22 Feb 2021
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 6:4-5. (iii) God intends us to share also in Christ’s resurrection.
Verses 3-5 contain references to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and our participation with him in all three events. For the basic theme of the first half of Romans 6 is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not only historical facts and significant doctrines, but also personal experiences, since through faith-baptism we have come to share in them ourselves. So we read that we *were baptised into his death* (3b) and that *we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death (4a), in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father*, that is, through a glorious display of his mighty power (cf. Eph. 1:9ff.), *we too may live a new life* (4b), in fact ‘the new resurrection life’ of Christ, which begins now and will be completed on the day of resurrection.
Verse 5 seems to endorse this emphasis on our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection, for *if we have been united with him like this in his death*, more literally ‘with him in the likeness of his death’, *we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection* or probably ‘with him in the likeness of his resurrection’. Exactly what the ‘likeness’ (*homoioma*) of Christ’s death and resurrection is has puzzled all commentators. It seems to refer either to baptism as representing death and resurrection, or to the fact that our death and resurrection with Christ are very similar to his, though not identical with them. Or it may be better to translate the verse in more general terms: For if (in baptism) we have become conformed to his death, we shall certainly also…be conformed (in our moral life) to his resurrection’.
These verses seem to allude to the pictorial symbolism of baptism, although its significance stands firm (our sharing in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection), even if the symbolism should not be pressed. Sanday and Headlam put it graphically: (‘That plunge beneath the running waters was like a death; the moment’s pause while they swept on overhead was like a burial; the standing erect once more in air and sunlight was a species of resurrection’. It is far from certain whether the first baptisms were by total immersion, for some early pictures of, for example, Jesus’ baptism portrayed him wading in the river up to his waist, while John poured water over him. But the symbolic truth of dying to the old life and rising to the new remains, whatever mode of baptism is used. ‘In other words,’ wrote C.J.Vaughan, ‘our baptism is a sort of funeral.’ A funeral, yes, and a resurrection from the grave as well. For by faith inwardly and baptism outwardly we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and have thus come to share in their blessings. What these are Paul now enlarges on, elaborating the significance of his death in verses 6-7 and of his resurrection in verses 8-9, bringing them together in verse 10.