“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27 NIV) (emphasis added)
That should be a familiar verse for all believers. We even know that we are to apply it to ourselves — Christ in me! And what a wonderful truth to ponder! As evangelicals we have long talked about how we “let Jesus into your heart”. The concept of Jesus “in us” is quite familiar.
But there is a bit of meat in this Gospel that goes a bit further. To understand it we have to turn the concept of “Christ in me” on its head. Read this passage from Romans 6:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:1-5 NIV)
Now, is that clear as mud (as an old schoolteacher of mine used to say)?
First of all, what is this saying about baptism? To tell you the truth, not much. To try and clear this passage up we need to go back to the original language, which is Greek. The Greek word that is translated here in the NIV, and for that matter in just about every other English translation as “baptized” is actually correctly translated as “immersed”. What does it mean to be immersed? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary tells us the first definition of “immerse” is
“to plunge into something that surrounds or covers; especially : to plunge or dip into a fluid”
So could it be that Paul was not writing about being baptized with water, but rather being immersed into something else?
The truth is, some of the finest theologians and Bible scholars believe that Paul is not talking about water at all in this passage. Neither is he talking about being baptized at a church, or down in a lake or in the river, or anything like that. They believe Paul is speaking metaphorically, of our being immersed into Jesus!
How can we be immersed in Jesus? Well, we have to first be speaking of being immersed spiritually, not physically. What happens is that when we repent of our sins and turn in faith to Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit takes ahold of us (spiritually) and plunges us (spiritually) into Jesus, the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father. So there we are, whether we feel it or not, we who have turned in faith to Jesus as our Savior are now in Jesus! (This is where the phrase “in Christ” comes from. It actually means something!)
Now Paul goes on to explain to us that if we have been immersed into Jesus, that means we have been immersed into his death. He is telling us that we are now attached, joined, united with Jesus, if we are immersed in him, and if we are united with him we are united with him in his death, but listen! If we are united with him in his death, we are also united with him in his resurrection! In other words, because Jesus lives, we too will live!
Have you ever thought about the fact that if you have placed your faith in Jesus you are now in Him?
The Apostle Peter also talks about this very same thing when he writes in his first letter:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (1 Peter 3:18-21 NIV)
So what does Noah and the ark have to do with our being immersed in Jesus and our salvation? Just this: We are in Jesus just as Noah and his family, and all the animals were in the ark! That is why Peter is talking about Noah and the ark in the first part of this passage. Then he says, “…this water symbolizes baptism (immersion) that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body…” He’s saying the water symbolizes our immersion into Jesus. Peter is not saying, as it appears, that we are saved by being baptized in water; he says “not the removal of dirt from the body”, not water, but immersion into Jesus Christ! You can’t be saved by taking a bath, but you can be saved by being immersed into Jesus! Jesus is our Ark!
Do you understand?