Baptized into Christ’s Death

Last week I asked some questions concerning Paul’s use of συν-compounds and over the next few weeks I am going to unpack those questions. This week I start with “What does it mean to die with Christ?”

I see four themes entangled within this question:

  1. Death’s connection to new life
  2. Our participation in Christ’s death
  3. Christ’s death and reconciliation with God
  4. Death’s connection to suffering

Today – Death’s connection to new life.

We live in a world mortified of death. To grow old, to move towards death, to move into death are sources of shame and embarrassment. In this mindset, death is the enemy who must be fought off at any cost. Thus, we (Western Culture) spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and money seeking to escape death or at least ward off its coming. The sad state of this mentality is that the very thing we are most afraid of controls our thoughts and actions. Our motivation and goal is avoiding death not attaining life. Just don’t let me die!

I believe, however, that Paul sees things very differently. Life is the motivation and life is the goal. That is why he can write, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Either way for him is life. Death is life with Christ (Phil 1:23) and life is Christ living in you (Gal 2:20). The eternal reality for all in Christ is life but mysteriously for Paul life requires death.

Rom 6:3-4 “Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

A significant, perhaps the most significant, feature of being in Christ is that in him there is a newness of life; new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Yet, the reality revealed by the glow of the cross and the empty tomb is that new life springs forth from death. Paul writes, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom 6:8). In other words, life in Christ moves from life towards new life through the doorway of death.

Ironically, it is those in Christ, where life is the motivation and goal, who learn to accept mortal death because the newness of life already experienced in Christ, not our inevitable death, shapes our existence. Death is not feared because we have learned that only by passing through the stench of death do we come to smell the sweetness of new life; in dying with Christ we live in ever-present newness of life.

Συν Χριστω: Participation with Christ

In my continuing saga to discern Paul’s usage of the phrase ‘in Christ‘ (1, 2, 3)and other relevant phrases, I have reached ‘with Christ’ (συν Χριστω).

Lexically this is the easiest phrase and the general meaning is clear: participation with Christ. According to this phrase, believers participate with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, glorification, and session in heaven. Yet, on each of these points I have unresolved issues:

  • What does it mean to die with Christ? Is this simply a way of saying that through Christ’s death we have died to sin? Or does it relate to a new identity? In other words, what exactly dies with Christ and what is still the same? Is this phrase connected to present suffering and how do we recognize suffering?
  • What does it mean to be buried with Christ? Is this simply a reference to death? How does it relate to baptism? Is this phrase connected to present suffering and how do we recognize suffering? What would it mean to participate in burial?
  • What does mean to be alive with Christ (live with Christ)? Is this simply a way of saying that through Christ’s resurrection we have been given newness of life? Or does it convey a sharing in the present life of Christ? If so, how?
  • What does it mean to share with Christ a destiny? Is this simply a way of talking about heaven or life everlasting? Is it describing a future reality of being like Christ in glory or participating with Christ in glory?

At this point, I have more questions than answers concerning Paul’s use of συν Χριστω because I believe the simple answers do not give sufficient weight to the phrases importance. It is not enough to say, conforming to Christ’s death leads to sharing in Christ’s resurrection (per Mike Gorman) because while it sounds great it has not explained anything. We must examine what it means to conform and share, thus, the deeper questions must be addressed and I hope to do that in the coming weeks.