Righteousness does not come from works. Israel according to the flesh is not therefore saved because of the flesh. If righteousness came through works, then salvation would be our wages, something we have earned, rather than by grace. Abraham, as Paul says earlier in Romans 4, was saved through faith. This man who had done far more and glorious good works than we have was not saved as a result. He too was weighed in the scales and found wanting in terms of righteousness according to works. It was faith that made him righteous in God’s sight.
But righteousness is not a point in time. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means” (Romans 6:1-2)! Looking at righteousness in this way is to place trust in something other than God, even if it something come from God. “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'” (Jeremiah 7:4). The temple profits nothing if the Law is forgotten. To treat righteousness in this way is to commit the same error that Paul rejects earlier in Romans. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29).
The same is true also for Baptism. Baptism sets us apart to God, just as Paul says here in Romans 6. To be baptized is to be baptized into Jesus, and to be baptized into Jesus is to die just as He has died. Baptism unites us with Christ and therefore brings faith, life, and salvation. But Baptism is not merely a point in time. To look at baptism like ancient Israel looked at the temple and the land–as proofs of God’s favor regardless of their conduct–is to abuse it. Baptism and a newness of life walk hand in hand by necessity. A failure to produce fruit is a sign of a dead tree.
Baptism therefore unites the Christian with Christ in two related, but distinct, ways. The first is being united with Him in His death to sin and in His life to God. We have been put to death inwardly, being crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing. As a result, we have been set free from sin. Sin has no dominion over Jesus, and therefore sin has no dominion over the one who is in Jesus. Therefore, we are not slaves to sin. This is important to emphasize, because weakness is not the same as domination. The Christian sins out of weakness: the flesh remains and leads him to do what he does not want to do (Romans 7). But it is not necessary that he sins. He is, in fact, capable of resisting the impulse of sin and to avoid it. Thus, to give into the works of the flesh, especially when one is able to resist in Christ, is to go out of your way to wallow in the mud. You are not a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness. You live in God, and therefore are no longer in darkness or the power of sin.
The other way is being united with Him in death and in life outwardly. Our bodies will also be put to death physically and outwardly, just as Christ was also laid into the grave. But as the grave could not hold Him, neither will it hold those who belong to Him. We will rise bodily on the Last Day, because we have been united with Christ through baptism. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13).
These two ways are closely related. Holiness is not a matter of this life only. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)! Christ’s death has no meaning apart from His resurrection, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Likewise, our death and resurrection inwardly has no meaning apart from our death and resurrection outwardly. To be like Christ means to rise with Christ, both inwardly and outwardly. Being like Him only inwardly means that we have no hope. Being like Him only outwardly means not being like Him at all. But through baptism, we have been raised with Him inwardly and outwardly, never to die again.