual work; a work carried out by the Holy Spirit at conversion and then in sanctification as we walk by faith. This will of course have practical ramifications as we will see in later chapters.

So then, water is symbolic of that inclusiveness, but the Holy Spirit is the real substance of that symbolism. To be baptised into Christ means to be included into His life, death and resurrection, receiving from Him the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. This was the promise of The Covenant…immutable and infallible because of Him who promised, and not because of those to whom the promises were made. Our faith rests in the knowledge that God’s covenant with Christ is immutable, i.e. unchangeable; made in eternity; ratified in real time and space through Christ’s death. Having grasped this aspect of the covenant, there is still the problem of faith coming after the law. (v22-23). The bible makes it very clear that the Old testament believers had faith in Christ. They regarded the promises to be bound up in Him, confirming that salvation never came by obedience to the law. But because Christ had not yet come to complete the works of the law on their behalf, the law served as a guardian for them to preserve them until Christ did come. (v23) Guarded until such time as Faith — i.e. the appropriation of grace to be found in Christ, would see fully, what was intended in the covenant of grace; the new administration of “blood” for the forgiveness of sins. Notice Paul says, “The faith”… the definite article used in this case emphasises something more than personal belief. More like the body of truth revealed by God for the purpose of salvation…while it may be argued that the law was in focus here and not the faith, alone, it makes good sense to see that faith and law are covered together by the one definite article (the); the point being that Paul was referring to the function of both entities according to God’s will in revealing them at appropriate times. One guarding the church until Christ, whilst the other is brought into the full orbed realisation of the resurrection. One was delivered by the hand of angels (v19) the other by the hand of the Mediator Jesus Christ. In this sense, Christ and the law are not in conflict but rather they are explanations of God’s promises.

Baptism is no further from the covenant than the pupil is to the eye. We need the pupil to aid or restrict light. This great sacrament is the light bearer to all the promises of the covenant and gives all the glory to God who made it.