Washed by the Blood
Analogies can be beneficial rhetorical devices. They can help us understand something by relating two things together so that our minds make the connection to something new by looking at something that we already understand. However, there is a danger that can arise when using an analogy. The danger is that we take the analogy too far and forget the differences between the subjects of the analogy. An analogy by its very nature involves looking at the similarities between two or more things but the differences are just as significant. This week as we continue to look at the subject of baptism, we will focus on the differences in the analogy and the importance of not taking the analogy too far. My hope and prayer is that through this study you will come to a closer knowledge and understanding of Christ and his grace.
Question # 72
I started today by talking about analogies and their limitations because it is the focus of the first question we are going to look at today. The question asks;
"Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?"
In this question, we see the catechism writers anticipating the potential errors of the analogy they gave in a previous question. If you recall question 69 asked why are we admonished to be baptized. This question was answered by that baptism is an analogy or simple of what has taken place on the inside. That just as I am washed by water so that the dirt and grime of the day are washed away, so by the blood of Christ and the washing of the Spirit, are all my sins cleaned away. This is a good analogy and a scriptural one, but we have a tendency to forget the distinction between the symbol and what it demonstrates. So the catechism asks is it the water that makes you clean? It answers in the definite negative.
"Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin."
Water cannot wash away sin. Baptism has no power to save. It is not some magic ritual that when done in just the right way takes away your sin. It is Christ alone that takes away our sin through his blood on the cross. John tells us in his first letter that when we are walking in the light, that is walking in the truth of the gospel, then we are cleansed by the blood of the Son (1 John 1:7). Baptism is important, but it is not what brings us to salvation or takes away our sin. That can only ever be Christ.
Why the Analogy?
The catechism continues the logic of the topic by looking at why the bible sometimes uses language that looks like baptism washes away sin. Passages like Mark 16:16 and 1 Peter 3:21 seem to indicate that baptism is part of what is required for salvation. But this is to miss the context of those verses and to miss the clear teaching of scripture on the subject. For example in the passage in 1 Peter, the apostle is talking about how Noah and his family were saved by God through the flood. That is that when the flood came they were kept alive by being brought through the water. Noah was not saved by the flood or by going through it, God saved him. The analogy teaches us that our sin is terrible and must be cleansed before we can be free of it. This is not the only analogy that is used, even in the analogy of washing, we talk of death and resurrection, of being united with Christ in his death so that we might be united with him in his resurrected life. The analogy can teach us a wonderful truth about the work of Christ. That through the washing of his precious blood we are made truly clean.
We do not get baptized in order to be saved or to have our sins washed away. We get baptized to give witness to the truth that this has already happened by the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit. It is a wonderful celebration of a sinner being named a child of God. Sinclair Ferguson talks about it as a naming celebration where we put off the name of the old man, Adam, and take up the new name of Christ. We are no longer under the condemnation of Adam but under the grace of Christ. Since our birth, we have carried the name of Adam and been under the curse brought about by his sin. But when we are brought to Christ, we are freed from Adam. We are adopted by the Father and made his own. Baptism is not the adoption, it is the party that takes place after that tells everyone I am a part of the family of God now.
Soli Deo Gloria