More than A Sentiment (Means of Grace #4)
Imagine a castle, armed with two large and dangerous canons, under attack. One is fired regularly; the other sits idle. You ask about it; “Oh we fired it once—it works, but we keep it for ceremonial purposes.”
Yet often one of the canons for the defence of Man’s Soul lies idle. Or to change the metaphor, one of the fountains of grace has been badly blocked. Martin Luther saw it as one of his key weapons in his fight against temptation, chalking “Baptizatus Sum” (I have been Baptised) on the table.
Each baptism we see has potential to be an energy giving fountain of grace—the memory of it has potential even to scatter the tempting forces of Satan—yet we have sentimentalised it, turned it into a moment for thinking about how well the baby did.
Much ink has been spilled defining and defending whom we baptise, but how much thought have you given to how to benefit from your baptism? It is a warzone, but the war is with Satan, sin and death.
So how can you drink from this fountain of grace?
(NB—this is about how believers continue to benefit from their baptism (whether it happened as a child or an adult). How baptism is a means of grace to infants is another subject, as is the nature of baptism to those who have not professed faith.)
Grasp what Baptism Means
We need to grasp that baptism is a picture and a promise. It is a picture of belonging—God’s triune name was put on you, marking you out as his. It is also a picture of washing, of the cleansing God brings to the souls of his people. And it is a promise, a guarantee of the things pictured. He promises cleansing; he promises that we belong.
Believe what Baptism means
But its significance doesn’t end at the close of the baptism service—like my wife’s engagement ring didn’t lose its significance at the close of the marriage service—it has continuing significance.
How do we know baptism is still to have meaning in the life of the Christian? Because the New Testament writers treat it as having enduring significance for the Christian. They refer to baptism, not just historically as an event, but theologically, pointing out its permanent worth for Christian living.
There are at least three areas of on-going impact:
a) Believe that you Belong (Union with Christ)
Do you struggle with assurance? _Why would God want anything to do with me? I’m such a failure. I’m not as good as they are. They always seem to have their quiet time. They pray so well. _
The Gentile Christians in the churches of Galatia were made to feel like second class Christians. They didn’t come from the right background, didn’t keep the ceremonial laws. But look how Paul encourages them:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ…” (Gal 3:26,27)
The proof that they are all equally God’s adopted children is that they have been baptised into Christ. We so belong to Christ, that the New Testament talks about being baptised into his death and resurrection—that’s how much we belong.
For those of you who have trusted Christ—every time you see a baptism you are reminded that you belong to Christ. All that he did, you are counted as doing. As proof that you have been joined to Christ, the Triune God has put his name on you, the way children put their names on their books and clothes when they go to school.
Do you struggle with acceptance? Look to your baptism.
b) Believe you are forgiven
Baptism speaks of cleansing and forgiveness. Paul, the murderer of Christians, in Acts 22:16 recounts what God said to him on that third day after he realised everything he believed about Jesus was wrong:
“Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
Think of Paul—all he had done—that he could be forgiven! That’s what Paul is saying in Gal 3:27 “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”
All the sins of the past are covered over with Christ’s righteousness. Baptism reminds us, and guarantees it.
Here is the enduring significance—When Satan comes to you and casts up something you have done, in order to pull you down, to disable you, to haunt you, to make you feel unworthy, to weaken your resolve against temptation, say to yourself, “I have been baptised. I have been washed. I have been cleansed. I have been forgiven.”
Maybe you feel dirty because of sin that has been committed against you. Baptism is God’s picture and promise that you have been washed and cleansed.
c) Believe sin has no power over you
Baptism is also a picture and promise that we have been set free from the power of sin. In Romans 6, a passage ripe with the enduring significance of baptism, Paul draws a link between baptism, union with Christ, and the breaking of sin’s power, concluding, “For sin shall no longer be your master” (v14).
Satan cons us into believing we have to sin—every baptism is a reminder to you that you belong to another master, that resurrection life runs in our veins. It reminds us of the certainty that we can say no to temptation.
This is why Martin Luther called on his baptism when he was tempted. I have been baptised. I don’t belong to this old way of thinking. I am a new person. God’s name is on me. How can I drag his name through the dirt? I don’t have to! I won’t!
Here then are three truths to drink in deeply at each baptism:
- I belong
- I am forgiven
- I can obey
Keep on Believing Baptism’s significance
The Lord’s Supper comes around regularly in the Christian’s life. But we are baptised once. How then can baptism be of on-going benefit to us?
We participate in baptisms more regularly than we realise. Our problem is that we haven’t grasped that we are to participate!
The Larger Catechism Q167 tells is that our baptism is to be improved by us “all our life long,” in particular on two occasions: “especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others.”
When temptation comes remember that you are a baptised person. You securely belong to Christ. You have the resources of the Triune God to enable you to fight. Satan can't use guilt to pull you in deeper because you have been washed. Remember your baptism.
When you are present at the baptism of others, stand ready to drink from the fountain of grace—letting the words and actions of the minister point you to the promise of God. Hear the pronouncement of triune name of God and believe it pronounced over you—you belong. See the water poured, and believe you are made spotless in God’s sight—you are washed. Drink in the pictured promises by faith.
Don't let your baptism gather dust. Put it to use! And as you do you will find that you have a second canon, alongside the Lord’s Supper, to fire against the marauding forces of sin, temptation and guilt.