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.
Monday, June 19: Isaiah 53
At the heart of Baptism is the Covenant promise. This Covenant stretches back thousands of years. In Genesis, God said to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you (17:7).” The sign that Abraham and his family were set apart as Covenant people was the visible sign of circumcision. This sign continued for generations upon generations of Israelites, through times of slavery in Egypt and the exodus, wandering through the desert and entry into the Promised Land, the rebellious twelve tribes and the rule of the judges, the establishment of a monarchy and the fall of a broken nation, the regathering and rebuilding of a dispersed people, and the birth of a boy in a manger to a young virgin bride and her faithful husband. Throughout this history of God’s chosen people, despite their rebellious nature, despite the fact that God held them accountable for the corruption and violence that defined their actions toward outside nations and toward each other, God remained faithful to the everlasting Covenant promise he made with them. When Christ came into the world, he brought the Covenant promise into a fullness that is higher and deeper and wider than we could ever hope or image. When Christ entered the waters of baptism at the start of his ministry, God’s voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).” When Christ’s sacrificial blood washes over our hearts, making us whiter than pure snow, and God also says about us, his adopted sons and daughters “with you I am well pleased.” When Christ entered the waters of baptism at the start of his ministry, the Spirit of God descended upon him in the form of a dove (Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). When Christ’s sacrificial blood washes over our hearts, making us whiter than pure snow, the Holy Spirit descends upon us, entering to our lives, prompting us toward the Kingdom ministry Christ began during his earthly reign. The heart of baptism is the promise that God has entered into an everlasting Covenant with us. He has given us invisible signs – faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection and the Spirit at work in our hearts – and he has given us visible signs – the waters of baptism. There is comfort as well, for just like the nation of Israel did, our rebellious and sinful nature will get the best of us. Being baptized does not mean that we will remain sinless forever – we aren’t Jesus. But just as God remained faithful to his covenant promise to Israel, so he will remain faithful to his promise to us. At the heart of baptism is the Covenant Promise, and within it we deep assurance that God will never leave us or forsake us. How do we know? “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love…We love because he first loved us (I John 4:13-16, 19).” As we continue to study and explore the sacrament of baptism, it is my prayer that you will live into the faithful Covenant promise made for you.
Chaplain Sarah Hoogendoorn