How We Use Our Washing With Water For Today

Good Morning,

When the Divines open the next question of the catechism by saying, “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism . . . “ you know what they are going to talk about is important to them. Because if it was an issue in 1647, the Lord knows it is something we should probably be thinking about in 2024. Though before we get into all those negative vibes it will be helpful to first define what they and we mean by improving baptism.

To improve something is to make it better, to move it forward. Baptism is the sign and seal of the new covenant found in Christ Jesus. When you put those together you get what Solomon is speaking about in Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” We educate our children primarily out of a concern for vocational stability. We want them to have good jobs, feed and house themselves, and take care of their families, thereby not living off us past a certain age, the younger the better. Or at least that is how our educational system actually operates, even if it believes itself to be actively engaged in more important work. Hence the focus on either trade or college.

Without resorting to a Jesus Juke at this juncture it is certainly the case that this is not really how we should understand what the Westminster Larger Catechism is teaching concerning growing in your baptism. It’s not asking questions about how to make your baptism work for you, but how do we as believers in God benefit spiritually from time spent meditating on what the symbol of covenant membership means for our day-to-day lives. Folks are highly interested in the practical aspects of the Christian faith. Nothing is more practical than what is highlighted in the Q/A for this morning. Let’s get to it:

Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?

A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

The lengthy list of reasons above have as their center the nature of our relationship with Jesus. It is our spiritual union with Him brought about by our being made righteous by His blood in the sacrifice of the cross, and our being then adopted into His family that grounds all other benefits which come from the redemption purchased by Christ. The act of salvation is not a one-time act. This is a life-long mercy by which we are being redeemed from death unto life. It is unhelpful to live in a mindset where we think that the moment of baptism itself is what sets us apart. No time of walking an aisle, making a decision, or signing a card of commitment can represent the major promise that is made in God calling you unto Himself in baptism. As Presbyterians we firmly believe and confess that men and women must be born again. John 3:16 is in our Bibles as well. Notice though the context of that verse. Jesus has just completed speaking to Nicodemus about the means by which men come to faith, and that is by the Spirit (v.8). While v.5 mentions water most commentators agree that this is not baptism per se. However, when we think of our entrance into the kingdom of God, as Jesus calls the new life in Christ, and the mercies of the Lord available to us in the Church (the visible kingdom on Earth) we are reminded that it is ordinarily in the life of the body that this new birth takes place. That is but one example where we improve our baptism, in the reception of the gospel promise made at the time of our being placed under the pouring of the waters of the covenant inclusion, even if we do not close with Christ until much later.

The one sheep that the Shepherd seeks is already a part of the flock.

That knowledge bears out in the believer’s heart and soul a hunger to learn more and more about what it means to be a part of the family.  It is in remembering your baptism that you see the assurance of the oath of God made at baptism. You see in providence how the Lord sowed the ground, furrowed your heart, and nourished your mind in the acceptance of the free offer of the gospel, and as you see that more clearly your love for His work only grows and grows. This redeeming the time of life only sees you become more and more at peace in your place in His kingdom of grace. The strength you draw, as Q. 167 notes, from seeing others baptized only reaffirms this great and glorious testimony of God’s hold on your heart and soul. Whenever we baptize someone at Bethany, or at another church service you may be in attendance for, and you see that water crown the head there is a sense in which the soul is (or at least should be) beaming in the wonderment that Christ has called you unto Himself in the forgiveness of sins. You, dear sinner, have been granted the privilege of feasting at the Lord’s Table and receiving the bounty of the means of His grace.

In closing, there are obviously other ways that we benefit from baptism throughout our life, and the way we take advantage of that is not rocket science, for it is the same instruments that cause us to grow spiritually in every way in this covenant blessing. Prayer, worship, the sacraments, Bible reading, the fellowship of the saints are all ways that we improve our baptism. Remember your covenant sign and seal. Keep it near to your heart, and it will be added unto you. (Acts 26:18).

A last word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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