On Sunday the 28th, my daughter Joanna was baptized at SMPC. Baptism is strange and puzzling to many persons (inside and outside the church), so I want to briefly share the importance of this sign.  I will look at its significance in three realms: as individuals, as families, and as a church.

It should be said at the outset that since the Triune God is the creator of the cosmos, he can and has invested certain created things with meaning[1]. The act of water baptism in the Triune Name has been invested by God with significance and meaning.  Therefore, we should take this issue very seriously.

As individuals, we understand that baptism is a sign from God to man which seals the promises of the gospel to us.  Paul asks us:

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)

Baptism is so closely identified with union with the exalted Christ that Paul is able to appeal to it in order to help the Roman church members understand motivation for walking in newness of life.  Your baptism continually preaches to you this message: “The righteousness of Christ is yours by faith!”  Baptism strengthens our faith.  Take some time this week to meditate on the significance of your baptism.

What about families?  Should  baptism be applied to our children even though they cannot exercise faith?  This would assume that faith is always what brings someone into the covenant community, but this is not the case.   See how Paul talks about the covenant sign God gave Abraham which he subsequently applied to his whole household[2].

11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (Rom 4:11)

Read this passage carefully: Circumcision was NOT a sign and seal of Abraham’s faith.  Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness which is received by faith.  Thus, entrance into God’s covenant community for Abraham’s family was not necessarily contingent on any act of faith, but on the righteousness of Christ promised in the gospel.  Abraham’s faith qualified his family to be numbered among the covenant people.

In this light, Paul’s command to the Ephesian children makes more sense.  When he says “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”[3]  Paul is not moralizing. He is assuming that all Children in the church obey in the Lord because presumably, all the children were understood to be in covenant with Christ. This is also why he says that children of believing parents are ‘holy’.[4]

In baptism, God gave my daughter a sign which preaches the same gospel which was preached to Abraham’s sons: The righteousness of Christ is was sealed to her on June 28th which validates the fact that when she trusts in Christ someday, she will be righteous in the sight of God.  In reformed parlance we might say, “Her baptism is made effectual unto salvation” after she comes to saving faith and repentance, Lord-willing.

Think of it this way. Just as a seal on a university diploma guarantees the authenticity of the university president’s signature on the diploma, the seal of baptism upon my daughter guarantees the authenticity of the gospel promises.  What a wonderful thing to both her and her parents!  I have a covenant sign to show her that she belongs to a Gracious God.

Baptism is the New Covenant ordeal which everyone must go under as they are added to the church[5]: whether you’re like Abraham who already professed faith or like a child who is born into a covenant family.

When Joanna was baptized in the Triune Name of God (of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), something unseen happened: she was brought into the heavenly community called the church. This is the only place on earth where she will experience the heavenly gift, share in the Holy Spirit, taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age[6], and it takes a community.  Outside the family, this is the larger community context in which she will be a disciple.  We are all baptized into Christ’s body, and this is why at every infant baptism, the members pledge to aid the family in the rearing of their child in the Lord. We have all been washed in the water of the word[7] and share in the same Spirit and baptism[8].  As a covenant community, may we continue to proclaim the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ and the baptism for the remission of sins.

In Christ,
Mark Russell

[1] Think for example of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was no different than any other tree.  It was not magical – but it was invested with significance by God’s very word.  All of us are too modern, not thinking that real, spiritual significance is attached to baptism.
[2] Gen 17:12
[3] Eph 6:1
[4] 1 Cor 7:14
[5] Acts 2:41
[6] Hebrews 6:4-5
[7] Ephesians 5:26
[8] 1 Cor 12:12-13

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