Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012 11:55 am
The Messenger, May 31, 2012
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
In our last article, we learned that the sacraments were given to the Church by Christ as both a sign (that we might see) and a seal (God’s sacred promise), that we might be assured of our salvation. Today we consider three questions which address just how the sacrament of baptism produces assurance in the heart of the believer.
Question 69 of the Heidelberg Catechism gets straight to the heart of the matter: How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally? Answer: 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 His Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.
Baptism is an outward symbol (through pouring, sprinkling or immersion) of an inner cleansing. Paul notes that through baptism (Romans 6:3-4) the believer participates in Christ’s death and burial. More than that, Paul goes on to say that we share in Christ’s new life (Romans 6:5-10), a life of faith and obedience. Just as surely as washing with water removes dirt from our bodies, the water of baptism symbolizes the cleansing of our hearts from the stain of sin.
Question 70 asks: What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit? Answer: To be washed with Christ’s blood means that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for me in His sacrifice on the cross. To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.
Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb of God. His blood, spilled on the cross, washes away our sins, by the grace of God. Christ’s righteousness has been credited to our account. His Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer as the seal of redemption and the surety of the glorious resurrection.
Question 71 continues: Where does Christ promise that we are washed with His blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism? Answer: In the institution of baptism where He says: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins.
Scripture provides the doctrine of the sign of baptism as evidence of reality, just as the sign of circumcision marked the Old Testament believer and functioned as a seal of God’s covenant. This is shown in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), when Jesus commands His Church to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” Jesus teaches us in Mark 16:16, “but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” Here Christ clearly points to belief as the criteria for salvation. For the one who does not believe, all the water in all the oceans of the world will not avail to wash away the sin that separates us from God.
Finally, the promise is repeated when the Bible calls baptism “the water of rebirth (Titus 3:5)” and “the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).”
This pictures the salvation promised to all who believe in Christ: the new life free from sin’s bondage, and the cleansing of guilt before a holy, righteous, yet merciful God. May He be praised!
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Editor’s note: Tolar is a member of Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy. He strongly urges readers to consult the Scripture references used in this article “to see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11b).