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02. Death and Burial in Baptism

Truly Die, Be Buried in Baptism, and Truly Live

Baptism Message No. 2
Mark 8:35
Eric H.H. Chang
Liverpool, England, 1975


Today we look at the words in Mark 8:35 which are vital to our salvation:

“For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

What is Jesus saying to us in these words? Let us look at it in its two parts.

The Bible says that becoming a Christian is not a matter of patching up our old rags with a few pieces of new cloth, but a matter of becoming a new creature. And the question we need to ask today is, How do you become a new creature?

You will die if you try to save your life which is dying anyway

In the first part of this verse, Jesus says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it.” Well, what does that mean? First of all, there is no need to save a life unless it is in some kind of danger. When you see that your life is in danger of being lost, you will try to save it. The original word which is translated “lose” means to die. To “lose your life” is to die. The Lord Jesus is saying that if you try to save your own life, you will not succeed, for you will lose it anyway. In other words, if you try to save your life, you will die.

We seem to be confronted with the fact of death whichever way we turn. If you try to save your life, you will die. If you don’t try to save it, you will also die. You are caught in an impasse. You are caught, as the English would say, in a cleft stick, such that whichever way you turn, you run into some­thing that catches you. In other words, for everyone here in this church, and everyone in the world, death is a reality that you can by no means escape from. This is a reality that cannot be argued away, for it is a fact of life.

People in this church who are young today will get old one day. One day you will find gray hairs coming out, and no matter how hard you keep pull­ing them out, they will come back again. Of course you can dye your hair, but the trouble is white hair will come out again at the roots, so you need to re-dye your hair all the time. And the people who have gray hair now once had the kind of hair that the young ones now have. Those of you who boast in the youthfulness of your appearance might as well get used to the fact that it won’t last long. The problem is that not only does your hair grow gray, you will find yourself closer and closer to the pit of the grave with every new day. What do you do to save yourself from dropping into that pit of the grave? Will you take a lot of vitamins? Well, by all means swallow the vitamins! What else can you do? Take special drugs that will supposed­ly prolong your life a little more? Exercise every day? When your facial skin begins to sag, will you go for plastic surgery? The problem is that no matter what you do, as the minutes tick away day by day, you are moving steadily towards the pit of the grave.

The Lord Jesus brings up the issue as a matter of fact. Is there anything you can do to stop the onward march to the grave, the destiny that all humankind is moving to? There is no way to get out of this problem. You are going to forfeit your life. The word “forfeit” in Mark 8:36 (“forfeits his soul”) means to lose something. Jesus is saying, “What is the point for you to gain the whole world if you are going to end up in a hole in the ground?” You become richer and richer every day from your business or invest­ments, but will that delay you from getting into that hole even by one minute? On the contrary, you may find that the greater the effort you put into accumul­ating riches, the faster they will get you into that hole. It’s commendable that you study hard and get degrees, but will those degrees delay your march to the pit for even one iota? Some of us have studied so hard that we may have shortened our lives by a few years!

Gain life through death, or death through death

On the spiritual side, what can you do to save your soul? Giving money to the poor? Or going to church regularly? The Lord Jesus is saying, “Nothing will save your life. No attempt of yours will help in any way. You will lose your life at the end of all your attempts. There is only one sure way to save your soul: you must lose your life.”

I am teaching the same thing, that there is no way you can save your life. You are either going to life through death, or going to death through death. You make your choice. Because of God’s work in Christ, we have a choice. You either go to life through death, or death through death.

What Jesus is saying is this: “If any man loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s, he will save it.” You still have to die. There is no way you can go past death. The Bible never teaches that we don’t have to die just because Jesus has died. But what the Bible does teach is that we die with Jesus, and live with him to God. I would like every Christian and every non-Christian here to understand this clearly: The Lord Jesus is teaching us the importance of dying. Please note these words.

Many years ago, a Chinese philosopher and writer wrote a book called The Importance of Living. Lin Yu Tang happened to be our family friend. In fact the book is mainly about Chinese philosophy. Since then he had become a Christian, so he wrote another book called From Pagan to Christ. If he had to write yet another book, it might be entitled The Importance of Dying.

A true Christian has died

I am concerned that most Christians do not understand the importance of dying. Last night we had a very interesting discussion. I often like to take the spiritual pulse of people, and would sometimes throw out a question. In the discussion we were going around in circles for a full hour.

In Colossians 3:3, Paul says to Christians that “you have died”. In fact he says this many times in his letters, for example in 2 Timothy 2:11,

“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him.”

Notice the perfect tense: Only if you “have died” with Christ will you live with him. Paul says that he himself has been crucified with Christ in the well-known verse Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ”).

The point is this: Unless you have died with Christ, you are not going to live with Christ. In these many references, Paul says again and again that every true Christian has died. The importance of the dying lies in the truth that only if you have died with Christ, will you live with him (2Tim.2:11).

First die, then be buried with Christ in baptism

But in what sense has Paul died? In what sense have we died? Many attempts have been made to explain away the force of Paul’s words but none can stand up to examination. Some have proposed that the very act of baptism means that we have died. But if this is correct, it would be very dangerous. In that case, all we have to do is get baptized and we will be saved. Many people have been baptized on that assumption. But the error of that thinking reveals a failure to look at the Word of God carefully. The Bible never says that we die in the act of baptism. Look carefully at the Word of God, which is so precise that you must not depart from it by a fraction. The teaching that you die in the very act of baptism is utterly mistaken. There is no such Bible teaching. What really happens at baptism is that you are buried with Christ in baptism, not die in baptism. We see this in Colossians 2:12:

“and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Again, in Romans 6:4:

“we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.”

The point is that you have to die before you can get buried, otherwise you would be buried alive! Maybe that is what has happened to many “Christ­ians”. Read the Bible carefully. It is uses precise phraseology. Before you are buried with Christ in baptism, you must first die.

Baptism is invalid if you have not died first

I say to those who were baptized without having died first, that unfortun­ately, such a baptism is of no validity, because you cannot bury a person who has not died at all. That burial cannot be a genuine burial. It is like people who are covered with mud, and they climb out again afterwards. They have not been raised in the resurrection power of God, but have only climbed out of the grave themselves! How can they have a resurrection life if they have never died? You can only raise up somebody who is truly dead. Take note of the words in Romans 6:5:

“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.”

If you have truly died with Christ, you will have been raised with him. It follows from this that if you have never died, then neither have you ever entered into the resurrection life of Christ. I fear that the church is full of people who went through some kind of burial ceremony only to crawl their way out, and having given themselves a wash, they stand up and say, “Here I am, I’m a Christian!”

Examine everything that I have said in the light of God’s Word, and you will see that it is merely an exposition of God’s Word. I have not inserted my own opinions. I have spent a little time on this matter because it is a common error regarding baptism.

Don’t be baptized until you know what it means to die

I say to those who are contemplating baptism: Whatever you do, don’t get baptized unless you know what it means to die! We don’t want any more false Christians in the church. The church has got enough of them already. They have already made the name of the church stink throughout the world!

Yesterday I was reading a letter from a father to a daughter in Liverpool, and the father, a non-Christian, was saying things which echo with my heart. He said, “Don’t be one more of these superficial Christians who have the outward form and no inward substance. The world is full of them!” How right he is! He himself doesn’t want to become a Christian, and doesn’t want his daughter to become a Christian, because the church is full of this kind of people. Again I say to the several of you who are intending to be baptized, “Whatever you do, don’t be baptized until you know what it means to die!”

No resurrection life, no eternal life, until you have died

What then is the Lord Jesus saying? And what is Paul saying? When he uses the words “have died,” what exactly does he mean? Is this some kind of pretend death which children play as a game: “I pretend to die. Bang! You shoot me and I’m dead”? Sometimes one gets the feeling that some so-called “Christians” are saying exactly that, that this death is some kind of pretense. Some would say, “Count yourselves dead,” by which they mean that you are not really dead, but just try to imagine it. That comes to the same thing as the children’s game, doesn’t it?

So before we proceed further, please be clear about this one point: You will never experience the resurrection and God’s eternal life until you have truly died. I say “truly died” in the sense of the Bible’s teaching. The Bible does not teach some imaginary or pretend death, or that baptism is a game in which you dive in the water, come out, dry yourself, and lo and behold, you are saved! Baptism is an outward expression of an inward transaction that has already taken place before you have actually been bap­tized. Unless that transaction has really taken place, your baptism has no validity whatsoever. Otherwise, baptism would be some kind of magic by which you dive into magical water and come up: Lo and behold, I am saved! We are not here to play games with God. Nor does God intend to play games with us in the matter of our salvation. This point is important.

The verse we are studying today, Mark 8:35, is so important that the statement occurs five times in the first three gospels alone! Hence the Lord Jesus repeats this teaching many times in order to drill it into the minds of his hearers. This teaching occurs twice in Matthew (10:39; 16:25), twice in Luke (9:24; 17:33), and once in Mark (8:35). It has a parallel in John 12:25.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

You must die to be united with Christ, the one who has died

You might say, “Alright, we accept your point. How then do we truly die?” You will notice again and again in Jesus’ teaching and in Paul’s teaching that we “die with Christ,” and that this dying is not a piece of our imagination but an absolute reality.

The branches die when the vine dies

Think of what Jesus says in the parable of the vine: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Most Christians have not yet come to see the unity of the true Christian with Christ, that they are one with each other. When Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” who is the “you”? It of course refers to his disciples who were with him. But only those disciples? Or does it not refer to everyone who follows him?

Let us think of the disciples who are standing with him. The Lord Jesus says, “You and I are one vine.” Now what happens to the branches when an axe strikes the vine? When the vine dies, do the branches die an imaginary death or a real death? When the vine is axed, of course the branches die. So when Jesus died, all his disciples died with him assuming that they were united with him. Can you see it? When the Lord Jesus was crucified, all his disciples were crucified in him. You will find this hard to understand if you haven’t grasped the concept of the unity of the church, the body of Christ, with her head, Jesus Christ.

The body dies when the head dies

Let us change the picture to that of a body, the one new man. The Lord Jesus often uses the expression “the Son of man” because it brings out the one new man. Jesus, the only perfect man, is the first new man, “the pioneer” of the salvation of many sons of God, indeed of us who are his brethren, “through many sufferings” (Heb.2:10-11). Now if a bullet hits my head, does my body die or does it not? Is it only my head that dies, or does my whole body die with it? You will say, “Obviously your whole body dies.” But I might say to you, “How so? There is no bullet wound in my body. The wound is only in the head, so only my head has died. My body should not be dying because it has not been shot with a bullet.” Does that make any sense to you?

Why is it easy to understand physical things, and so hard to under­stand spiritual things? If I give you this illustration of the body, you will say, “Well, of course the whole body dies!” But if I speak of the new man (the true Christian) and the body of Christ, why is it not equally obvious to you that the body also dies? The body dies when the head dies.

But you might say, “Hold on, I wasn’t there when Jesus died. That was a long time ago, but I was born after the event.” If you reason like that, you have failed to understand not only the unity of the body of Christ with Christ, but also God’s saving plan. In God’s plan, in God’s understanding, in God’s foreknowledge, the body of Christ has been complete from the beginning. This is Paul’s so called teaching of predestination, which is very different from Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

Biblical predestination: God foreknew you and prepared you for salvation

In Biblical predestination, God did not determine but foreknew that you will believe in Him. Does God know in advance whether you will believe? Of course He does, if He is God. The Bible says that He knows the beginning and the end. That is why Paul says in Ephesians 1:4 that God has chosen you before the found­ation of the world. Before the creation, God had already known whether you are His. He knows you very well, in fact by name, and He has made preparations for your salvation. 1 Peter 1:2 uses the word “foreknow”—to know in advance. Christians are those whom God had foreknown, for those whom He foreknew, He has already preordained to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29-30).

It means that when Christ died for you, God had already foreknown it. He already knew your name. The gap in time makes no difference because you are in God’s purpose eternally, in the body of Christ. This is a wonderful doctrine of the Bible, not something that I made up. It is wonder­ful because it means that on the basis of God’s foreknowledge, He was able to prepare salvation for you. Can you see the whole picture now?

You have truly died, for Christ has died

When Christ, appointed by God to be the head of the body, died, you, as a member of that body in God’s eternal purposes, died with him and died genuinely. This dying is so complete that Paul speaks as a historical fact that you have been crucified with Christ. Paul makes an astonishing statement in Galatians 5:24:

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

You may ask, “In what sense have we died with Christ?” You have died with him in every sense because “died” simply means “died”. You have died not just spiritually but in the complete sense of that word. If my head gets a bullet, in what sense does my body die? Does it die spiritually when my head dies physically? Of course, my body dies in any sense that my head “dies”.

I can see from the expressions on your faces that you are having diffi­culties. But don’t be discouraged. Ponder about it. Your difficulty stems from the fact that you don’t understand what it means to be united with Christ as one body. So I need to leave you to ponder on what it means to be united with Christ.

In the past you used to say, “All that matters is that Christ died for me, so I have nothing more to do.” If you think like that, you have not under­stood what dying means, for you still think of dying as some process of the imagin­ation. The Word of God does not teach this at all. Remember, dying means that you have really and truly died.

Many Christians don’t understand Paul when they read him, yet they like to quote him. When they quote Galatians 2:20, I sometimes wonder if they really understand what they are quoting. In this verse Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” using the perfect tense: “I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Paul goes on to say in Galatians 6:14: “God forbid that I glory in any­thing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” I have become dead to the world, and the world is dead to me. Do these words mean anything to you? If they mean nothing to you, it is because you still have not understood what dying means in everyday life.

The old person enslaved to sin has died, the new person lives in God’s power

Now you might say, “Does dying mean that my personality has been wiped out, and now I am walking around like a puppet?” If you think like that, it is again because you haven’t understood what dying means. You would not have asked such a question if you have truly died with him, because you will have been raised with him and are living in the power of the new life. Your whole thinking has changed through “the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2); the new person has a new mind, the mind of Christ.

Paul says in Romans 6:6, “Our old self was crucified with Christ.” The term is literally “old man”; this old man enslaved to sin has died and is finished. It doesn’t mean that the old nature has been eradicated, for the old nature is rooted in the flesh, and the flesh is still with me in my body. That is what Paul says in Romans 7:18, “In my flesh there dwells no good thing,” and insofar as we still have the “flesh” at this moment, we have to continue to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit of God, and not live according to the flesh (Rom.8:13).

Saved only if we are dead to the world—a completely changed life

In conclusion we look again at a very important point. Jesus says in Mark 8:35 that if you die for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s, you will be saved. He is not simply talking about a martyr’s death. Few of us will ever have the chance of dying a martyr’s death because in this country, no matter how much you would like to be martyred, you will have a hard time finding anyone to shoot you. If martyrdom is the main issue, then very few people would be saved. You may say, “But the Bible does say that unless I lose my life for Christ, I cannot be saved. Come on, shoot me!” You can go up and down England, from north to south, but you won’t find anyone who is will­ing to shoot you. You will be pulling your hair because you cannot be saved.

Of course Jesus is not talking merely about martyrdom. It is in fact easier to die as a martyr than to live as a Christian. The everyday Christian life is so much harder than just being shot with a bullet. The martyrs who have died for Christ in their everyday lives have died far more truly than anyone who goes forward to be shot for Christ in a moment of hot blood.

We conclude our discussion on this very important theme of dying with Christ, being buried with Christ in baptism, and becoming a new person. I hope you will take it to heart because your salvation depends on it. If you let the words of Jesus in Mark 8:35 pass you by, it will cost you your eternal life! To have truly died means to have died in our everyday living. And what does this mean?

We know that death can happen suddenly. It is a reality for every person. One of these days, you will fall asleep never to rise again. If you die tonight, what will happen to your family? Or your job? Whom will your car or your house go to? What will happen to your business? If you have died, all these things will no longer be a concern to you, for they no longer have anything to do with you. What would your attitude be if you have truly died with Christ in regard to your car? Or your family? Or your house? If you have died with Christ, does the praise of man mean anything to you? Do the ambitions of this world mean anything to you?

If you have truly died with Christ, you will see the signs of this death in your way of thinking, in your whole conduct, and in your whole life. You will see that there is nothing imaginary about dying. You will understand what Paul means when he says, “I have been crucified to the world—dead to the world by the cross. I regard the world as a dead man would” (Gal. 6:14). That is because you are “in the world and yet not of that world.” Think of what this means. You are a person born from above, you are from above and not of this world. The Lord Jesus is saying, “Because you have died with me, your whole life will be revolutionized in regard to the world and everything in it.” Only then will you be saved.

That is the meaning of faith, for without faith you clearly cannot turn your back on the world. Saving faith is not just a matter of believing this and that, but a completely changed life in which you have died to this world.

Raised to a new life by God’s resurrection power

Having died to the world, you now experience Jesus’ resurrection by God’s power in your life. But if you have never experienced the resurrection power of God in your life, you can be sure that you are not a Christian that the Bible speaks of.

Have you experienced God’s power of resurrection? Have you truly been raised with Christ? Is this just a piece of fiction or imagination to you? Brothers and sisters, if you have not experienced this as a reality, you are still in your sins. This is seen in the very words of 1Corinthians 15:17,

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

If Christ has not been raised by God, we cannot be raised with him, and we are dead in our sins. Paul assumes that every true Christian is a person who has experienced the resurrection power of God.

Have you truly died? Only then will you know what it means to live.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church