"THAT FORM OF DOCTRINE"
(Romans  6:17)
Written by Ron Hutchison

In Romans 6:17 Paul wrote about the Roman Christians having obeyed "that form of doctrine to which you have been delivered." Although this passage was written to people who had already been born from above, he is speaking of something that happened in their past. In their obedience to Christ, they had "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine."  The word "form" refers to a pattern. There was a doctrine that served as a pattern for the Romans. Their obedience to that pattern or form of doctrine resulted in them no longer being "slaves (bondslaves) of sin" (Romans 6:18).

What had they obeyed?  They had obeyed the gospel (Romans 1:16). What was it about the gospel that served as a pattern for the obedience of the Romans?

Paul wrote, "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you; unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures..." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Emphasis mine RH). In this passage Paul teaches that the principle parts of the gospel of Christ are His death, burial and resurrection. These great truths constitute the foundation upon which Christianity is built; the substance upon which the great superstructure of Christianity stands.

So what must a sinner do if he is to obey that form of doctrine? In his obedience he must follow the pattern of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He must do what Jesus did:
1. He must die.
2. He must be buried.
3. He must be resurrected.

In order to follow the pattern a sinner must die. He must die to his sinful way of life.  The sinner dies to sin when he makes up his mind that he will forsake sin. When does that happen?  At the point of repentance.  One repents of sin when he comes to a knowledge of sin and salvation by studying the word of God (Romans 10:17).  The faith that is produced by the word of God causes one to realize his need to obey Christ. The word repent means "to change one's mind" (Thayer).  When the sinner makes up his mind that he will forsake sin, he dies to sin.  The death required by "that form of doctrine" takes place at the point when the sinner repents of his sins. The Roman Christians had died to sin (Romans 6:1-2). They had died to sin in the likeness of Jesus' death. As Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, so we must die to our sins according to the Scriptures.

When is the sinner buried? Jesus was buried after He died.  The Romans had died to sin when they repented of their sins. When were they buried? Paul tells the Romans that they were "buried with Him (Christ) through baptism into death..." (Romans 6:3-4). So the burial took place "through baptism" (immersion).  Paul told the Colossians that they were "buried with Him (Christ) in baptism..." (Colossians 2:12). So baptism (immersion in water) is the means by which the sinner is buried.

What followed the death and burial of Christ? His resurrection.  When is the sinner resurrected? Paul tells us in Colossians 2:12,  "buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."  The resurrection of the sinner takes place "in baptism" (immersion). Paul told the Romans, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).  Paul teaches that when one is baptized (immersed in water) he is raised from the dead "just as Christ" was raised from the dead.  

What follows the resurrection? Newness of life.  Look at Romans 6:4 again, "...Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."  What happens when the sinner is baptized (immersed)?  He is raised from the grave of water to walk in newness of life.  Newness of life takes place at the resurrection! Why newness of life? Let Paul answer in Colossians 2:12-13: "...buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." When was Christ made alive? At His resurrection. When is a sinner made alive? At his resurrection.  Why can the sinner walk in newness of life when he is made alive at his resurrection? Because he has been forgiven of all his trespasses (sins). 

Thus, in the sinners obedience to the gospel, he is united together in the likeness of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:5). He thus obeys from the heart "that form of doctrine."  

This truth is so simple, yet so profound. It is in the act of being immersed in water that the sinner pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul makes clear that one is set free from sin when he is immersed in water: "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). The freedom from sin took place when the Romans had "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine." They obeyed "that form of doctrine" when they were baptized (immersed). Thus, the sinner receives forgiveness of sins when he dies to sin, is buried and resurrected in the likeness of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection which takes place in the acts of repentance and baptism (immersion in water).   This is no doubt why Peter told sinners on Pentecost day, "...Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38).

This is why one must conclude that any substitute for immersion as the means of baptism cannot be acceptable. One cannot be "buried with Christ" by sprinkling or pouring water on one's person. The only way one can be "buried with Christ" is in an actual burial. That can only take place by immersion in water. Scriptural baptism requires "much water" (John 3:23). Sprinkling and pouring does not.

If we can assist you in your study of baptism or any other Bible subject, please contact us at the email address on the main page. (See also, The Place of Baptism in God's Plan of Salvation)