Chris Gordon (URC minister) here....
Bill de Jong (CanRC minister) here....
A question surrounding this text is, what did Paul mean with "baptism"? Recently I preached on Romans 6:1-4. Here's a little clip from that sermon.
... In v. 3 Paul asked another rhetorical question. “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
Some explainers of scripture do not quite know what to do with this reference to baptism. They are uncomfortable with what Paul says: that every person baptized has been baptized into the death of Christ. They are afraid of the teaching of a baptismal regeneration; or a teaching that you are saved, just because you’ve been baptized. And so a common way of explaining this text is that Paul is not speaking of (water) baptism. No, they say, Paul must be speaking about a baptism by the Holy Spirit. Paul is referring, say they, to when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, and is then given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism by the Holy Spirit!
The trouble with that is you need to add stuff to what Paul is saying. That’s always dangerous. Don’t take away from the Word, and don’t add!
Paul is just simply referring to (water) baptism. That’s not a problem. For baptism needs to be met with faith. An infant child of believers is baptized, even into the death of Christ, but as he grows older, he needs to embrace his baptism, and the promises of his baptism, by faith. (Our baptismal form is very clear on those things.) Paul asks at the beginning of v. 3, “Do you not know….?” He is appealing to the knowledge of faith. Adult converts to the Christian faith are first instructed in the faith, and then receive baptism. They first need to have a knowledge of the Christian faith and know what they believe. Covenant children receive baptism, because God has a covenant with believers and their children, and are then instructed in the Christian faith. They are taught to know what their baptism means. What it means that they are baptized people.
When parents present a child for baptism, then they are asked to promise that they will teach their children to know these things. To pass on to them faith-knowledge.
The teaching ministry of the church has a big role to play as well. The catechism instruction is meant to fill the youth with that faith knowledge. So that when they reach spiritual maturity, they can make a responsible public profession of faith. So that they can stand here before God and his church and be asked Paul’s question: “…don't you know that all of us (incl. you) who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And they say, “Oh yes. We know that. We are sure about that. And we believe that.”
The Christian school has a role to play in this, too. The mandate of the Christian school is not to evangelize the children. Some people think that. That the mandate of the Christian school is to lead our children to Jesus. No. The mandate of the Christian school must be to help the children understand, know, and appreciate their place as children of God’s covenant. To see the world with all its facets and beauty as the wonderful place in which God has placed them. A place for them to develop, grow and mature in the knowledge of God, his creation, and his revelation.
And so, by the grace of God, baptism meets with faith. If one’s baptism meets with unbelief, then things work out very differently and poorly. If someone says, “Christ death? Oh, that means nothing to me. Sins forgiven by the death of Christ on the cross? Couldn’t care less.” Such a person is a covenant breaker. And for him the warning that the wages of sin is death will, indeed, lead to eternal death.
In v. 4 Paul adds the thought that by baptism we are buried with Christ. Christ bore our sins to the cross. He died because of our sins. He was buried. By faith in him, we go with him. When he died for our sins, we died unto sin. When he was buried, we were cut off from the old life of sin. And baptism, even a few drops of water, is a symbol and sign of that burial....