Updated: Sep 3, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Many people do not understand the power within the sacrament of baptism. Some will suggest it is a legalistic ritual. Others will suggest that the ceremony is only a symbolic action. These misunderstandings are clarified when one analyzes the writings of St. Paul. He recognized the importance of baptism, and all Christians need to agree with his inspired writings. Baptism causes Christians to become one flesh with the Lord; they are united to Calvary's salvific effects; their previous sins are removed; and they are able to walk a new, resurrected life in freedom.
St. Paul says that baptism is the entrance way “into Christ” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) or “into [the] body” of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). It is where Christians cash in on the New Covenant and become “saved.” They enter the Church, the “Body” of Christ, which happens “by the Spirit,” meaning that they become intimately connected to the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Entering Christ, who is the “seed” of Abraham, makes Christians “Abraham’s offspring” as well (Gal. 3:29). They become one flesh with the Lord through water.
The only way to be “saved” from sin and its effects is through the atoning death of Jesus, and that death is one in which Christians enter into. The popular slogan, “He died so I did not have to die” is not what is portrayed in Paul. When baptized, Christians are “crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6; cf. Gal. 2:20) and enter into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3). After being buried in a tomb spiritually, Christians are “raised with him [Jesus] through faith in the power of God” (Col. 2:12). The baptism ritual is the moment Christians truly come back to life and “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Easter is mystically united to the believer.
The sacrament of Baptism takes away sin as the fulfillment of circumcision. Paul calls Baptism the “circumcision of Christ,” for instead of removing the physical flesh (foreskin), Christians strip off the “body of the flesh” - the sinful past life (Col. 2:11). God forgives all "trespasses" (Col. 2:13). An invisible circumcision of the heart - promised by the prophets - occurs (Col. 2:13; cf. Rom. 2:29, Jer. 4:4). Circumcision separated the people of Israel from the other nations, and baptism does the same for the New Covenant people of God.
Baptism creates spiritual freedom in the life of the baptized person. The waters cause Christians to no longer be “enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Christians used to be "dead" in "trespasses," but when baptized, the "record of debt" becomes nailed "to the cross" (Col. 2:12-14). Christians deserve death due to their sins, and if Jesus’s death cancelled that out, then they live in freedom. The devil used to have authority, but not any more (Col. 2:15). The baptized “drink of [the] one Spirit,” meaning that He gives them power to avoid sin (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Rom. 8:13).
St. Paul is not anti-ceremony in any way; he is truly Catholic in his understanding of baptism. Union with Christ occurs in the most mystical of ways, and it creates a new heart and a new Spirit to live within the baptized. Christians deserve to know the fullness that Christ offers to all those who undergo this sacrament, and St. Paul is the key to unlocking that.