Baptism is a sacrament that shows how God washes us from our sin and renews us to be his holy people.
LD 26 q&a 69.
How does holy baptism
signify and seal to you
that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross
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 Spirit
wash away the impurity of my soul,
that is, all my sins.
LD 26 q&a 70.
What does it mean
to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?
To be washed with Christ’s blood means
to receive forgiveness of sins from God,
because of Christ’s blood
poured out for us
in his sacrifice on the cross.
To be washed with his Spirit means
to be renewed by the Holy Spirit
and sanctified to be members of Christ,
so that more and more
we become dead to sin
and lead a holy and blameless life.
LD 26 q&a 71.
Where has Christ promised
that he will wash us with his blood and Spirit
as surely as we are washed
with the water of baptism?
In the institution of baptism, where he says:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).
Whoever believes and is baptized
will be saved,
but whoever does not believe
will be condemned (Mk 16:16).
This promise is repeated where Scripture calls baptism
the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins (Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16).
LD 27 q&a 72.
Does this outward washing with water
itself wash away sins?
No, only the blood of Jesus Christ
and the Holy Spirit
cleanse us from all sins.
LD 27 q&a 73.
Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism
the washing of regeneration
and the washing away of sins?
God speaks in this way for a good reason.
He wants to teach us
that the blood and Spirit of Christ
remove our sins
just as water takes away
dirt from the body.
But, even more important,
he wants to assure us
by this divine pledge and sign
that we are
as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually
as we are bodily washed with water.
Baptism is a sacrament. Jesus himself instituted (commanded) it just before he returned to heaven.
What exactly did Jesus say when he instituted baptism? Look up Mat. 28:19 and Mark 16:16.
The word baptism means “(ritual) washing”. The Jewish people were already used to such washings. In the Old Testament, priests washed themselves before serving in the tabernacle or temple. They also sprinkled utensils with water for cleansing. In Jesus’ time, new converts (proselytes) were baptized. Shortly before Jesus came, John “the Baptist” called everyone to be baptized as preparation for the coming Kingdom.
Jesus’ baptism was different from that of the Jews, or of John. He told his disciples to baptize in his name.
How did Peter describe Christian baptism in Acts 2:38?
Read Acts 19:1-5. Explain what happened here.
Baptism as sign
Baptism is a sign. It shows that we need washing of our sins. The Form for Baptism that we use says:
It signifies the impurity of our souls,
so that we may detest ourselves,
humble ourselves before God,
and seek our cleansing outside of ourselves.
The word “detest” is very strong. If we understand how filthy our sin really is, we should be grossed out by it. Then we can’t wait to get rid of that filth and be clean again! Baptism only makes sense for people humble enough to know that they are sinners.
Being “washed” from your sin is the same as having your sins forgiven. This is possible because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Briefly we say: “Washed in the blood of Christ.” (See Rev 7:14.)
Another picture the Bible uses is that of burial and resurrection (Rom 6:4; see also Col 2:11):
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.
On one hand, we die to our sins. On the other hand, we are raised to a holy life, powered by the Holy Spirit.
Baptism as seal
In the catechism, answer 70 and the first half of answer 73 talk about baptism as sign. But baptism is also a seal (second half of answer 73).
Baptism is no less than a solemn promise of God, made to us personally. God not only says: “I wash away sins,” but also: “I will wash away your sins.” In our Form for Baptism, this is explained beautifully and in much detail: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit each make wonderful promises– to you!
We often tell young people in church: “If you are not sure about God, think back to your baptism.” Why is that helpful?
The point of baptism is not so much to seal the faith of an individual, but to seal God’s promises. That is a good thing. Some people are baptized but turn out not to be true believers. Was their baptism a spilling of water? No, because God’s promises to them were just as real. They truly belonged to the church community, but they rejected the salvation that was proclaimed and promised to them.
Baptism and church membership
All Christians should be baptized. Answer 74 says that baptism is an “incorporation into the Christian church”. Baptism is the sacrament the marks the beginning of church membership. This does not mean that baptism itself saves you, or that God cannot save people who aren’t baptized. But it would be disobedient to Jesus for a believer not to be baptized.
- In the traditional Form for Baptism, the prayer mentions two Old-Testament “baptisms”: the Flood in the time of Noah, and the passing through the Red Sea. (See Book of Praise, p. 598.) What do these events teach us about our baptism?
- The Form for Baptism works out in detail the promises we receive from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Summarize in your own words why it is so beautiful to be baptized in the name of the Triune God.
- In 1 Pet. 3:21, Peter wrote: “Baptism now saves you…” And Titus 3:5 calls baptism “the washing of regeneration.” Does that mean that baptism actually causes your salvation?
- Do you ever think of the fact that you are baptized? What does it mean to you?
- We usually baptize by sprinkling or pouring water on a person’s head. Most baptists insist that real baptism requires full immersion (e.g. in a tub or pool). What do you think?
- At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river (Mat. 3:13-17). Why did John not want to baptize Jesus at first? Why was Jesus baptized? How is our baptism similar to ours? How is it different?
Memorize q&a 69 and the “Great Commission”, Mat. 28:19-20a.
Older students: Also memorize q&a 70.