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Cleansing Waters

HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAY 26 & 27

How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

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.

 

What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?

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.

 

Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

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.

 

Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

 

Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

God has good reason for these words.  He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies.  But more important, he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.

 

Should infants, too, be baptized?

Yes.  Infants, as well as adults, are in God’s covenant and are his people.  They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.  Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant, infants should be received into the Christian church and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers.  This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

Cleansing Waters

Sunday, June 18: Psalm 51

In the story of the ark, Noah and his family, along with the created animals, are saved from the destructive waters of the flood.  All the other people, described as corrupt in their ways, are put to death for their unwillingness to follow God’s call to righteousness.   It’s a familiar story and often regulated to Sunday school classrooms, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful or powerful.  God – a loving and a just Creator – looks at his created work and sees it is stained and tarnished with sin.  Humanity is corrupt and violent, seemingly beyond redemption.  God judges this sin, and the proclaimed punishment is a cleansing of the earth.  Flood waters are called down and the corrupt are wiped out.  Noah and his family faithfully follow the instructions given to them by God, building the ark, tending the animals, and living in the ark while the earth floods, the waters recede and the earth is reborn, cleansed of the corruption and violence humanity had wrought.  Except the end of Noah’s story isn’t the familiar rainbow being painted in the sky as God promises to never again send a flood after entering into Covenant relationship with the cleansed creation.  Rather, the conclusion of Noah’s story finds him grappling with his own drunken, naked state and how his sons reacted to it (Genesis 6-9). 

When we are baptized – whether infants or adults – we are not magically saved, no longer prone to the sinful desires of the flesh.  Rather, when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, we are entering into the assurance that Christ, through his death and resurrection on the cross, has cleansed our souls of the stain of sin and has restored us to new life in him.  According to the story, Noah lived faithfully before the flood waters cleansed the earth of the corruption and violence that defined the human race, but I’m willing to bet he also struggled with his sinful nature.  God still chose to save him.  God still chose to enter into Covenant relationship with him.   Just like Noah, we too enter into that Covenant Promise.  The cleansing waters of baptism remind us of that Covenant relationship, that gospel promise, as it washes our hearts and renews our minds, cleansing us so we can stand reborn before the Lord.  As we study and explore the Sacrament of baptism this week, it is my prayer that you will remember that “as surely as water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly Christ’s blood and his Spirit wash away your soul’s impurity, in other words, your sin.”

Chaplain Sarah Hoogendoorn