Christian: Remember Your Baptism (Part 1)

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In a previous post, we discussed the necessity of preaching the gospel to ourselves when faced with troubling emotions and circumstances. We ackknowledged 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!

In broader evangelical circles, this 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?

Much in every way! Especially if our most common assumptions about baptism aren't fully in keeping with the biblical record, or church history! Most often, what I think we see in modern evangelicalism aren't necessarily heretical views of the sacarement of baptism, but insufficient conclusions.

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 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. 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 covenant promise is key. It's possible that this phrase is new to you. But, don't let that fool you. Historically, the Protestant church has always confessed this understanding of the sacrament. It's only in recent generations, and mostly in the modern evangelical context, that this truth faded from view.

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 1689 London Confession, 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.

Finally, 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 and seal 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, as the gospel made visible to them and for their benefit.

In our next post, we'll attempt to get down to "brass tacks": How does remembering my baptism help me in times of great emotional and spiritual distress?

Questions to Consider

1. Have you ever heard of baptism described as "the sign and seal of God's covenant promise to his people"? What has been your general conception about what baptism represents?

2. What difference might this conception make to the hope you have in Christ when facing crisis?