What does Paul mean when he talks about filling up that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ if there is no deficiency of merit in Christ's suffering? Christ, Who performs the perfect sacrifice once and for all, nevertheless calls His church to bear witness to His suffering until He returns, and there is still a measure of suffering that must take place in the history of redemption. This suffering will not add anything to Christ's merit. Our suffering doesn't atone for anybody's sin, certainly not for our own, but God's redemptive historical plan has to be finished, and that plan includes the afflictions of the people of God. Paul, being acutely conscious of that, spoke of his filling up the agenda of suffering, and you and I must do the same.
There is an authentic identification of God's people with Christ's humiliation and His exaltation, and that identification with Christ is signified by baptism. An individual's baptism says to the world, "I belong to Christ and He belongs to me." For this reason, the New Testament speaks of our being buried with Christ in baptism. Our baptism signifies our identity with Him in His humiliation and in His exaltation--in His suffering and in His resurrection.
Our Baptist friends are frequently critical of churches that practice infant baptism or those that baptize by sprinkling or dipping. They believe that the outward sign loses something when the church moves away from immersion because the immersion process more graphically communicates the sign of burial, going under the water, and resurrection, coming up out of the water. From an experiential viewpoint, I think they're right. It is more dramatic to go under and come up. Virtually all the churches that practice dipping and sprinkling took the position historically that the preferential mode of baptism was immersion. Even Calvin said that it was better to immerse than to sprinkle. I would say that as well today, though immersion is not required for baptism to be authentic.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity by R.C. Sproul.