Christian: Remember Your Baptism
In a previous post, we discussed the necessity of preaching the gospel to ourselves when faced with troubling emotions and circumstances. We acknowledged that depression, anxiety, worry, and fear are powerful emotions that often persuade us to believe a false gospel, one that over-estimates our trouble, and under-estimates the hope we have in Christ.
In this post, let's take that preaching of truth to ourselves one step further in terms of practical application: Let's remember our baptism!
Twhis may seem an unusual tactic at first, because, generally speaking, baptism has been understood almost exclusively as a promise of obedience we offer to God in obedience to his command.
What value, then, could "remembering" our baptism possibly hold when we're dealing with problematic emotions, or simply in need of encouragment in uncertain times?
Much in every way--especially if our most common assumptions about baptism aren't fully in keeping with the biblical record, or church history!
What if there's more to baptism, that is, for our benefit, than we've realized?
What More Can We Say?
While baptism may well be conceived of as an act of obedience (in part), and one in which we do indeed publicly identify with our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a question arises: Is that the only thing we need to know?
Asked differently, is the primary or sole nature of this "ordinance" of the Christian faith one of heavenward commitment alone, or is it properly understood as the "sign (and some would add 'seal')" of God's covenant promise to his people, first and foremost? I suggest the latter is superior or preeminent to the former, providing a foundation for us to remember our baptism for confident assurance when the storms of life blow.
Here are two samplings of what John Calvin had to say about baptism:
"Baptism serves as our confession before men. Indeed, it is the mark by which we publicly profess that we wish to be reckoned God’s people; by which we testify that we agree in worshiping the same God, in one religion with all Christians; by which finally we openly affirm our faith." Institutes 4.15.13
"There is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ’s blood." Institutes 4.15.8 [emphasis added]
Here, for the purposes of this post, we find Calvin affirming the role of baptism as public testimony in the life of the beliver, but also affirming the goodness of Christians "remembering their baptism" for assurance and encouragement. Granted, the context here is the beliver's struggle with sin, but the principle holds in the face of suffering, as well.
And yet this question remains: How does baptism serve to provide us with assurance of heart when faced with life's most difficult circumstances?
Gaining an understanding of baptism as "sign (and seal)" of God's gracious new covenant promise is key. It's possible that this phrase is new to you. But, don't let that dissuade you. Historically, the Protestant church has always confessed this understanding of the ordinance/sacrament. In recent generations, and particularly among the evangelical churches, this truth faded from view. It's time for a recovery.
After all, if baptism isn't given to us by God for our perpetual encouragement in the faith, then who is it for? God, who needs no encouragment?
What Has Already Been Said?
Consider the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. (Ch. 28.1)
In similar fashion, the early Particular Baptists, in their Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, wrote:
Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ. To those baptized it is a sign of their fellowship with Him in His death and resurrection, of their being grafted into Him, of remission of sins, and of submitting themselves to God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of life.
Likewise, R.C. Sproul, in his short book "What is Baptism," wrote:
"It signifies God’s promise to His people of a relationship with Him through His Son by faith. It is the sign of being in Christ rather than in the kingdom of darkness ... Baptism is a sign of God’s promise to regenerate His people, to liberate them from the moral bondage of original sin, to cleanse their souls from guilt and purify them so they can enter into a saving relationship with Him."
What we find emphasized historically is baptism as the sign of God's promise to save his people by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Yes, it serves as public testimony of the Christian's allegiance to the risen Christ, but before it accomplishes that purpose, we find it coming from God to his people (downward), as the gospel made visible to them and for their benefit.
It's Our Story, Too
Lastly, let's consider Paul's admonition to his audience in 1 Cor. 10:1-4. There, Paul recounts Israel's crossing of the Red Sea in the time of the Exodus as a type of baptism (specifically, he writes, "into Moses"). While attempting to not get "hung up in the weeds," we remember that in the Red Sea crossing, Israel was led out of enslavement to Egypt. Moses, himself a "type of Christ," miraculously led the nation away from the pursuing army, safely onto dry ground on the other side.
Of this passage, Tom Schreiner writes, "[Paul] designates Israel our ancestors, even though most of the Corinthians were Gentiles, indicating that believers in Jesus Christ are part of restored Israel. Israel’s story, Israel’s history, is their [our] history."
For our purposes here, Paul calls on his audience to remember the "baptism" of Old Testament Israel and all that it meant to the Jewish nation, so that the Corinthians might remember their own baptism and all that it meant to them in Christ (the true and better Moses).
Believer, if God gave Israel reason to hope in their baptism "into Moses," himself a mere man, how much more hope do we possess in the face of life's tumultuous storms when we remember our baptism into Christ Jesus?
Indeed, God was faithful then, and he'll be faithful now (HT: Vertical Worship).
Questions to Consider
1. Have you ever heard of baptism described as "the sign and seal of God's covenant promise to his people"?
2. What has been your general conception about what baptism represents?
3. What difference might this conception make to the hope you have in Christ when facing a crisis, or some other time of uncertainty?
4. Make a list of the top three stressors in your life. What are you hoping God will accomplish in and/or through these current circumstances?
5. Make a list from your past of the top three times in your life wherein God was faithful to deliver you from or through a time of trial (whether you knew it at the time or not).
6. Did God deliver you through each circumstance just as you had asked, or did you see him do the unexpected at times (remember: the Israelites, while standing on the shores of the Red Sea, probably were not all expecting God to split the waters in two!)?
7. Now, relate the promises of God, signified to you in your baptism, to the worries you feel when considering your current trials? Why can you have hope that if "God was faithful then," he'll be "faithful now" (see music video at end of post)?
8. The Israelites, while receiving God's miraculous deliverance from certain doom at the Red Sea, still had to trust God and step out onto the dried up sea floor in order to cross over safely to the other side. What are some action steps that you can take now in relation to your trials as a result of your trust in God?
9. Share this discussion with your counselor, pastor, or trusted friend.
10. Pray, and give thanks to God for his gift of baptism to you!