Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we had the privilege of participating in the reception of a family into membership and the sacrament of baptism. I deliberately use the word “participating” rather than “observing” in an effort to remind us that all of the worship service is to be participatory. Even when it seems like we are passive observers, like during the sermon, our confession reminds us that we should employ careful listening (“conscionable hearing of the Word,” WCF 21.5). We are actively participating. And, so it is with the reception of new members and the sacrament of baptism.
One of the ways that we participate in receiving new members and the baptism of other people is by remembering our own vows of membership and the meaning of our own baptism. It’s sort of like when a married couple attends a wedding. In observing the vows that are taken by the newlyweds, those in attendance are reminded of their own wedding vows; and, they ought to consider ways that they may renew and recommit themselves to those vows which were made many years before.
Participating in the baptism of another person is sort of like that. For this reason, the Westminster Larger Catechism reminds us of when, and how, we are to improve our baptism:
WLC 167 How is our 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.
This catechism question exhorts us to “improve our baptism” (to work out the implications of our baptism in our daily lives): (1) all our life long; (2) especially in the time of temptation; and (3) when we are present at the administration of it to others.
Then, the catechism lists several ways as to how to we are to improve our baptism. For better understanding and application to our lives, I’ve broken these down and fleshed them out into five categories:
(1) We improve our baptism by serious and thankful consideration of…
- The nature of baptism: baptism symbolizes our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5), the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
- The ends for which Christ instituted baptism: baptism reminds us of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection by which we might walk in newness of life.
- The privileges and benefits conferred and sealed by baptism: baptism marks us as belonging to Christ and to His church.
- Our solemn vow made in our baptism: whether a person was baptized as an infant or upon profession of faith, believers have vowed to submit and follow Christ above all others.
(2) We improve our baptism by being humbled for:
- Our sinful defilement: we confess the remnants of corruption that still remains in us.
- Our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements: we confess our “passive” and “active” sins (“the want of conformity unto, and transgression of the law of God,” WSC 14; Romans 6:2).
(3) We improve our baptism by growing up into assurance of:
- Pardon of sin: baptism reminds us that through the resurrection of Christ, God has forgiven our sin. Just as Noah and his family were brought safely through the waters of God’s judgment in the ark, baptism reminds us that Christ died for our sins once for all, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18-22).
- All other blessings sealed to us in baptism: like circumcision of the old covenant, baptism is a sign and seal of the new covenant in which God promises to credit Christ’s righteousness to all those who believe and trust in Him (Romans 4:11-12).
(4) We improve our baptism by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized for (Romans 6:5-18):
- The mortifying of sin: by faith, we have been united to Christ in His death; therefore, we have died to sin and are no longer enslaved to it.
- The quickening of grace: by faith, we have been united to Christ in His resurrection; therefore, we have been made alive in Him and become slaves of righteousness.
(5) We improve our baptism by endeavoring to live by faith:
- To have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have given up our names to Christ: (the older definition of “conversation” is “conduct or behavior”) baptism symbolizes how, by faith in Christ, we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Thus, we are freed from sin and enslaved to God, resulting in our sanctification (Romans 6:22).
- To walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body: by one Spirit, we are baptized into one body, the body of Christ, the church. Therefore, we are to care for, suffer and rejoice with, other believers in the church body.
If I were to simplify the teaching of this catechism question (perhaps over-simplify it), I would boil it down to three points that we ought to remember about baptism, three points that will help us to work out the implications of our baptism in our daily lives:
(1) Baptism reminds us of God’s promise to forgive our sins, make us new creations, and give us eternal life.
(2) Baptism reminds us of that in order for us to receive and benefit from God’s promises made in baptism, we must place our faith in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
(3) Baptism reminds us that the Lord calls us, by the help of the promised Holy Spirit, to walk in newness of life – to die to sin and to live unto righteousness.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch