Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Yesterday, Morris and Carline were married and just a few weeks ago Jonathan and Rachel were also married. And each spouse has received from the other a wedding ring – a tangible keepsake to remind them of the fact that they are now married, and that each is loved by the other, and of the vows that have been made.
Well, sometimes we might wish that God would give us something tangible to take out and look at and be reminded of His love and His nearness. We do have lots of wonderful promises in the Bible, such as:
Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may
know that you have eternal life.”
Matthew 28:20, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
But wouldn’t it be nice to have something tangible, something physical thing, like a wedding ring, to remind us of who we are in Christ, and to help us live for him day by day?
Well, we do! It is your baptism. You see, the Bible teaches us that faith comes from and is strengthened by what are called THE MEANS OF GRACE; and these are the preaching of God’s Word and the sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God creates and strengthens faith through the preaching of the Word and He sustains faith by the right use of the sacraments.
Now, that it is easy to see in relation to preaching because we hear preaching every Sunday.
And the Lord’s Supper is something we also do regularly, so we can see how the Lord’s Supper sustains faith.
But our baptism? That only happens once. And for some of us, that happened when we were infants, as it has today with Evelyn. And Evelyn is utterly clueless about what has happened to her today. How can what has happened today be used of the Lord to strengthen the faith of a baptized person?
Indeed, as those who believe that it is right to baptize the children of believing parents, there is a danger that we can fall into the trap of thinking of our baptism as just a ceremony that happened long ago with no relevance and significance for daily Christian living. To think that, though, would be to make a great mistake – it would mean missing out on so much blessing that God means us to have through making good use of baptism.
So how then is baptism rightly used a means of grace? How is baptism a tangible, real thing that God has given us to ‘use’ as an aid for daily Christian living? Well, one of the historic, Reformed Catechisms calls this “IMPROVING OUR BAPTISM.” And this is not in any way to suggest that there is something lacking or deficient in our baptism that we can or must improve. It simply means to make daily use of, or to make the most of; it means thinking through and living out the meaning and implications of your baptism. Let’s read Q/A 167:
Westminster Larger Catechism: Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?
A. 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; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavouring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
And while the WLC goes into great detail about how we improve our baptism, the idea that baptism has lifelong benefits for believers is seen also in Article 34 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, where we read, “…Baptism benefits us not only when the water is on us and when we receive it, but throughout our whole life.”
Now, you will see from the second line of the WLC answer that an especially useful moment connected with improving our baptism is when we see others being baptized. So in the baptism of Evelyn, we have a God-given opportunity to think about our own baptism.
The first thing we must do, however, is to see that this idea of improving our baptism is A BIBLICAL IDEA. We have already referred to some confessional statements. But is it a biblical idea? For if we can see that it is a biblical idea, then we can consider the implications for those of us who have been baptized, including Evelyn, and for James and Laura, as Evelyn’s parents, and for the other parents among us.
So two points as we consider our text and the matter of Improving our Baptism.
I. And the first is that to improve your baptism is TO THINK ABOUT ITS MEANING.
A. In the first part of the Book of Romans, Paul explains and explores the gospel of salvation by grace alone, in Christ alone, which is received by faith alone. And as we come to ch. 6, he anticipates a question that might arise in his reader’s minds: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” In other words, if grace conquers our sin, shouldn’t we just sin more? More sin = more grace?
B. Well with v2, Paul provides a one line answer that amounts to – NO WAY! And then he continues from v3 onwards with an explanation of his one line answer. And what is noteworthy from his explanation, in terms of what we are thinking about today, is that it has baptism at its very heart. To answer this question, Paul expected his readers to think about their baptism and its meaning. In his mind, baptism was clearly very relevant for the ongoing spiritual health of his readers. So what he asks in v3, effectively, is “Don’t you remember what your baptism means?’ And that is a good question for each one of us to consider: Do you know what your baptism means? Do you deliberately remember your baptism and what it means? Do you understand that baptism is a tangible picture of the gospel? Paul says, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.” And the two particular parts of the meaning of baptism that we should remember are WASHING and UNION Let’s look at each of them:
1. The first is WASHING. And we consider this first because baptism is a washing.
a. Boys and girls, when you have been playing outside and it is dinner time, what do Mum or Dad usually tell you to do? They say, ‘Come inside and wash your hands.’ And this is because the only way to remove dirt is to wash it off with clean water.
b. Well, our spiritual problem is not dirt; it is sin. What baptism reminds us of is that we are dirty, defiled sinners from the moment of conception who need to be washed clean.
c. And just as dirt can only be washed away with water, sin can only be washed away by the blood of Jesus.
d. Baptism then is a tangible sign that just as water washes away dirt, physically and outwardly, so the blood of Jesus washes away sins, spiritually and inwardly.
e. So, if you are a believer, this means that as you were watching Evelyn being washed by water, you were being reminded by God you have been fully, totally, perfectly, completely, and thoroughly washed with the blood of Jesus! Those sins you committed during the week? Washed away by the blood of Jesus.
f. So, is this a useful thing to be reminded of? To dwell on? What a wonderful aid to faith!
2. But the second part of the meaning of baptism that we should remember is UNION. Paul says, “You have been baptized into Christ.”
a. At the moment of conversion, the moment of repentance and faith in Christ, you were unbreakably united with or joined to Jesus Christ. And baptism functions like a wedding ring; it is a tangible sign and seal of your union with Jesus Christ.
b. So this means that if you are a believer, as you watched Evelyn being baptized, you were being reminded by God that YOU ARE IN CHRIST. And here is the wonderful and powerful encouragement in that proclamation:
i. I have referred to wedding rings as a tangible reminder of the wedding day. The sad reality, though, is that because of sin, some marriages break.
ii. The wonderful thing about baptism, however, is that it is not about your commitment to God, but about God’s commitment to you! If it were about your commitment to God, well, you would have little reason for confidence and encouragement. And this is because your commitment and obedience and repentance, just like mine, are weak and frail. But God’s commitment to His people is unbreakable. What He begins in every believer, He will bring to completion, as Phil. 1:6 reminds us. The Lord Jesus will not lose one of all those that the Father has given Him, is what we are told in John 5:39.
c. Baptism then is a reminder that God has unbreakably joined you to Jesus Christ.
d. And is this also a helpful thing to be reminded of in this tangible way? It sure is!
So to improve your baptism is to remember that it means that your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus and that you are unbreakably joined to Jesus Christ.
Now, I know you will have a question here: What about Evelyn and other infants who have no idea what is happening to them in baptism? But I have to ask you to park that question for now. We will come back to it in our conclusion.
II. For now though, let’s consider the second part of improving our baptism, which is TO REMEMBER IT IN TIMES OF TEMPTATION.
A. Up until now, we have focused on the part of salvation called our justification. And justification is the one time declaration that God makes at the moment of conversion, which is that we are forgiven and made righteous in Christ. But another part of salvation is called our sanctification. And sanctification is a lifelong process; it is about battling sin and becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, each day. And baptism speaks powerfully also to our sanctification.
B. And we see this in v4-5. For we are told there that we were baptized with Christ “by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” So what does this mean?
1. Well, the ‘being raised from the dead’ and “resurrection” language immediately reminds us of the wonderful truth that our bodies will be physically raised from dead, just as Jesus’ body was raised from the dead. But the resurrection language used in these verses actually has to do with the here and now of the Christian life; our new spiritual condition as believers. The life we live in Christ is a life of resurrection power when it comes to resisting sin. That is what is meant by the reference to our walking “in newness of life,” in v4, and from v6, our “no longer being enslaved to sin,” which becomes the basis for the command of v12ff that we do not let sin reign in our mortal bodies.
a. If you were here last Sunday you will remember that we talked about the TWO REALMS in connection with 1 John 5:18: The lower realm is the realm of darkness, the dominion of the devil. Unbelieving men and women and young people and boys and girls live in that realm. Sin is all they know and all they can do – they are enslaved to sin. Believers though have been bought by the Spirit of Christ up into the realm of light, the kingdom of Christ. And in that realm they are able to choose not to sin.
2. Well, baptism is a sign and seal of that thrilling reality. If you are believer, then as you have witnessed Evelyn’s baptism, God has reminded you that you have the same power that raised Christ from the dead at work in you so that you can choose not to sin.
3. And we need to remember this especially at times of temptation. When the old master comes calling 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 the Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
a. This is what Martin Luther would do when he was tempted to sin – he would grab a piece of chalk and scrawl the words ‘baptizatus sum’ on his desk – ‘I am a baptized man.’ This was his tangible way of resisting the devil and reminding himself that because he had been “set free in Christ,” his freedom was to be used, not “as an opportunity for the flesh,” but to joyfully serve Christ and to love others.
So to improve your baptism is also to remember it in times of temptation.
But as we conclude, we need to make a couple of comments about all that has been said and the baptism of infants who are totally oblivious to what is being done to them.
1. And indeed, it is the fact that these infants are oblivious to what is being done to them that gives rise to our first observation, which is that THE BAPTISM OF INFANTS IN AND OF ITSELF IS A WONDERFUL PICTURE OF THE GOSPEL. Evelyn has not publicly professed faith in Christ. She did not ask to be baptized. Before she has consciously done anything good or evil, she has received the sign of the washing away of sins and union with Christ. And that is a beautiful picture of the gospel! For the gospel is that God saves undeserving sinners. If you look back at v10 of Romans 5, you will see that we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son “while we were enemies.” Salvation is God making alive those who are dead in their sins. Salvation is not a 50-50 partnership between God and us; salvation is all of God. So again, as you saw Evelyn baptized, God was reminding you that you contributed nothing to your salvation; it is all of grace!
2. But are we saying then that because Evelyn has been baptized that she has been washed by the blood of Jesus and united with Christ? DO WE BELIEVE IN SALVATION BY BAPTISM? Well, let me be very clear about this – NO we do not!
We are saved when we repent of our sins and believe that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And this is as true for Evelyn as it would be if an adult were being baptized today – baptism saves no one.
Evelyn has been received into the Christian church and set apart from the children of unbelievers. And she has been given the promise of God that if she repents of her sins and believes that Jesus died for the forgiveness of her sins, she shall be completely washed by the blood of Jesus and unbreakably united with Christ.
So your task, James and Laura, is to remind Evelyn of this very special day. You are to call on her to repent of her sins and believe that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of her sins.
And earlier in the service, we read Ephesians 6:1, where very young children are commanded to obey their parents “in the Lord.” And they are included among the “saints” that Paul addressed this letter to. So you are to call on Evelyn to improve her baptism by living as a baptized person. She is to trust in Christ, she is to deny herself, and she is to follow Christ in obedience and love.
And in this way, you will help Evelyn to improve her baptism.
Believer, if you want a tangible reminder that your sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ, and that you are unbreakably joined to Christ, and that in Christ you have the power to choose not to sin, you have it in your baptism. It is better than the shiniest wedding ring you can find. Use it. Amen.