Do you ever wish God would give you something like a keepsake? Something to take out and look at and be reminded of his love and his nearness? Something to help you live for him day by day? Something to reassure you that you’re never really without him?
Well here’s the thing – that’s exactly what he has given to his people! It’s your baptism. How much time do you spend on an average day thinking about your baptism? Listen to these stirring words of Thomas Houston (a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in Belfast) in 1876: ‘There is no condition or event or circumstance of human life, in which the baptized may not draw from the covenant of their infancy motives for godly living—for Christian activity, support, and consolation… The whole life of faith may be promoted by a due consideration of the baptismal engagement… all the duties of our holy religion will be more faithfully and vigorously performed when viewed in connection with the baptismal engagement, as all spiritual privileges will be thereby enhanced.’ (Christian Baptism, p.170)
That’s a pretty big claim! Listen to what the Westminster Larger Catechism says on the subject in Q.167: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others. Improving your baptism means making good use of it. It means thinking through and living out the meaning and implications of our baptism. There is a great danger that we who practise the baptism of covenant children may fall into the trap of thinking of our baptism as just ceremony that happened long ago with no present abiding relevance to us. That is a great mistake – we are missing out on so much blessing that God means us to have through making good use of baptism.
Nor was this a belief peculiar to the Westminster Divines. The 1559 French Confession, in article 35 states: ‘…although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification.’ Similarly the Belgic Confession (1561) says in article 34: ‘…Baptism does not only avail us at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.’
Matthew Henry wrote: ‘If infant baptism were more conscientiously improved, it would be less disputed.’ If we who practise it don’t appreciate and receive the benefit of it for our spiritual health, can we really be surprised if we find it hard to persuade anyone else of its spiritual value?
But even if Thomas Houston and these Reformed Confessions speak of the importance of improving our baptism, is it a biblical idea? Absolutely. Here are just 3 ways Scripture says we should make good use of our baptism…
- Think about its Meaning
It’s clear from Rom 6.3-5 that Paul expected his readers to think about their baptism and its meaning. It clearly had a present, ongoing relevance to their spiritual health. He is effectively saying ‘Don’t you remember what your baptism means?’
Do you know what your baptism means? Do you understand that baptism is a picture of the gospel? It tells us that we are dirty, defiled sinners from the moment of conception. It tells us we need to be washed, but wonderfully it also reassures us that we can be washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
At its heart, baptism is a sign and seal of union with Jesus Christ. Rom 6.3 says we were ‘baptized into Jesus Christ’. When God saves someone he is joined to Jesus Christ. Just as Christ died and rose again, so in him we die and rise to new spiritual life.
Baptism is not a sign of our repentance or our personal commitment to Jesus Christ – it is a sign and seal of God’s commitment to us.
- Remember it in times of temptation
This is the use Paul especially makes of baptism in Rom 6.4. We were baptized into Jesus Christ – we were united to the Son of God in his death for sin. We died in him to sin and have been raised to new spiritual life. That abusive, destructive marriage between us and sin is now finished – not because we got a divorce or a separation order, but because we died to sin. Baptism is a sign and seal of that thrilling reality.
We need to remember this especially at times of temptation. When the old master comes callling us back and promising all kinds of pleasures and satisfaction we need to remember our baptism and say, ‘No – I have been baptized into Jesus Christ. I died to sin in him. I have been raised to life in Jesus Christ – I don’t have to give in to temptation. I belong to God the Father, Son and Spirit.’ This is what Martin Luther used to do when he was tempted – he would grab a piece of chalk and scrawl the words ‘baptizatus sum’ on his desk – ‘I have been baptized.’
- Cultivate the Unity of the Church
This is Paul’s point in 1 Cor 12.12-13. We have all been baptized into one body. We are not just united to Jesus Christ when we become Christians – we are also united to everyone else who is united to him.
So we make good use of our baptism by working hard to preserve and cultivate the unity of the church. Whatever different shades of belief or temperament there may be among us, we were all baptized into one body. We all belong to Christ and so we all belong to one another.
- So there is no place for quarrelling with other Christians, or bearing grudges for weeks or months or even years on end.
- So we should pursue biblical catholicity. We should ask ourselves regularly how we can foster closer ties with other Christians baptized in same Spirit into same body, even if they don’t belong to our particular group.
- So we should strive to be peacemakers whenever we have opportunity.
As Luther put it in his Large Catechism: ‘Every Christian has enough to learn and to practise all his life in regard to baptism… There is no greater jewel than baptism for adorning our body and soul, for through it we become perfectly holy and are completely saved.’