In our last post, we talked about the importance of the sacraments as ordinary means of grace. Where when we come together as the church and act in obedience to Christ's commands he uses that to grow us in sanctification. He transforms us by degrees into his own image. It is not that the sacraments or any other practices give grace in and of themselves but that it is through these means that God has chosen to work. There are lots of ways that God has chosen to work. He speaks to us through his scripture, He comforts us in prayer, and he builds us up in the church. Some of this we understand, such as the fact that the more we study scripture, the more it changes us. It is not that the act of study itself does anything, many have studied and known the text of scripture without ever finding Christ. But when we study scripture, seeking to find Christ and to obey all that he has commanded, God uses his word to change us. Since we have been talking about sacraments and their importance, it would be good to take the time to look at each sacrament individually.
Question # 69
The question of baptism is an important one and is one of the main differences we as Baptists have between other Protestant denominations. But even in those differences, there is a lot of common ground. That common ground can be seen in the question we have today. It asks;
"How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?"
"Like this: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding to it this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away."
It is commonly said among protestants that Baptism is the outward symbol of what has happened internally. This is what is being said here. To understand a little further we need to look at what the word Baptism means. In Greek, the word is baptisma which means literally to dip or to sink. It is the word used for washing or to make clean. To baptize something is to wash it. Here we get a picture of a sink full of water where we put our dirty dishes and wash them and when they come out they are clean and ready to be used for a new purpose. The Catechism is acknowledging this when it says that Christ took this external washing, this practice of being immersed in the water, and added something to it.
John's Baptism and Christ's Baptism
When we study scripture we find that John the Baptist is baptizing people long before Jesus comes into the picture. He is preaching a baptism of repentance, where the person is symbolically washed clean of their sin. Some people have argued that this baptism is fundamentally different from what Jesus commands his followers to do, but the two are intimately connected. Christ takes what John was doing and adds to it. What was looked forward to in John's baptism is fulfilled in Christ and witnessed to in Christ's baptism. It is a symbol of the work of Christ on the cross. On the cross, Christ's blood is poured out to wash away the debt of sin. He paid the death penalty owed for the sins of all who by faith come to Christ. When we are baptized we are showing that we believe this to be true for us. Not that we have done anything to earn it, but that by God's grace, we have been united to Christ in his death and united to him in new life. No one can earn the right to be baptized, nothing that we do can ever make us worthy of baptism, it is only the work of Christ on the cross that makes us able to come to him in baptism.
There is a lot more to talk about on the subject of baptism and the Heidelberg Catechism spends the next five questions going over the topic. In these, we will start to see the differences between what we as Baptists believe and what other denominations believe. For now, I want to leave you with this. If you have been baptized, I pray that you remember that time as a sweet memory. That when you see others baptized you would rejoice with them, for God is doing a great work in their lives. It is our responsibility as the church to come alongside the people we baptize and to continue to build them up. Those we baptize we take responsibility for, to disciple them into all that Christ has commanded.
Soli Deo Gloria