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Paul recites as part of an early creed.

2 Timothy 2:11 ...If we have died with him, we will also live with him;...

Here it seems that our living with Christ is conditioned on us having died with Christ. The only place in the scriptures where we are described as uniting ourselves with Christ's death, I am aware of, is through baptism:

Romans 6:3-5 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

(*See also Colossians 2:12 and surrounding verses)

(I've significantly edited my question for greater clarity based on responses below)

For those who do not believe in baptism for salvation please answer specifically the following questions:

  1. Do you believe it is necessary to have died and been buried with Christ in order to be saved? If not please provide a biblical basis for why not.
  2. Do you believe that we are not buried with Christ at baptism? If not, what is the biblical basis for believing that we are not united with Christ's death at baptism?
  3. If you believe that we died with Christ at belief (or at some other time), what is the biblical basis for claiming that our moment of death with Christ is the moment we first believed in Jesus Christ specifically or some other specific moment?
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  • John the Baptist has clearly explained this Mark ch 1 "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." – Adam Apr 27 at 21:05
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Anyone who says that baptism is required for salvation must therefore be saying that baptism in some way has an essential effect for the person's salvation.

Those who say baptism isn't required for salvation generally say that it is symbolic of the real salvation effects of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Though many churches teach a Sacramental view, in which God does truly act through the sacraments, even though those acts are distinct from Christ's once-for-all mediatorial work accomplished by his death and resurrection.)

There are multiple views of what it means for us to be United to Christ, but the doctrine is most prominent in Reformed Theology, and in Reformed Theology it is the Holy Spirit who unites us to Christ, in faith. So the Westminster Confession says

WCF 11.4: God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.

WCF 11.1: Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

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  • Interesting commentary. Thanks for your response. Not sure what you mean by essential effect. Is faith an essential effect? I believe baptism is required for salvation, but not necessary. God has the ability to waive any one of his requirements. Also, it doesn't seem the answer addresses the main question regarding when is a person united with the death of Jesus according to the scriptures other than by baptism. – Austin Apr 26 at 10:29
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    @Austin I don't believe baptism is essential for salvation, and I don't understand any of the arguments for that position. If you want an explanation of the Biblical support for the Spirit uniting us to Christ I'll look at adding that soon. – curiousdannii Apr 26 at 10:43
  • Its not obvious to me that a union with Christ means specifically to die with Christ: the condition expressed in 2 Tim 2:12 for living with Christ. I'm interested in when a Christian could have died with Christ according to the scriptures. Also, I don't belief baptism is essential for salvation but it is now required by God for salvation. Kinda like how circumcision was at one point absolutely required by God to be in a covenant relationship with Him, but is clearly not essential since God was able to enter into a covenant with Abraham before he made circumcision a requirement. – Austin Apr 26 at 13:51
  • Also, I removed union-with-christ tag, since it seemed to be causing confusion with what I was specifically asking. I included the bible-basis tag, since this what I mean when seeking a scriptural response, and I included the creeds-and-confession tag since my whole question is predicated on an early creed confessed by Paul in 2 Tim 2:12-13. – Austin Apr 26 at 14:28
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    @Austin 1) Your Q is clearly about union with Christ, and your Q asks for scriptural support, so both tags should be there. 2) You're not being clear when saying baptism is "required" but not "necessary" / "essential". Please see my answer, which expands curiousdannii's answer in more detail how baptism is symbolic and thus not essential. – GratefulDisciple Apr 26 at 14:35
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One is already unified with Jesus Christ before they are water baptized. Look at Acts 10:44-48.

The Apostle Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.Vs45, "And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because (or why?) the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also.

Vs46, "For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God, then Peter answered, Vs47, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT just as we did, can he?"

Vs48, "And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days."

You have here a "model" where the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit "BEFORE" they were water baptized. Notice 1 Peter 3:21, "And corresponding to that baptism now saves you--not the removal of the dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God FOR A GOOD CONSCIENCE--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

It takes more than washing in water ("the putting away of the filth of the flesh") to cleanse from sin. This means it is not the water itself that saves, but Christ, who is symbolized by the ark. Cleansing comes by the shed blood of the Son of God. God looks beyond the act of baptism and searches to see whether the believer has truly repented and dedicated his life to divine service.

Lastly, the thief on the cross ask Jesus to remember him when He gets to His kingdom. The Lord said, "this day you shall be with Me in Paradise." The point is the fact that he did not get water baptized but Jesus knew the man's heart and he repented thereby qualifying him to be with Jesus.

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  • Mr Bond, you seem to be discussing union with Christ and salvation in general. This could be a general response to a question on baptism. My question is what biblical-basis does one have that they specifically died with Christ without being baptized and when does it happen. Does the bible specifically tie dying with Christ to initial belief the way it ties it to baptism? – Austin Apr 26 at 15:51
  • So Mr Bond, I edited my question for clarity. Please let me know if that helps. – Austin Apr 26 at 16:49
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    @Austin Said, "when, scripturally, does someone die with Christ." We die with Christ the when we are born again/saved. Ephesians 2:4-7, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in transgressions, made us ALIVE together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." When your saved your automatically seated with Jesus Christ. – Mr. Bond Apr 26 at 17:48
  • @Austin While your title asked that question, the body of said question contains a scripture quotation that you use to argue that being united in Christ's death happens at baptism, and question 2 asks people to explain why said death cannot occur at baptism. Seeing as being united in Christ's death is a requirement for salvation, and the criminal on the cross was saved but not baptized, that is an argument that baptism is not when "dying with Christ" occurs. – trlkly Apr 26 at 18:49
  • Mr.Bond & @trlkly I wanted to address this one issue. We don't actually know whether or not the Theif on the Cross was baptized under Christ and the Bible supports conjecture that he may have been. 1st, Mk 1:5 says (hyperbolically) that all of Judea was going to be baptized by John. In Jn 3:26, John's disciples complained everyone was getting baptized by Jesus and even the Pharisees were aware of the situation (4:1-2). So with all the people getting baptized and the thief on the cross's noteworthy prior knowledge and faith in Christ's kingdom it's quite possible he was a baptized disciple. – Austin Apr 26 at 19:17
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Summary

For those Christians, the union with Christ's death happened when we trusted in Christ to apply personally Jesus's historic death on the cross through faith, which happened prior to the public act of baptism. Being united with Christ's death through faith is necessary but baptism is optional (although recommended), being a later, outward expression of the inward reality of faith. Faith is the instrument (the application) while baptism is the later symbol (the signification) of our death with Christ.

Support of the above, from John Piper

For exegesis of the Roman 6:3-5 and the Col 2:12 you quoted to support the above interpretation, I refer you to 2 sermons of John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church:

  • United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 2 where he helpfully distinguished 3 events chronologically in a Christian's life and gave 3 reasons for interpreting the baptism in Rom 6:3-5 as symbol, not instrument of dying with Christ:

    1. First, there is the historical event of Christ's death at Calvary when God saw us in Christ, so that his death was our death. This was the accomplishment of our death with Christ.
    2. Second, we trusted in Christ and were thus united to him experientially, so our death with him became personal to us. This was the application to us through faith of what God accomplished for us at Calvary.
    3. Third, we were baptized in Christ's name. This was the signification of our death with Christ.

    So there was the historical accomplishment of our death with Christ at Calvary, then the experiential application of our death with Christ by faith, then the symbolic signification of our death with Christ by baptism. Accomplishment in history, application by faith, signification through baptism.

    John Piper admitted that others disagree with saying that baptism in Rom 6:3-4 "signifies" our death with Christ. The others say instead that baptism effects or causes or brings about our death with Christ, stressing the words "through baptism" to mean not the symbol of our death with Christ, but the instrument of our death with Christ.

    He then gave 3 reasons to interpret this text with the "signifies" option:

    1. The overwhelming teaching of this letter and the rest of the New Testament is that we are justified by faith alone because of the union with Christ that happens through faith. ...

    2. When Paul explicitly relates faith and baptism he does so in a way that shows faith is the instrument that unites us to Christ, not physical baptism. For example, Galatians 3:26 –27: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." The "for" at the beginning of verse 27 shows that "baptism into Christ" is either an outward expression of faith or a proof of faith. But it is "through faith" that we are sons of God. ...

    3. ... I do not think it stretches the words beyond ordinary use to say that Romans 6:3-4 describes the symbol of dying with Christ rather than the instrument of dying with Christ. ... Now here's the analogy I would suggest to show that this language can be the language of symbol, not instrument: "All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others." ... I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. "I plight thee my troth." "I promise you my faithfulness." Then comes the ring, the symbol. ... In that analogy, the vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

  • Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? he brought other scriptural support for faith being the sole instrument of justification, making baptism an outward expression of faith after the decisive faith act that unites us to Christ. Here's what I think John Piper would answer your 3 sub-questions based on this sermon, which represents Bible interpretation from the Reformed Baptist tradition:

    1. Do you believe it is necessary to have died and been buried with Christ in order to be saved? Yes.
    2. Do you believe that we are not buried with Christ at baptism? No, not at baptism but at faith.
      • Col 2:11-12 brought the image of circumcision as analogy of baptism but Rom 4:11 says Abraham "received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised", so John Piper said:

        this text would say that baptism is a sign of a righteousness that we have before we are baptized, because we have it through faith and through union with Christ.

      • He also highlight "calling on his name" in Acts 22:16 ("Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name") and said:

        Baptism is the outward expression of calling on the name of the Lord in faith. It’s not the water that effects our justification or union with Christ. The water is a picture of the cleansing, but the faith in the heart, the call on the Lord from faith, is what unites us and forgives us.

      • Similarly he highlight the appeal in 1 Pet 3:21 ("Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ") to have the same function as the call in Acts 22:16. John Piper said:

        In other words, it’s the call of faith from the heart, not the water. Peter explicitly says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it’s not the actual functioning of the water that does the saving. Even though he just said baptism saves you, what he means is that this outward act signifies an appeal to God that’s coming from the heart. It’s that faith that saves.

    3. If you believe that we died with Christ at belief (or at some other time), what is the biblical basis for claiming that our moment of death with Christ is the moment we first believed in Jesus Christ specifically or some other specific moment? Buried with Christ happens at justification (Note: justification is by faith alone, a key Reformation doctrine, something John Piper obviously subscribes to). John Piper then cited Scriptural support for justification by faith: Rom 3:28, Rom 5:1, Rom 4:5, John 3:16, Acts 13:38-39, etc.
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  • Thank you, @gratefuldisciple for that response. My question is where do the scriptures say we die with Christ. If it is not exclusively at baptism, is there scripture that states or means that we die with Christ at the moment of faith? – Austin Apr 26 at 14:36
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    @Austin Gal 2:20, part of the argument of why we are saved by faith not by keeping the "law". I recommend reading Part 1 of the exegesis of Rom 6:1-7 as well. – GratefulDisciple Apr 26 at 14:43
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    @Austin Personally, after dabbling in theology & philosophy for many years, I am convinced that there are more than one responsible interpretation of the Bible on "secondary" theoretical matters such as when exactly our union with Christ's death happened (the "primary" being the doctrine of Trinity, etc.). I respect John Piper who chose one option, showed responsible exegesis to support it, and acknowledged that this is a point of controversy. Personally I believe baptism does more than what John Piper says, but I highly respect his scholarship to represent certain Reformed tradition. – GratefulDisciple Apr 26 at 16:29
  • Thank you for that clarification. – Austin Apr 26 at 16:46
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    @Austin I added scriptural support John Piper used to answer your 3 sub-questions. – GratefulDisciple Apr 26 at 17:48
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Baptism is the outward recognition of inward spiritual changes that have already occurred. The Episcopal church recognizes spiritual baptism.

Paul can be hard to figure out, and nowhere as much as in Romans. You KNOW he was a Jewish rabbi the way he thinks in circles.

To me, to be baptized into Christ's death and resurrection means that to the baptized, one's life is not one's own, and one might be called to risk it or lose it - the Time of Trial.

Clearly that has little to do with the ritual of baptism itself.

However, with all of that said, I'm actually working on Romans at the moment, and, I suspect Paul was talking about a completely different issue. He meant to die to sin and rise to whatever the bleep he was talking about. I vaguely recall from my first effort that he went on about that at some length. New life, or a state of grace, or righteousness, or something that really wasn't because as he points out it's an ongoing process. The day Paul said anything at all straightforwardly in that Epistle the sun won't rise. What he thought we were reborn to can vary with what church you go to.

Now, I'm actually working on LUTHER's interpretation of Romans vs other interpretations. One problem is people intellectually trapped in their time and their traditions. Luther's tendency to rigid thinking at times wound him around in circles as to what needed to happen in order for what.

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