Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"AT BAPTISM GOD ALMIGHTY ASSURES SINNERS OF HIS SOVEREIGN DECISION CONCERNING THEM."
69. Q. How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice
of Christ on the cross benefits you?
A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly His blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins.
 Matt. 28:19.  Matt. 3:11; Mark 16:16; John 1:33; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3, 4; I Pet. 3:21.
70. Q. What does it mean to be washed with Christ's blood and Spirit?
A. To be washed with Christ's blood means to receive forgiveness of sins from God, through grace, because of Christ's blood, poured out for us in His sacrifice on the cross. To be washed with His Spirit means to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, so that more and more we become dead to sin and lead a holy and blameless life.
 Ez. 36:25; Zech. 13:1; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 12:24; I Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:5; 7:14.  John 3:5-8; Rom. 6:4; I Cor. 6:11; Col. 2:11, 12.
71. Q. Where has Christ promised that He will wash us with His blood
and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?
A. In the institution of baptism, where He says: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). This promise is repeated where Scripture calls baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins (Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16).
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 34:2 (Psalm 12:4 after baptism)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Not many of us forget our birthdays. That annual Ďincrement in ageí is an occasion, weíre told, that needs celebration. So we celebrate, bring out the cake and the candles, and with friends and family recall that important event of so many years ago - our birth.
We donít give to the day of our baptism the same attention we give to the day of our birth. Baptism: very few of us, Iím sure, can remember when we were baptised. Yet I wonder, beloved, whether thatís really the way it ought to be. The day of oneís birth is important, certainly, and worth celebrating. But baptism: isnít that the day God publicly claims us as His own, as His child by covenant? Birth: thatís exciting, sure, but all who are born shall one day die, all who are born enter a vale of tears - and thatís not really worth celebratingÖ. But baptism: that God publicly claims me as His, and so promises to me life eternal through Jesus Christ - O yes, thatís worth celebrating, time and again!
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
AT BAPTISM GOD ALMIGHTY ASSURES SINNERS OF HIS SOVEREIGN DECISION CONCERNING THEM.
1. The term Ďbaptismí prompts us to think of that which we see time and again in front of the church; a child receives some water on its forehead. The term Ďbaptismí itself, however, used to mean something different. Before the days of the New Testament, the verb "to baptise" was known in the Greek speaking world, was used in everyday conversation, and meant what our English word "to dip" means. So the evangelist Luke used the word in Luke 16 in the request of the rich man suffering in Hades; "Father Abraham," that rich man said in his arrogance, "have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame" (vs 24). Dip the finger in water is literally: baptise the finger in water.
The meaning of the word, however, went beyond a mere dipping in and out so that the finger was damp. The word refers specifically to being overwhelmed, being swamped. We read, eg, of a ship sinking, a ship being overwhelmed by the sea such that it sinks. This is more than a mere dipping in the sea; itís rather being so dipped that the ship was overwhelmed by the sea, became part and parcel of the sea, for it lay now at the bottom of the ocean. That connotation of being overwhelmed, swamped, we find back in the Bible in a passage as Jn 13. Jesus wishes to point out who the betrayer shall be, and to do so He dips a morsel and gives it to the offender; the text uses the verb "to baptise". The piece of bread which Jesus dipped in the drink, Ďbaptisedí in the drink, was not Ďslightly dampí as a result of that dipping; no, that piece of bread was soaked in the drink, was overwhelmed by the drink, became part and parcel of the drink such that it was a soggy piece of bread (vs 26; cf Rev 19:13).
In the minds of the early users, then, the word Ďbaptismí implied a radical change. That morsel of bread was dry, was plain bread. It was baptised, dipped in the drink, and as such was changed; though still bread, that morsel took on properties of the drink, it tasted like the drink, had the colour of the drink, no longer felt like a dry piece of bread. So too that ship baptised in the sea; it was overwhelmed by the waves such that the life of the ship was forever changed. Whereas it used to sail the waters from port to port, its baptism meant that from now on it would sail no more but would rather lie at rest at the bottom of the sea. Baptism implied change, implied the end of one existence, the beginning of something different. Radical change.
Itís that word that was used in the New Testament to denote the sacrament of washing with water. To understand the sacrament rightly, then, we need to keep in mind that basic meaning of the term.
That is specifically so of the passage we read from Rom 6. And if we want to understand what the Scriptures say about baptism, we must listen attentively to this particular passage of Holy Writ. Not for nothing does Rom 6 appear twice in the proof-texts mentioned in LD 26. For that reason I want to spend some time on Romans 6 today.
It is in vss 3 & 4 that the apostle mentions holy baptism. Of this sacrament, he says this:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
These words arise in a particular context. They were written in response to a problem Paul noticed among the Romans. The problem he noticed was this: some of the Christians of Rome did not mind to commit sin; after all, there was forgiveness in Jesus Christ, was there not? Itís that background that prompted the apostle to write the words of vss 1 & 2: "shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" To which Paul stated the emphatic: "By no means!" Says the apostle: it is impossible for you Christians of Rome to continue in sin - why?- because "how shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" Thereís the apostleís point: according to him, the Roman Christians have died to sin.
"Have died to sin." Just what might those words mean? Is Paul saying that the Romans have become perfect, they have passed the stage of sin, have died to sin such that they do not sin any more? No, that cannot be what the apostle means. I say that because in the next chapter the apostle discusses the struggle which every Christian has with sin, and he says concerning himself: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (vs 15). More: "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (vs 18f). No, the apostle is clear; the phrase "have died to sin" does not mean that the Christian is in fact perfect in this life.
Paul has something else in mind. With those words of vs 2 - "we...have died to sin"- the apostle records how God now sees us. The apostle does not describe how things are in the heart of the Christian; he instead describes how holy God in heaven views His people. Says the apostle here: God is pleased to view His people not as people still immersed in sin - sinners; He is pleased instead to view His people as having died to sin, there being no sin with them any more.
But how is that possible? How is it possible for holy God to view the Christians of Rome not as the sinners they in practice still are, but instead as persons who have died to sin? Thatís what the apostle explains in vs 3. God views the believer as having died to sin - how come- - because "all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death." That text may be difficult at first reading, but this much is clear: somehow, the way God views the Christian is affected by that Christianís baptism. Itís affected by that baptism because that baptism somehow connects that Christian with Christís death: "all of us who have been baptised in Christ Jesus were baptised into His death."
How are we to understand these words? We are to recall what the verb Ďto baptiseí originally meant. The Christian is "baptised" into Christ Jesus, the Christian is dipped into Christ Jesus, is overwhelmed in Christ Jesus, is soaked through and through with Christ Jesus. That ship baptised by the sea became part and parcel of the sea (it lay covered with water on the seabed), that morsel baptised in the drink became part and parcel of the drink (the bread became soggy, tasted like the drink), that Christian baptised in Christ Jesus became part and parcel of Christ Jesus, shared in what Christ was, what He had obtained (cf Heb 2:14; 3:14). That, then, is the point of holy baptism: by baptism one is taken up into Christ, by baptism one is made to share in Christ and all His benefits. Baptism implies that the believer died with Christ, died when Christ died.
Itís precisely this point that is worked out in what Paul writes next. So he can speak in vs 8 about having "died with Christ", and in vs 6 about the old self being "crucified with Him". In this way the one who has died "is freed from sin" (vs 7). That death of ours is a comparison with the death of Christ; ours, says the apostle is "like His" (vs 5). Then Yes, the death of Christ was totally unique - none has died or shall die like He did- and yet the dying of the Christian referred to in Rom 6 is associated so closely with the death of Jesus Christ.
When it was that "our old self was crucified with Him"? When it was that "we died with Christ"? That can only be when Christ Himself died. When He was crucified, the Christian was crucified also; when He died, the Christian died with Him. In a manner that we cannot understand, we were present with Christ on Calvary when He died, were present with Him so that He was not the only one who died; we died also. We were present with Adam in Paradise when he sinned so that Adam was not the only one who sinned; we sinned too (Rom 5:12). Similarly we were present with Christ on Calvary so that He was not the only one who died; we died to sin with Him. Sovereign God is pleased to consider us to have been present in Paradise; sovereign God is equally pleased to consider us to have been present at Calvary.
What all of that has to do with baptism? This: baptism into Christ means that we become part and parcel of Christ! It is in the picture of holy baptism that the Lord God spells out to us what He decided long ago concerning us, and what He decided is this: that He views us in Christ, that He reckons us to have been present with Christ on Calvary. All who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death; in baptism God tells us that He associates us with Christ, and central to Christ is of course His death. If in baptism God tells us that He associates us with Christ, counts us with Christ; if in baptism God tells us that we are dipped into Christ, are overwhelmed with Christ, have become part and parcel of Christ, then by so doing God tells us that - as far as He is concerned- we are involved in Christís death, we share in that death, we benefit from that death.
That in turn means that a radical change has come over our lives; whereas we used to be dead in sin (and therefore hopelessly guilty before God), we have now with Christ died to sin and so are free before God, counted as righteous. Our past was one of sin, of guilt before God because of our fall in Paradise and our sins day by day. But God reckons that past as past, as gone, and in itís place has come something new. The new is this: we are righteous before God, are forgiven of our sins; we receive His grace. Itís what the apostle says in vs 11: "so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." God is sovereignly pleased to consider you to be alive in Jesus Christ; very well, then you also must consider yourselves to be alive in Jesus Christ. And what does it mean to be "alive"? In the context of Rom 6, to be "alive" means to be righteous before God, to be acceptable to God - and thatís all possible because of Jesus Christ. In the words of LD 26: by the blood of Christ poured out for us in His sacrifice on the cross our sins are washed away.
Yet the new signified by the radical change that is baptism is not just the fact that we are righteous before God, alive in Jesus Christ. The new includes also living a life of grateful obedience to God. The Christians of Rome thought to continue in sin that grace might abound. But Paul derides the notion; "how can we who died to sin still live in it?!" And after the apostle has pointed out the message of holy baptism, he says this to his readers: "therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness" (vss 12f). And why not? Because, he says, you "have been brought - sovereignly brought by God- from death to life" (vs 13). And why has God done so? "That...we too might walk in newness of life" (vs 4). In the words of the Catechism: we are "sanctified to be members of Christ, so that more and more we become dead to sin and lead a holy and blameless life." And therefore the instruction of the apostle follows: "let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions." Do not let sin be your boss because before God you have been changed, have died to sin with Christ, are a new person.
So all of it, my brothers and sisters, is so rich, so very rich. What is baptism? This, that God spells out to His people what He has sovereignly determined about those people. What it was He determined about those people? This, that we should be partakers of Christ, that we should be considered to have died with Christ, to have risen with Christ, so that we share in all His treasures and gifts. God from eternity was pleased to immerse us in Jesus Christ, to soak us in the Saviour so that we are overwhelmed by Him, are made part and parcel of Him. Such was Godís holy will concerning us, and in the sacrament of holy baptism He illustrates that glorious gospel to us. Here is gospel, here is something so incredibly rich: God graciously tells us what He has sovereignly decided concerning us!
And thereís why I spoke too of baptism implying that radical change. No, baptism doesnít tell us that a fundamental change has occurred in the heart of the sinner so that he is regenerated. Baptism tells us rather that in the courts of God a fundamental change has occurred. That change is this: God used to see me as sinful, I used to have on my account before God so many sins both original and actual, and all of that meant that I was sure to receive condemnation eternally. But thatís changed; God reckons me in Christ, sees me through the blood of Christ, and so my account before God is wiped clean, my sins washed away, Iím forgiven so that my future is one of life eternal. Yes, talk about a change most radical! Itís exactly what the apostle has said elsewhere: you were immoral, you were idolators, you were adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, greedy, drunkards, etc. "But you were washed, [baptised], you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 6:10f). CHANGE! In baptism God tells us what He has sovereignly determined concerning us, tells us how He now sees us and why He sees us that way.
2. We come now to our second point: baptism gives a deep assurance. After all thatís been said about the radical change spelled out in baptism, we can be brief on this second point. How do you know, brothers and sisters, whether you are really a child of God? How do you know whether your sins are forgiven, whether God is gracious to you, whether you have life with Him? I trust that you understand now that it has nothing at all to do with how you feel about things, nothing at all to do with how you experience things. We may well feel that God is distant from us, may experience all kinds of troubles that all seem to point up that God is angry with us, punishes us for our sins. And so there is no comfort left, no assurance that we really do belong to God. After all, we donít experience God as near, as dear....
God would have us know, beloved, that seeking reassurance from our experiences is foolishness. God has once set each of us aside, has once said to each of us in turn: I baptise you. By so doing God told us - more, God showed us- what He has sovereignly decided concerning us. In our baptism He told us of His sovereign decision to view us through the blood of Jesus Christ, told us of His decision to make us share in Christ and all His benefits. He had us baptised because He sees us as overwhelmed by Jesus Christ, taken up into Jesus Christ, soaked with Jesus Christ, made part and parcel of Jesus Christ. In a word, He had us baptised because He views us as having died to sin. So where are our sins? As far as God is concerned, those sins are gone. Between me and God there are no sins; I am righteous before Him. Thatís the message of the baptism God gave to me so many years ago. And God was dinkum when He said it, genuine when He illustrated to me His decision concerning me. God meant it so many years ago, and - because He is the same yesterday and today and forever- does He mean it with equal fervour today. Assurance that I belong to God, that my sins are gone? Assurance that God is gracious to me despite the trials and tribulations of life? Itís all included, beloved, in that baptism God sovereignly gave to me so long ago. Such is the grace of my Father in Jesus Christ that He would not have any of His children doubt, would not have any of us tossed to and fro with uncertainty.
See there your God, beloved. Now the question is: do you believe it?? Amen.