For most of you, the sacrament of Baptism was administered to you in your infancy. At that time you were all unaware of your baptism, that you were baptized, and the meaning and significance of your baptism. The Baptists suppose that this constitutes an objection to infant baptism. We Reformed deny the validity of this objection. As our Form For Baptism states, “And although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ . . . .”

Although at the time that you were baptized as infants you were altogether unaware of the meaning of your baptism, you must not remain unaware of its meaning. Through the instruction of your parents and the church, as well as your own study of these things, you must be made aware of the tremendous significance of your baptism. For your baptism is of the greatest significance. The event of your baptism, now many years ago, is an event that has the most important implications, not only for all of your earthly life, but for all eternity.

The first important significance of your baptism is that it marks you as a child of the covenant. The significance of your baptism is that it identifies you as one born in the church, as a member of the people of God. You are not a heathen who stands outside of the sphere of the church of God, and altogether apart from the knowledge of the gospel. The Heidelberg Catechism, in Q.A. 74, teaches that by baptism we are “distinguished from the children of unbelievers . . . . ” And the Belgic Confession, in Article 34, the article entitled “Of Holy Baptism,” states that by baptism we are “separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear . . . .”

Baptism is a mark of distinction. Just as circumcision in the Old Testament clearly identified one as an Israelite, distinguishing the people of God in the Old Testament from all the heathen nations about them, so baptism in the New Testament identifies those who have been baptized as belonging to the church. The baptized child is the child, not of unbelieving, but of believing parents. He will be instructed and trained, not in the world, but within the church.

In the second place, the significance of baptism is that it functions as a powerful means of grace. Baptism has power, tremendous, saving power. That power is that it is an instrument for the strengthening of our faith.

There are several Scripture passages which emphasize the saving power of baptism. The Apostle Peter writes in I Peter 3:21 that “baptism doth also now save us . . . .” Baptism functions in our lives in a saving way. In Acts 22 Paul records his conversion on the Damascus road and his subsequent call to be an apostle of Christ. In the passage he also recounts Ananias’ coming to him in Damascus and restoring his sight. In verse 16 he records the word of Ananias to himself immediately after his sight had been restored: “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” This verse teaches that baptism functions to wash away our sins. Again, baptism is of saving power. In Titus 3:5 we read, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Here baptism is called the “washing of regeneration.”

Baptism has saving power, of course, not because of some inherent power in the water of baptism, or because of some mystical power possessed by the minister who administers the baptism. The Heidelberg Catechism very clearly denies this in Q.A. 72: “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin.” The Belgic Confession states in Article 34, “Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God . . . . Therefore the ministers, on their part, administer the sacrament, and that which is visible, but our Lord giveth that which is signified by the sacrament.”

Baptism has saving power because God is pleased to use the sacrament as a means of grace and faith. The sacrament is not an empty ceremony, of no real value. But the sacrament is the means by which God is pleased to give us that which is signified by the sacrament. Baptism saves us because God uses the sacrament to give us the assurance of our salvation. Baptism washes away our sins because God uses the sacrament to assure us of the washing away of our sins: “. . . 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 . . .” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.A. 69). Baptism is the washing of regeneration because by means of the sacrament God gives believers the assurance of their regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

Always these are the great questions and the great struggles in the life of the believer. “Am I a saved child of God? Has Christ died for me? Are my sins washed away? Does the Holy Spirit live and work in my life?” And now baptism is a mighty means of God to give to the believer the assurance of his salvation and faith.

This is true, of course, only as we think about our baptism, contemplate and meditate on that baptism. Baptism isn’t some kind of automatic means of grace, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches. But we must think about our baptism, and we must consciously consider the great significance of our baptism. We must do this all our life long. Our baptism ought to be a means of grace to us our whole life. The Belgic Confession, in that same 34th article, says, “Neither doth this baptism only avail us, at the time when the water is poured upon us, and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life . . . .”

We ought to think about our baptism more than we do. In our times of doubt and despair, when the assurance of faith and salvation seem far away, when we are troubled by the guilt of our sins and the accusations of the devil, we ought to think about our baptism. At such times our baptism ought to be a powerful means of grace to us. Martin Luther tells us that when he was tormented with doubts and fears, he would often write two words on the table in front of him with chalk: “Baptizatus sum,” that is, “I have been baptized.” Often the reality of his baptism was the means of God to bring Luther out of his despair and give him the victory in his spiritual struggles. Our baptism ought to be the same for us.

The third significance of our baptism is that it constitutes a call to us to holiness of life. Since we have been baptized, we must walk as those who are baptized. As those who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God, we must live to the glory and praise of this God, and not to ourselves. Since baptism is a sign and seal of the washing away of our sins, we must not walk in sin, but we must hate and flee from our sins. Since we have received the sign and seal of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, we must live as those who are regenerated. Since we are holy, we must be holy.

It is this that the Form For Baptism calls our part in the covenant. “Whereas in all covenants, there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.”

Now it is exactly by refusing to walk in this holy way that the reprobate, carnal seed shows itself in the church. And when it does, that seed must be dealt with. That seed must not be allowed to remain in the church, comfortably at ease in Zion, trusting that they have been baptized and therefore they have nothing to worry about. But that carnal seed must be dealt with. It must be disciplined, and if there is no repentance, excommunicated.

But even then, they have been baptized. And that baptism is significant, significant forever and forever. It increases their guilt before God, and it increases their punishment in the condemnation of hell. On the great day of the judgment, and forever as they suffer in hell, the fact of their baptism will always be before them. And in the endless ages of hell, the pagans will point their fingers at the sons and daughters of the church who despised their baptism and trampled the blood of Jesus Christ under foot, and say to them, “You knew! You knew! You were baptized; you had the sign; you had believing parents; you had the instruction that we never had.” And forever their baptism will be a testimony against them.

But for the believer, for the believing young person, his baptism is a great comfort and a mighty encouragement. It is the great means of God in his life to distinguish him from the world, to give him the assurance of his salvation, and to incite him to holiness.