(408) 841-7325 | sjinfo@westhills.org

How to Improve your Baptism

Did you improve your baptism last Sunday?
Wait… what?
Did you know that baptism is not a one-time event that is intended to be experienced and then forgotten? In fact, baptism is supposed to have an ongoing function in our walk with Christ. It is meant to be a continual means of grace to us. In Romans 6, Paul exhorts the church in Rome to continue fighting their sin by recalling the meaning of their former baptism (Rom 6:3-4). He reminds them that having been baptized they were, in effect, being consecrated by God to be set apart from the world to walk in Jesus’ new way of life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul ALSO uses a church’s former baptism to exhort them to unity (Gal 3:27-29), humility and gratitude (1 Cor 12:13-20), devotion to the truth (Col 2:8-12), and perseverance (1 Pet 3:21-22).
This is why question 167 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks us the question “How is our baptism to be improved by us?” This means: how can I use my baptism and the baptism of others to prompt my heart to keep striving to live the kind of empowered and perfected, resurrection life that my baptism represented? How does baptism (my own and others) function as a continual fountain of encouragement to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4)? Here are some of the ways the New Testament (through the catechism) teaches us to do this:
  1. Baptism reminds me that I belong to God and not to this world. In baptism we publicly commit ourselves to Jesus, and are openly claiming that our life will now be lived by faith in him and under his authority. In it, we agree with God that our sin deserves death (submersion into the water), but that through faith in Christ, He has forgiven us, cleansed us, and raised us up to new life in him (rising out of the water). Baptism is also a plea to God to make good on His promise to bring us safely into His glorious kingdom (1 Pet 3:21). Finally, it is also a visible commitment to God’s people. The gospel not only reconciles us to God but to one another (Eph 2:11-22). “To call on God as Father is to embrace all others who do the same as brother and sister. To be united to Christ is to become a member of his body (1 Cor 12:12-26, Eph 1:23, Col 1:18, 1 Pet 2:10)” (Understanding Baptism, Jamieson, 2016).
  2. Baptism exhorts us to place more of our hope in God’s promise of eternal life with Him. Jesus taught us that “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32). Baptism is our public acknowledgement “before men” that Christ is our Maker, Remaker, Savior and Lord. It is supposed to forever remind us that we have joined ourselves to Jesus and we will one day be vindicated by Him if He keeps us true to that acknowledgement. This is the promise of Christ Himself.
  3. Baptism humbles us by graphically depicting both what my sin deserves and what I am now supposed to be. The water of God’s judgment is what Christ passed through when He suffered in the flesh for the sin of His people. Baptism condemns me and teaches me that I am guilty before God and worthy of the death He received for me. It also shows me how I fall short of my calling to a renewed, empowered and perfected life. But in that humiliation I find that all of my hope is in a rising, living, reigning Lord who is able to keep me from stumbling and present me blameless before the presence of His glory with joy (Jude 24).
  4. Baptism should strengthen our assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sin through faith in His gospel. There has been confusion in the American church about the doctrine of assurance. The cause (from my admittedly limited observation) is a lack of careful delineation between the doctrine of salvation which depends on grace alone through faith alone and the doctrine of assurance which depends on the evidence of the Spirit’s work and activity in a person’s life. At a baptism, we are invited to ask ourselves the questions: do I still hate my sin for which Jesus was buried in the waters of judgment? Am I still fighting for righteousness and good works as an expression of my “newness of life”? Do I still believe Jesus can save me? If so, these are heavenly fingerprints of the Holy Spirit and should strengthen our assurance that we are God’s child, destined for glory.
  5. Baptism charges me to walk in brotherly (or sisterly) love. Whatever I have against another person in the church is not worth dividing Christ’s body over. Because “in One Spirit we were all baptized into one body” I can forgive those who wrong me and pursue reconciliation with those I have wronged. Baptism teaches me that all of us are sinners, all of us need the redeeming power of God for transformation, and we must all walk in love under the authority of God’s word as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us (Eph 5:2).
These are just five of many ways that the catechism teaches us to improve our baptism. The full catechism with links to its biblical foundations can be found here. My God bless you as you strive to improve your baptism in the power of the Holy Spirit.

No Comments