A guest post by Bill Boekestein:
Press on under the Banner of Baptism!
The Christian life is a constant war. And our enemies—the devil, the flesh, and the world—never rest. Since the start of military conflicts, soldiers have found hope in their peoples’ flags as they waved through the ups and downs of war. One of the flags God gives us in our spiritual battle is holy baptism.
Martin Luther understood the Christian war. He daily fought pride, anger, and fear. He constantly felt the steamy breath of the old dragon who wanted to devour him. When Luther felt most defeated he would take a piece of chalk and write these Latin words on his desk: “BAPTIZATUS SUM.” I am baptized. Luther sets a good example for how all Christians should treasure this special gift.
How Should I Understand Baptism?
Baptism is a washing with water in the name of our triune God (Matt. 28:19). Like circumcision, which it fulfills (Gen. 17:7, 9–11; Col. 2:11–12), baptism is an outward ceremony that symbolizes and seals God’s covenant promise to be our God and make us His people. Baptism links proper recipients with God because “to be placed into the name of someone else is to be brought into a special, close relationship to him.” Water baptism is joined to a deeper reality of death and resurrection with Jesus. Those who were “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.… Certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3, 5). Baptism through Jesus’s resurrection saves us (1 Peter 3:21). The sprinkling of water is not salvation. But when baptism is energized by Christ’s resurrection, it is a vital link in the application of God’s grace. So baptism is God’s pledge to His people to rescue everyone who trusts in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Few orthodox Christians would have major disagreements over the how the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines baptism: “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”
The disagreement is over the proper recipients of baptism. The catechism’s short answer to the question “Who should be baptized?” is, every disciple of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a sign of entrance into God’s family. Clearly, professing and obedient “members of the visible church” should be baptized (e.g., Acts 2:41; 8:36, 38; 16:33; 18:8). The church should charitably receive the credible professions of her members and honor their right to baptism. After all, “the basis for baptism is not the assumption that someone is regenerate…but only the covenant of God.”
For this reason—that disciples of Christ should be baptized—the catechism also affirms that immature children of faithful church members are church members and should be baptized. Children taught to fear, love, and serve Jesus are disciples, those learning to be His followers. And as in the Old Testament they should be numbered among the faithful as the promise of the gospel is especially made to them (Acts 2:38–39). Inclusion in the covenant and reception of the sign of baptism never guarantees salvation; those who later prove to be false disciples, like Simon Magus, will be excluded (Acts 8:9–25). Covenant members, in fact, will be judged more strictly (Matt. 11:20–24). But membership in the visible church is a great blessing that we cannot deny to children whom God calls holy (1 Cor. 7:14). Infants are not “too small to be baptized,” because children are not outside of God’s plan of salvation.
Baptism is a physical act tied to a life-changing spiritual experience. It is one of the outward and ordinary means “to which Christ ordinarily binds himself in communicating his grace.” And it is of great use!
How Do We Use Baptism?
The Westminster Larger Catechism says that we must “improve” or use baptism by putting it into practice. We do so “all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others.”
Use Baptism to Accept God’s Covenant Promise
Through baptism God obliges us to “cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” to “trust in Him, and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength.” Like Old Testament circumcision, baptism is an irrevocable sign of the covenant in which God says, “I will…be God to you and your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:7; cf. Lev. 26:9–13). Baptism urges covenant members, young and old, to fulfill the vows of the covenant: believe God’s Word, humble yourself because of your sins, trust in Jesus for your righteousness, submit to God’s authority, and begin a new life as His child.
Use Baptism to Fight Temptation
Our baptism—a symbol of radical spiritual washing—reminds us that we are aliens to the world of sin; we don’t belong there! And baptized people have Christ’s hellish baptism—His torture for our sin (Mark 10:38)—as a further discouragement to sin. When we are tempted, and have even begun down the road of error, we can say, “Father, I am Your anointed child. You promised to wash away my sins and spilled Your Son’s blood to save me. Your Spirit wants to make me more like Jesus. I have no right to sin!” “Serious and thankful consideration” of baptism helps us fight sin.
Use Baptism to Grow in Assurance of Grace
Have you ever thought that God couldn’t love you, that maybe the gospel isn’t for you? Knowing we would wrestle with doubt, God gave an unquestionable sign of His promise to save all who call on Jesus’s name. Baptism is meant to promote confidence in God: “stability rather than instability, proof against doubt, a song of praise about the trustworthiness of God in contrast with the [deceitfulness] of man’s heart.… God uses these pledges of his mercy in the weakness of our faith.” “Wherever…there is a word of promise confirmed with a token, never fear a disappointment.”
Use Baptism to Walk in Brotherly Love
Every true baptism is a unifying ceremony (see Gal. 3:27–28). We should “walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.” Baptized people enjoy fellowship in the shared promises of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes our rebirth into God’s family. It is the most basic way of identifying our brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. Like circumcision, baptism is not only a sign of separation from the world but a sign of
connection with God’s people.
We too must heed Peter’s exhortation: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). As John Calvin put it, your baptism can be for you God’s banner, carried by Christ Himself. In that banner are displayed “all of the gifts of God,” which are “found in Christ alone.”
This post is adapted from Glorifying and Enjoying God: 52 Devotions through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, by William Boekestein, Jonathan Landry Cruse, and Andrew Miller.