THE VITAL ELEMENT

When an individual is called by God (and it is necessary to remember that He chooses us, and not we Him) and is joined to the body of those whom Paul refers to as "called saints", a process comes into operation which is as real and definite as anything which may take place in a physical sense although it may have no physical manifestation whatever. In fact, it is true to say that this process is MORE REAL than anything physical, because such manifestations are mortal and therefore temporary, while this is of a spiritual nature and therefore permanent. The things that are seen are temporary, while the things that are not seen are age-enduring, eonian.

It has been shown elsewhere that those called may be referred to with equal accuracy as "callable", but the only human part in salvation is faith, and that is not of ourselves for it is the gift of God. The evangel is the power of God unto salvation: "To everyone who is believing". All who have received God's gift of faith can meet the simple condition of relying upon the Trustworthy One; yet faith creates nothing, does nothing, deserves nothing and has no efficacy apart from Christ Who is its Object, for faith is not a saviour (*). If I entrust myself to a lift that I may reach the tenth floor, I contribute nothing to the power that raises me, nor does my ignorance of the mechanism prevent my being elevated to that floor. If some are not called, and not given this faith, this must be the sublime purpose of Him Who locks up all together in unbelief in order that ultimately He may be merciful to all. The Epistle to the Romans, once described as "the profoundest book extant", stands by right in the forefront of Paul's Epistles, for its teaching is basic and all his later revelations are based on it. Its chief value is that it reveals God and His salvation in a full, orderly and systematic way—and note that it was written to those who ALREADY BELIEVED, for their instruction: the saints need the gospel. We sometimes hear a believer say, (*) Human works of faith operating through love must not be mistaken for God's work of grace whereby we are saved. They are the works which RESULT FROM salvation; the fruits of His achievement Who creates us in Christ Jesus "for good works". (I Thess. 1:3; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13).

"I am not a Bible student; I am only an evangelist", yet Romans deals, for the larger part, with the evangel only, and one cannot be a really effective evangelist unless and until he knows Romans. It was not enough for Paul to say to the jailer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved", although this was adequate for a terrified man who was convinced of his need for salvation. When the man was calmed we read: "And they speak to him the word of the Lord, together with all that were in his house", with the result that they believed in God and were baptised. The very minimum of Paul's evangel is that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was roused on the third day. The evangel of God concerns His Son, in Whom the whole of our salvation already exists, and our completeness eventually has to be a conformity to Christ on the cross and in the glory. We are told that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh; that we were crucified with Him, that we bear the likeness of His resurrection, and that these bodies of humiliation will be transfigured and made glorious like His. Salvation means all this and much more.

Romans 6:3-4 contains a profound statement which the Apostle assumes his readers already know, since it is the very basis of their sainthood. He first says: "We died to sin", and this fact is implicit in the spiritual unity which we enjoy with Christ Jesus. In short, as surely as Christ died to sin, all those who are in Christ Jesus are baptised into His death, and so die to sin, our relation thereto being the same as His, and as He lives to God so in Him the believer lives to God. This is not a physical experience for each of us, but a spiritual fact revealed for us, and our duty is to reckon it true. And then the apostle writes: "or are you ignorant that as many as are baptised into Christ Jesus are baptised into His death? Then we are entombed together with Him through baptism into death; that, even as Christ was roused from among the deed through the glory of the Father, thus we also should be walking in newness of life", (Rom. 6:3-4).

It must be evident that the truth of the believer's death and crucifixion with Christ was central in Paul's earliest teaching, but many believers even now find. it difficult to believe his statement that they died to sin. They readily admit that they OUGHT TO, but experience dictates otherwise. Yet the point must be pressed that this affirmation by Paul claims that all who are in Christ Jesus died to sin. Paul does not appeal to our experience or his own; he declares a truth on which we are to reckon. He points to Christ's death to sin, His burial, His resurrection, and His present life to God. Then he says that THOSE IN CHRIST JESUS TAKE PART IN THESE ACHIEVEMENTS.

The Apostle evidently realised that this assertion might puzzle some, but if they were puzzled it must be that they did not understand the significance of baptism, for it is by baptism into His death that we die to sin. His words are tinged with reproof, for the significance of baptism is something which every believer ought to know, since it is the vital element in sainthood. Notice that Paul writes "as many as were baptised into Christ Jesus", and it means that all without exception who are baptised into Christ are baptised into His death. Therefore such baptism is not something we still have to seek. There are not some believers who died to sin and some who did not, tor ALL are baptised into Christ Jesus. We are in Christ not by faith but by baptism, and of course the baptised are only those who believe, yet Scripture asserts that it is not faith but BAPTISM that unites us to Him. Faith is active, and we have to exercise it constantly, but baptism takes place only once, upon believing, and the subject is passive, for he is baptised by Another. It is ours to believe, but it is Christ's to baptise. He does not enquire as to our willingness, nor call a meeting to decide whether or not a "candidate" shall be accepted. The Lord alone knows who are His, and He baptises every one of them—and no others. Justification is by faith in His blood, but union with Christ is by means of baptism. This part of Romans is the only part where baptism is mentioned, where Paul is explaining spiritual union with Christ. BAPTISM IS ESSENTIAL, for the saints are in Christ only because they were baptised into Him.

This baptism confers ACTUAL SPIRITUAL UNION with Christ, and by virtue of that union it gives each one a place before God in Christ which enables us to meet all the righteous demands of God; demands which Paul has argued at length in previous chapters of his letter. Let us repeat, baptism is the vital element in our relationship to God—and by virtue thereof we can stand before God in Christ, while without it we are lost.

Paul makes a very clear statement in the two verses we have quoted, but despite this clarity it is sad that there is so little agreement among expositors and teachers as to what baptism into Christ is, and what it means for all who believe. The reason for this confusion is that most of them are thinking of the wrong baptism! Those who think of immersion in water are not thinking on the same lines as the Apostle, for SPIRITUAL FACTS, not meaningful ritual, are the subject of his writing. He cannot be speaking of water baptism for he is dealing with realities—baptism in spirit, union with Christ, of death with Him, of entombment with Him, of resurrection with Him, and being alive to God in Him—all spiritual facts, not ritual, nor ideas in the believer's mind. If we substitute water baptism for spirit baptism here we find ourselves in very great difficulties, not the least being that logic would demand that only those who have experienced water baptism are in Christ at all. Not even the most fervid immersionist would admit this, but there is no other conclusion if Paul has water baptism in mind. And I believe it true that no spiritually-minded person could accept the idea that any ritual baptism can actually incorporate us into the body of Christ. Once, however, when we see and realise that Paul is speaking of a baptism of the spirit, our hearts are delighted as we appreciate this glorious, satisfying gospel; our minds are enlightened and all that seems puzzling vanishes.

One cannot but wonder why good men cling so strongly to the ritual, the external physical rite, forgetting and ignoring the spiritual reality. We admit that it is a ritual full of significance, but it must be without any real spiritual efficacy. Look at the Scriptures! When water baptism was first instituted it was plainly taught that it was but a symbol of spirit baptism. Wherever you may search the Scriptures for the first mention of Water baptism—whether in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts—you will find that the speaker in each case points us away from John's baptism in water to Christ's baptism in holy spirit. Baptists persist in clinging to John, but John persistently points to One "mightier than I" Who would come after him and baptise in spirit instead of water (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). Our Lord Himself carefully points out the differenoe between John's baptism and His: "You shall be baptised in holy spirit after not many days" (Acts 1:5); a promise fulfilled at Pentecost to the believing Jews. Later, when Peter observed that the holy spirit fell on Cornelius and hi s friends, he said "Now I am reminded of the Lord's declaration as He said that 'John indeed baptises in water, yet you shall be baptised in holy spirit'" (Acts 11:16).

It has been well said that the key of water baptism fails to turn in the lock of Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:27, but when forced it breaks the lock. Why not try the other key, that of baptism in spirit, which opens the look instead of breaking it?

One could quote at length from the ablest commentators on this vital passage (Rom. 6:3-4) and in all cases we shall find that the idea of water baptism has blinded the writers to the meaning of the words of inspiration, and trapped them into a virtual denial of spiritual unity with Christ. We may hear about the believer's "wondrous place in Christ", but we are not told how a saint is really placed into Him. It cannot be by means of ritual, as we shall all agree, but there must be an alternative if the saints are in Christ Jesus, because by some means they have been put into Him. There must be some means whereby a real unity with Christ is brought about, and if God reveals in His Word that baptism is the means, it must be obvious that there is a baptism that is quite free from the objections which can be brought against any ritual.

If one has carefully studied the writings on this subject, the words are familiar. "It is baptism Christ-ward" some say. "In the rite they declare their acceptance of Him as Saviour" say others. We are told that baptism is an outward act by which the faith of the convert is expressed, and a symbol of the believer's union with Christ. Such statements are not only inadequate and misleading; they distort the language of Scripture. Baptism is not "Christward", not a symbol of a union which is net actual, and it is net man's acknowledgment or expression of faith. Baptism is the saving act of the great Baptiser in holy spirit by which He unites His saints to Himself. It is essential and vital for every one of them.

The fact that Christ Himself should supersede John the Baptist in spirit, and that He should baptise in spirit, has become practically forgotten, despite the emphasis placed upon it in the four Gospels and the Acts.

Theologians love to create psychological explanations for Scriptures which really need no explaining, merely believing. We read about "Paul's doctrine of the mystical union with Christ", which is said to be based on his own experience. Now (however it may be described) spiritual intercourse with God is a fact in the experience of some believers, and always has been, but it is untrue to speak of union with Christ as a "mystical union", for it is a real and vital union and does not exist merely in spiritual emotion. The term "mystical union" would give to personal experience a standing and authority which belongs only to Scripture. Romans 6 assures us that baptism in spirit is a part of Christ's saving work FOR EACH OF US as truly as was His obedience unto death. Incidentally, Paul does not say much about his personally intimate experience of God; if he is in an ecstasy, he said, it is to God—and he does not publish it. When he writes epistles he unfolds God's gospel, which was not accomplished in the realm of religious emotion but in Christ. It is dishonest and unfair to Paul if we substitute him and his special gifts and attainments for Christ and His Baptism in spirit—the baptism by which he makes all, even the least gifted of His people, members of His body.

And here we ought to underline just what it is that this union with Christ consists in, not "mystically" but in spiritual fact. First of all it gives the believer the same judicial release from sin that Christ has, so that man now has three relationships to Him. As a creature, man is related to Christ as the Firstborn of all creation in Whom the universe was created. As a man he is related to the last Adam, or Head of the race. As a saved man he is in Christ Jesus before God, in Whom all the claims of sin and law have been met. Put another way, by creation man is united to the Firstborn; by the Incarnation man is related to Him as Head of the race; and by baptism man is united to the crucified and risen Head of the church. This is the spiritual reality of relationship into which Christ baptises us. His creative work, His self-emptying and His obedience unto death are three of His deeds which are completed by the fourth, the baptism by which He also unites us to Himself as having died to sin and come alive unto God. This is the glory of the saving relationshlp!

Water baptism at one time had its place as a symbol and it should help to interpret the reality to which it pointed, but the ritual has been so interpreted that the reality has been lost sight of. "Are you ignorant", Paul asks the Romans, and he could well ask us today, for such ignorance has no excuse. When he wrote to the Corinthians he declared that he was not commissioned to baptise, but to preach the evangel, and in I Cor. 12:13 he writes of a baptism which can do what no ritual can: "In one spirit we are all baptised into one body". If water baptism by a man could baptise into Christ Jesus it would be more important, because more effective, than preaching. But if Christ's baptism is the only one remaining, having superseded John's baptism, since Christ is the only one who can baptise in spirit, we can see very well why Paul was not commissioned to baptise (I Cor. 1:17). The so-called "great commission" of Matthew 28:19-20 (which, incidentally, the twelve never attempted to carry out, nor did they go beyond the limits of Israel's land, for they knew that baptism applied to a future day) has long been regarded as "the marching order for the church", but Paul knew he was not so commissioned.

The importance of baptism in spirit lies in the fact that it is as indispensable to our salvation as is our justification. There are many references to the spiritual realities which are ours in Christ, and baptism ranks in importance with the impartation of His life by the spirit, and all who have life in Christ are baptised into Him; sealed, anointed, and given "the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). It is only by baptism into Christ in spirit that anyone can be placed into Christ Jesus and put on Christ. As for this, hear what God says:

"For as many as are baptised into Christ, put on Christ, in Whom there is no Jew nor yet Greek, no slave nor yet free, no male and female, for you are all ons in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27-28).

This is not a figure which represents membership in a visible earthly society, but a revelation of the fact of spiritual unity in Christ Jesus which binds into one all who believe.

There are two serious errors which arise from the failure to see which baptism Paul means, the first is that it causes some to deny that there has been any spiritual baptism since Pentecostal times, and the second is that many do not know what baptism in spirit is and does, so therefore they look for some EXPERIENCE. This can also cause anxiety, for we are reminded that "If anyone has not the spirit of Christ, that one is not His". Many who are in no doubt that they are in Christ long for the baptism of the spirit. God's answer to them is His revelation through the Apostle that they ARE baptised, together with a command to reckon it true. The baptism by Christ in spirit gives them their position in Him, and this gift which makes Christ and His saints one is greater than any of the gifts of the Pentecostal era.

It is strange that some should think they are "converted", "born again" or "regenerated" without receiving the spirit; and because of this they look for some spiritual manifestation (such as speaking with tongues) as a sort of "second work of grace". This they would mistake for the baptism in spirit, but filling with spirit and baptism in spirit are two very different things serving very different purposes. The baptism at Pentecost identified the believer with the name of Christ rather than with the person of Christ. Under Peter's ministry none were baptised into Christ Jesus; only Paul reveals this wonderful process. And such baptism is not accompanied by the proof of spiritual demonstrations such as the gift of tongues. "He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit", and such a person needs no "gifts" to prove it to him! God's Word is greater evidence than all experience.

Finally, let us note that baptism occurs once, and is initial, while filling with spirit may be repeated over and over again. WE ARE NEVER TOLD TO BE BAPTISED IN SPIRIT, but we ARE told to be filled with spirit. Instead of seeking "a fresh baptism of the spirit", we must be rather filled with spirit, and this fulness usually overflows in service. We must not pray for baptism in spirit, for that is Christ's work and He does not fail to do it; nor, in fact, should we pray to be filled with spirit by God, for we have only to obey His command, "Be filled with spirit" (Eph. 5:18). It is something we may do—we may be filled with flesh or spirit according to our occupation with either, so the choice is ours.

We are baptised once, "There is one baptism", and in this we are made one with Christ in His saving deeds. But not only are we baptised into His Person, WE ARE BAPTISED INTO HIS DEATH ALSO, His death to sin. That is how we die to sin, and what His death to sin means to Him it must mean to all who are baptised into it. That death of His was for me, and more than that, it is actually made mine by baptism into Christ, so that I am dead to sin just as He is. The value of His death becomes mine, not by my faith but by baptism in spirit, that vital element.

This is true evangelistic truth which faith should receive and in which it should rejoice. The believer is to contemplate Christ's death to sin and His release from it in order that He may live unto God. Then thank God that by baptism in spirit this death to sin is ours also. None ever tasted death as Christ did, or endured the shame of the cross. There are depths and breadths and lengths and heights of meaning in His death that we cannot apprehend; but since ve are baptised into it all its deliverance and wealth of blessing is ours.

The whole of thia passage (Rom. 6:3-4) and ita relationship to ourselves should be closely assimilated. The fact that "we were buried with Him through baptism into death" is very important, for if we share His death on the Cross we also share a place with Him in the tomb, but it is now an empty tomb, and Coloseians 2:12 shows both the significance of this and the purpose of baptism:

"Being entombed together with Him in baptism (in Whom you were raised together also through faith in ths operation of God, Who rouses Him from among the dead, you also being dead in the offences and uncircumcision of your flesh), HE MAKES US ALIVE TOGETHER JOINTLY WITH HIM..."

Paul's writings are full of baptism, but baptism in spirit, and if we heed his teaching as we should we shall seek to enjoy that spiritual life and walk according to the risen life of Christ. For as the Apostle says in Romans 6:4:

"Then we were entombed together with Him through baptism into death, that, even as Christ was roused from among the dead through the glory of the Father, THUS WE ALSO SHOULD BE WALKING IN NEWNESS OF LIFE".

This is how God values our conduct, and this is His idea of ethical perfection, for we see that in our baptism and its outcome we find a new standard, "Thus also we should be walking", a new principle, "newness", a new power, "life", and a new motive, "the glory of the Father".

Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Seven, November-December 1972)