Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone 6.7.12
Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012 6:00 pm
Holy Baptism: Part 2
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
He remembers His covenant forever… Psalm 105:8a
Today’s lesson from the Heidelberg Catechism answers an oft-asked question about the nature of Holy Baptism. It also clarifies scriptural content concerning that question and addresses a controversy concerning the covenantal nature of this sacrament.
Question 72 asks: “Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?” A plain and simple “no” is the answer. Only Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins (Matthew 3:11; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 John 1:7).
This means that there is no act that can be performed by you or me that can cleanse our souls of sin’s awful stain (Ephesians 2:9). Surely, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6b).
In this light, Question 73 logically asks: “Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) and the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16)?”
Some interpret the two verses cited as speaking of the cleansing, regenerative power of the water. The Heidelberg points out that God has a cause and purpose for speaking in this manner.
Using a technique known as “arguing from the lesser to the greater,” Scripture shows that just as water removes dirt from the body, so then the blood and Spirit of Christ remove our sins. Paul says we were washed, sanctified and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11; italics mine).”
Such a thing might be impossible to believe had we not experienced it, and the Heidelberg goes on to state that it is for our assurance that God likens physical washing to the miraculous, gracious act of spiritual cleansing that happens in the heart of each believer in Christ.
To put it another way, we would think someone foolish who proposed that the leprosy of Naaman was actually healed by the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-14). He heard the words of God’s prophet Elisha, obeyed his instructions and was healed. So we have heard God’s Word , obeyed God’s command to believe, and our sins have been washed away as surely as Naaman’s disease.
Question 74 addresses an issue that was as controversial then as it is now: Should infants also be baptized?
The Roman Catholic Church taught that baptism was necessary for salvation and that infants baptized by the Church were saved by the sacrament. In rejecting this teaching, some Protestants (the Anabaptists, for example) began to teach that only professing adult believers should be baptized.
The Heidelberg teaches that the children of these believers should be baptized as well. This was the prevalent view at the time of the Reformation.
Why? Because infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people (Genesis 17:7; Mark 10:13-16). As Peter states in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38-39), children too are heirs to the promise of salvation. They are made a part of the covenant community by receiving the covenant sign. Thus they are distinguished from the children of unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:14), just as the children of the Old Testament community of faith were distinguished by the mark of circumcision.
Professing believers are baptized in obedience to Christ’s command (Matthew 28:19), identifying themselves with Him (Galatians 3:27). Let us remember, however, that Holy Baptism is a sign of God’s promise to we who believe. As surely as the rainbow in the heavens (Genesis 9:12-17) signifies God’s unbreakable promise to Noah, so baptism reminds us of the precious promise of grace we have received. And may this covenant sign remind us that “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
(If you have questions or would like to comment on this article, you may do so online at http://graceunioncity.com/resources/gcc-in-the-news. Scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your comment.)
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).
Published in The Messenger 6.7.12