Lord's Day 27
72. Q. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?
A. No, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.
73. Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?
A. God speaks in this way for a good reason.
He wants to teach us
that the blood and Spirit of Christ
remove our sins
just as water takes away
dirt from the body.
But, even more important,
He wants to assure us
by this divine pledge and sign
that we are
as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually
as we are bodily washed with water.
74. Q. Should infants, too, be baptized?
Infants as well as adults
belong to God's covenant and congregation.
Through Christ's blood
the redemption from sin
and the Holy Spirit, who works faith,
are promised to them
no less than to adults.
Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant,
they must be grafted into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.
This was done in the old covenant by circumcision,
in place of which baptism was instituted
in the new covenant.
Theme: Christ has us baptized in order that we may be saved.
Read: Genesis 17:1-14; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12
Text: Lord's Day 27
Songs: (from Book of Praise, Ango-Genevan Psalter)
Ps 71:3,9,10 (opening)
Ps 33:1 (after creed)
Ps 105:2,3,4 (after offertory)
Ps 22:4,11 (after sermon)
Hy 39:1,2,3 (closing)
Date: Preached by Rev. Richard Pot, October 12, 1997
Location: Canadian Reformed Church of Orangeville, Ontario
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
So you've been baptized. Although the water has dried from your forehead long ago, and that day of baptism may have been long ago, for most of us the fact remains true: you've been baptized. In many cases you may even have a baptism certificate to prove it. Perhaps the children can even ask their parents after church to see their baptism certificate. And then you'll see on that baptism certificate your name, your parents' names, the date you were baptized, and the signature of the minister.
But now what does it really mean that you have that baptism certificate? That you've been baptized? Big deal - someone might say - what does it mean for you? How are you different from an unbeliever, just because you've been baptized? That baptism certificate - is that a free pass into heaven?
Those are important questions. And in the course of history, there has been a great deal of confusion, many misunderstandings, about baptism, about the connection between baptism and salvation. Sometimes such questions even led to church conflicts. In fact, our very identity as Canadian Reformed Churches, is linked very closely to a dispute about baptism at the time of the Liberation just over 50 years ago. Which again raises the question with all the more urgency: What is the connection between baptism and salvation? How are you different from an unbeliever, just because you've been baptized?
In the face of such questions. In the face also of the many misunderstandings about baptism, is very important for us to turn to Scripture. To have a Scriptural understanding of baptism. For the real solution to these questions is found only in a solidly Scriptural understanding of the covenant. That's what we need to understand baptism properly. And then we'll realize that baptism doesn't seal something in us. Rather: it seals the promise of salvation. A promise that is not automatic, but that we must accept in true faith.
I proclaim to you God's Word, as summarized and confessed by the church in Lord's Day 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism, about the connection between baptism and salvation with the theme:
Christ has us baptized in order that we may be saved.
1. Who must be baptized?
2. Who will be saved?
1. Who must be baptized?
Although the New Testament tells us a great deal about baptism, to understand baptism properly we must in fact turn not to the New Testament, but the Old. For baptism has its roots in the covenant of grace, as revealed to Abram in the sacrament of circumcision. And so it is to circumcision, then, that we must turn if we want to understand baptism properly.
And so it is that we turn to Genesis 17. It is in Genesis 17 that we read about circumcision for the first time. And there it is that God establishes his covenant with Abram. verse 2 "And I will make my covenant between me and you." verse 7 "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant. It's very clear to us all: God makes a covenant with Abram.
But what then does this covenant mean? Well that becomes clear when we read the last part of verse 7. "I establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant," the Lord says "to be God to you and to your descendants after you." That's what the covenant means: God is Abram's God, and Abram is God's child. At bottom, the content of the covenant comes down to this: I will be your God, you will be my child.
The full significance of this covenant only begins to dawn on us when we recall the way things are with mankind. In the beginning, mankind decided not to serve the Lord, decided not to be a child of God. In fact, with the fall into sin mankind joined himself to Satan. He broke that bond and communion with God. He became a child of Satan, a child of wrath. Now the amazing thing is that in His covenant God intervenes. God says: "By nature you belong to Satan, yes. By nature you are a child of the devil, you are to leave the Garden of Eden, you are to go straight out, right past the tree of life, you are to be out of my presence, you are to die. But, says God in His covenant, You are to be different. I declare that you are mine. I make you an heir of life. I give you the promise of life." That's really what all those promises meant: the promise of the land of Canaan, the promise of a great nation: it comes down to this: God gave Abram the promise of life, the promise of salvation.
Having given to Abram this wonderfully rich promise, God did not want Abram to question whether God meant what He really said. Abram was simply to believe. Abram was simply to take God for His Word. Yet God knew that Abram was weak. Even Abram? Yes even Abram, would have to struggle with doubt. Doubting the Word of God, terrible, yes, but a fact in the life of a sinful believer. And that, God did not want. And so, knowing Abram's weakness, God gave him a sign. A sign to remind Abram of what God had said, a sign to remind Abram that God really meant what He said, a sign to remind Abram that the promise of salvation was really for him, a sign to remind Abram that he was different - circumcision. Verse 11 "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you."
And so there could be no room for doubt. Always, wherever he went, Abram would carry in his own body the sign of God's promise. The sign and seal that God had promised salvation to him. It was a constant reminder, yes, Abram, you're not dreaming, it's really true, that promise of the covenant is really for you.
But this promise was not just given to Abram. No! It's also given to Abram's children! Verse 7 "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you." They too had the promise of salvation. They too were to be different. They, too, were not to doubt the word of God's promise. Small wonder, then, that God required that they, too, bear the mark, the sign of God's promise. All the males in Abram's house, children also, as soon as they were 8 days old, were to be circumcized, were to receive the sign and seal of God's covenant, were to be marked as different.
How about baptism them? In Colossians 2, Paul calls baptism "the circumcision of Christ." And so circumcision, which distinguished the children of believers from those of unbelievers, which marked them as different, was replaced by baptism. But the content is the same. In baptism, believers and their children are to be marked with the sign of the covenant. That is, they are to be baptized, they are to be washed with water, so that they might know that God says also to them: "You are mine. You are my child. You were a child of Satan, but I give you the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ, I give you life. Yes, you are to be marked as different."
That this is indeed the case, that baptism has the same content as circumcision, is confirmed when we consider the rest of the New Testament. In Acts 2:38, Peter told the Jews to repent and be baptized. Why do they have to be baptized? Well, baptism seals that promise of life, the promise of salvation in Christ, the promise of the covenant. "For, Peter goes on in verse 39, which means: Here's the reason why you should be baptized, for the promise is to you and to your children...." Who then are to be baptized? All those to whom God's covenant promise of salvation comes. Who does that promise of salvation come to? It comes to believers and their children. To those who believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, God Himself comes and says "I am your God. You are mine, you and your children. To you I give the promise of salvation, of life." And so you must be baptised.
Baptism, then, is grounded in the promise of the covenant. That's important to remember. Very important. For it means that yes, even the little children must be baptized. God gives His promise also to them. That's why in 1Corinthians 7:14 Paul calls the children of believers "holy". And that's why parents who present their child for baptism must confess that their child is "sanctified in Christ". "Sanctified in Christ." That doesn't mean regenerated. It doesn't mean saved. But it means this: the promise of salvation in Christ is also given to them. They are different.
That's why Christ was also concerned with the children. Yes, boys, and girls, with you. The disciples thought that Jesus was much too important, much too busy to be bothered with small children. But when mothers brought children to Jesus, when the disciples tried to send them away, the Lord Jesus said: no! No, disciples, you are hindering my work! My work is also for the little children! To such also, belongs the kingdom of heaven - the promise of life is also for them (Matt 19:14).
Who must be baptized? Who must receive the sign of the covenant? Who must be washed with water? Who must receive the sign and seal of the promise of salvation in Christ? It's very simple: all those to whom this promise is given. All those to whom God says: "You are mine. To you I give the promise of salvation, you are to be different." And since this promise is given to believers and to their children, they must be baptized. They must be baptized: it's not an option, it is a command of God.
2. Who will be saved?
So, you've been baptised. What now is the connection between baptism and salvation? You're baptized - does that mean you will be saved? To answer that, let's turn to that second Scripture passage we read together, 1 Corinthians 10. There Paul makes a comparison between the Corinthians, and the Israelites whom God brought out of Egypt. For the Israelites were no ordinary people. No, they were different. They were different not because they were better or worse than the nations, but different simply because God had said about them: You are my people. And so they were the people to whom God had given the promise of salvation, the promise of entering the land of Canaan. Yes, Israel were the people of the promises.
And those promises were given to all of them. The land of Canaan, was a promise for all of them. Notice that the word "all" occurs in those few verses of 1Cor 10 no less than 5x. It's emphasized. They were all under the cloud. They all passed through the sea. They all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same supernatural food. They all drank the same supernatural drink. We are to know it well: these people all, each one of them, had the promises of God, the promise of entering the land of Canaan.
Why? Because they were different. They were distinguished from unbelievers and children, because they were God's people, God Himself had promised them salvation. And so we are to recall what happened there at the Red Sea. Because at the Red Sea, God made it very clear that His people Israel were different. Yes, God Himself distinguished them from the Egyptians, God Himself separated them from the Egyptians. That cloud - there it went behind them, shielding them from Egypt, and so God distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Red Sea through which the people of Israel passed safely through, and which drowned the finest and best in Pharaoh's army, it was there to protect God's people, and so God distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians. And so what did being under the cloud and passing through the sea really mean? It meant this: Israel, you are a people separate from the Egyptians, you are different, you belong to God. You are the circumcized - they are the uncircumcized. In short, Israel was God's people, the people who had received the promise of salvation. In New Testament language we can even say this: They were a people baptized - separated from the world, and given the promise of salvation. Says the prayer before baptism "Thou hast drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, but led Thy people Israel through the midst of the sea on dry ground - by which baptism was signified."
Now what Paul does in 1 Corinthians, is compare his readers with these Israelites. And what is it that makes these Corinthians so much like the Israelites? What is it that makes such a comparison possible? It's this: they too were God's people. The Corinthians, and ourselves too, were the church. And so, they were the New Testament Israel. But more, being the church, being the New Testament Israel, this also meant that they were different. For, as church of Jesus Christ, as believers and their children, they had been baptised. They'd received that sign and seal that they were different, that they were sanctified in Christ. Paul says just as much in the beginning of the letter, where he writes: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus." "sanctified in Christ" - that's the same words said of our children at baptism.
And so Paul's point is this: there is no real difference between Israel and us. As the church, we are God's people, a people who have received the promise of salvation, the promise of a heavenly land of Canaan, yes, a promise signified and sealed to us in baptism.
But then comes a warning. Of these same people. Of these people who had all been under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all been baptized into Moses, all ate the same supernatural food, and all drank the same supernatural drink, we would say today: these people who had all been baptized - were they all saved? And then the answer is simply and shortly: No. No. Verse 5 "Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness." Make no mistake, these were God's covenant people. They were the church. We would say today: they'd been baptized as proof of God's promise to give them the land of Canaan. "Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness." Yes, most of them did not enter the promised land. They all died in the wilderness, they did not enter the promised land. Most of them - except for two: Joshua and Caleb. Only two entered the promised land. In New Testament language we would say: they all were baptized, but only two received the promises in faith and entered the promised land, only two were saved.
And of course the little children. God did say: "Moreover your little ones ... and your children, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall go in there, and to them I will give it, and they shall possess it." (Deut 1:39). The little children received the land of promise on the basis of the covenant promises, because God could not demand of them the faith and obedience which he required from the older ones. The little ones would enter the land. And in the same way we confess that comforting confession in COD 1:17 that believing parents of children who die in infancy can be sure of their election and salvation.
But for those who understand, yes even children as they get older and begin to understand what God's promises mean for them, must believe those promises. That's what God demands of each and every one of us, of you, of me. Those promises given to us, those promises signified and sealed to us in baptism, they are so rich - but they are not automatic. No, they are not automatic. Being baptized, does not automatically mean you will be saved. "Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness."
Writes Paul "Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did." The Israelites did not enter the land of promise because they did not believe that promise. That promise had been given to them - sure. They'd even been circumcized as a sign and seal of that promise - sure. But they had to believe that promise, they had to accept God's Word in faith. That's also what God requires of you, brothers, and sisters. Faith. Faith with heart and life. Yes, you've been baptized. Yes, the promise of salvation is really for you. But that promise is a promise. It's not a prediction. It's not something that will happen automatically no matter what. It's a promise. And there is a way in which what is promised will not be received. There is a way when baptized people will not be saved. And that is when there is unbelief. The author of Hebrews says "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (3:19). He goes on to say "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers." (4:1-2).
God demands that the message of promise meets with faith in the hearers. And if that promise given to you in baptism, that promise of salvation, the promise of a heavenly land of Canaan meets instead with unbelief.... then you will not enter that promised land. Says Hebrews again: "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" That can happen. It can happen even in the church, that people do not believe. Yes, and then the punishment, then the punishment, is worse.
How did Israel show unbelief? How were they disobedient? Why did they die in the desert? Because of this: God said "Israel you are different," but Israel said "No we are not." Look at them in the desert - what does 1 Corinthians 10 say - they were not different, they were "idolaters" (v7) - with a golden calf, just like the world around them. They were not different, they indulged in sexual immorality (v8) - just like the world around them. They were not different, they grumbled and complained (10) - just like the world around them. And how about us? God has said: "you are different" - but do we show that in the way we talk? The way we dress? The way we live? For yes, that promise of the gospel must meet with faith. Also that promise given to you in baptism - it must meet with faith: a heart of faith, a life of faith. For make no mistake, beloved, otherwise for us it is no different than Israel "Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness."
And that warning goes for all of us, but especially for the young people. As you become older, as you grow up, you become more and more responsible. For God also wants you to respond to that promise in faith. And then if in your life you see all kinds of things which are not pleasing to the Lord, if you see nothing really different than from the life of an unbeliever, then you had better take warning. For when there is unbelief, where there is a rejection of the promises of God, then make no mistake: baptism will not save you. It won't save you any more than the crossing at the Red Sea - though he'd brought them through the Red Sea, though he'd made them different, that fact did not stop God from overthrowing them in the wilderness, from preventing them to enter the land of promise.
Does baptism, does that outward washing with water, itself wash away sins, give salvation? No, it does not. Only the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away sins. Baptism is not a prediction of salvation. For where there is unbelief, where there is disobedience in the heart and life of covenant children: make no mistake - there is no salvation. Are all those baptized saved? No, they are not.
And yet. And yet. You are baptized for a reason. You are baptized because God gives you His covenant promise of salvation. You are baptized, you are brought through the Red Sea, you are distinguished from the children of unbelievers for a reason. Because God wants you to believe. He wants you to believe the promise and so enter the land of promise. He does not want you to die in the wilderness! Yes, that's why He has you baptized, so that you might know that God has given the promise also to you, so that you might know that the promise is also for you, and that you might believe it.
What's the connection between baptism and salvation? Clearly, brothers and sisters, it is nothing automatic. And yet there is a connection, because God wants those who are baptized to be saved - to them he gives the promise of salvation. But then let's believe. That promise of your salvation was signified and sealed to you in your baptism, you've been reminded of it once again today. Already we have one foot in the promised land. "Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased.... Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."