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Lord’s Day 26

Question 69. How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?

Answer. Thus: that Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto 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.

Question 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

Answer. It is to receive of God the remission of sins freely, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us by His sacrifice upon the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.

Question 71. Where has Christ promised us that He will as certainly wash us by His blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?

Answer. In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.” This promise is also repeated, where the Scripture calls baptism the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins.

There are two Lord’s Days that treat the biblical teaching on the sacrament of baptism. This Lord’s Day looks positively at the meaning and purpose of baptism, and the next treats two common errors in the understanding of this sacrament.

The Institution of Baptism

Baptism is both a sign and a seal. As a sign, it represents something, namely, the washing away of sins, and as a seal it is the promise of Christ, to all who receive it in faith, that their sins are actually washed away. Baptism is an external and physical sign of an inward and spiritual reality.

This means that baptism is much more than a simple external ceremony. There is a difference. A ceremony is a man-made ritual or practice that often has important symbolic meaning. There are many such ceremonies that are a part of our tradition as churches. For example, at the end of a worship service, to express their agreement with the minister’s sermon, the elders will shake his hand. This is a good practice, symbolizing the work of the elders to take oversight of the preaching, and representing their approval of the Word that has been preached. But this ceremony, as important as it may seem to us, is not a sacrament. It is merely an external sign and a symbolic gesture. It is not commanded in Scripture, and the church can function without it.

The sacraments are much more than this. As a sacrament, baptism is a holy ordinance that Christ has commanded His church to practice continually till He comes again. Accompanying the practice of this sacrament is the promise of salvation to all who receive baptism with a believing heart.

Q&A 71 deals with the institution of baptism, that is, the scriptural authority and command for practicing baptism. There are four proofs given from Scripture to demonstrate not only that Christ commanded baptism to be practiced, but also to show that baptism has a deeper spiritual significance for believers.

The first is the “Great Commission” passage of Matthew 28:18-20. In these verses the church is commissioned, among other things, to administer baptism in the name of the triune God. Even though baptism was a ceremony administered prior to this by John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus, it is this specific command of Jesus, and the subsequent practice of baptism in the New Testament church, that make it a sacrament. Baptism in the name of the triune God is the promise from God that He receives us into covenant fellowship with Himself.

The second verse quoted is Mark 16:16, which is also a part of the “Great Commission”: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This verse emphasizes two things: 1) that all who are believers should receive the sacrament of baptism and 2) that baptism includes a promise, not to all recipients, but to all who receive the sacrament by faith.

The third verse quoted is Titus 3:5, which connects the sacrament of baptism, the external “washing,” with regeneration, the inward spiritual reality. This certainly does not mean that all who receive baptism are regenerated by water baptism. Rather, because in regeneration God performs an invisible and hidden work by His Holy Spirit, He has added the sacrament as a visible symbol.

The fourth verse quoted is Acts 22:16, which calls baptism, “the washing away of sins.” These words again emphasize that baptism is much more than an external sign; they prove that baptism is a “seal” and “promise” of forgiveness to all who “call on the name of the Lord.”

The Meaning of Baptism

Q&A 69 explains the external sign of baptism and Q&A 70 explains the spiritual meaning of baptism.

The external sign of baptism is the application of water to the body. Water has many different uses, one of which is washing. Every day we use water to wash our bodies clean. This symbolism of washing with water was not something newly introduced by Jesus, but was, in fact, a part of many Old Testament ceremonies in which water (or in some instances blood) was sprinkled as a sign that the object being sprinkled was purified (Lev. 16:15; Num. 8:7; Ezek. 36:25).

These sprinklings demonstrate that the amount of water to be used in baptism, whether a tub full in which a person is immersed or a small amount sprinkled on a person, is not all that important. A sprinkling of water, as we practice in infant baptism, is sufficient as a sign of baptism. Baptists will appeal to the words of Romans 6:4, “buried with him in baptism,” as proof that immersion is the proper mode of baptism. This passage, however, is not talking about the mode of baptism, but rather its spiritual meaning. The verse does not speak of “immersion” but of burial, and Jesus was not buried in water but in the earth. The reality is that we, through baptism and by faith, are united with Christ in His burial. His death and burial were for us. Besides, the book of Hebrews calls our washing by the blood of Christ a sprinkling (Heb. 9:13-14; Heb. 10:22).

Baptism symbolizes the spiritual reality of being washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ (Q&A 70). That is, baptism points to both our justification and our sanctification.

By the shedding of His blood Christ paid the full price for our sins. As our Mediator, Christ bore the full weight of our sins and in His death became the substitute for us. Our sins deserve eternal death, and the guilt of these sins was charged to Christ so that God’s curse fell on Him instead of us. His blood, which represents His death, cleared us of any liability to pay the price for our sins, and so brings forgiveness and the right to eternal life to us.

This salvation comes to us personally through the Spirit of Christ in regeneration. At the moment of regeneration, the child of God is immediately justified and washed of the guilt of all his sins. Yet the “washing” of regeneration also includes two other important elements.

First, in an instant, we are made new creatures (John 3:3). This renewal gives us the ability to believe on Jesus Christ; it brings us to a knowledge of our need of Jesus Christ; it causes us to repent of all our sins, and through it we become partakers of Jesus Christ and all His benefits. Second, this washing of the Holy Spirit begins in us the lifelong work of sanctification, so that sin dies in us more and more and so that there is continual growth in godliness.

In other words, the Spirit’s work of washing us from sin takes place in the heart and life of the believer every day of his life. Just as we need to use water each day to wash our bodies of filth, so every day we need to be washed of the guilt and power of our sins by the work of the Holy Spirit. When we understand this, then we see that our baptism is important for us every day of our lives.

In baptism, Christ also teaches us that we are a part of His body, the church. In the administration of baptism, even to infants, the recipient becomes a member of the church of Jesus Christ. This is true institutionally. Just as circumcision identified those who were members of the nation of Israel, so through baptism a person officially becomes a member of the visible church of Jesus Christ. However, this also points to the greater spiritual reality of being united, not just to Christ, but to all the other members of His spiritual body, the church (I Cor. 12:13). Our baptism, then, should remind us of our place as members of the body of Christ, and the important calling we have to serve the other members of that body (John 13:13-15).

The Assurance of Baptism

The purpose of baptism is our assurance. Assurance is an inward and personal confidence that I am indeed united to Christ, forgiven all my sins, and bound for heaven. Jesus gives us the sacraments, particularly now baptism, because He wants every elect believer to have this assurance. There are three things, in baptism, that bring this assurance.

First, baptism points us to Christ and His finished work. This is emphasized in the catechism. With respect to ourselves, baptism calls us to confession of and repentance over sin. Baptism directs our focus away from ourselves and to Jesus Christ and His completed work for us on the cross. Assurance can only come when, in faith, we live in complete dependence on what Christ has accomplished for us (Phil. 3:7-10).

Second, baptism is a promise added to the gospel. Because Jesus knows the weakness of our faith, and because he knows how earthy we are, He adds to the Word of the gospel an external sign that we can see and experience with our senses. Just as a bride-to-be receives a ring as a promise of the love of her fiancé, so baptism is a visible promise to us of Christ’s love and saving work.

Third, in baptism we are passive. The water of baptism is not something we produce, or that we apply to ourselves. Rather, in baptism the water is applied to us by a minister of the Word, who represents and acts in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ. This is one part of the importance of the baptism of infants born in the covenant. A child of believers is born in sin, and before that child has consciously done anything good or evil, he/she receives the sign of the washing away of sin in baptism. As we observe the baptism of infants, we should remind ourselves that we are saved as dead sinners, who have contributed nothing to our salvation.

The assurance of baptism comes only to those who receive it with a believing heart. Does baptism mean something also for the unbeliever and the impenitent who have received the outward sign? Yes, it calls them to repentance, and it shows them that so long as they go on in sin, they stand exposed to the wrath of God.

Questions for Discussion

1. How is a sacrament different than a ceremony?

2. Why does the Heidelberg Catechism emphasize the “promise” that accompanies baptism?

3. Is the promise of baptism for every recipient?

4. What does the water of baptism represent?

5. What does it mean to be cleansed by the blood of Christ?

6. What does it mean to be cleansed by the Spirit of Christ?

7. Is a person renewed by the Spirit of Christ at the moment he/she is baptized? Can you give biblical proof for your answer?

8. Is sprinkling an acceptable mode of baptism? Can you demonstrate this from Scripture?

9. Since an infant is not even aware of what is happening in his/her baptism, what good is it to him/her?

10. Of what does your baptism assure you?

11. How can the baptism of others be an assurance to you?

12. How, in our lives, should we show that we have been cleansed by the blood and Spirit of Christ?