Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Symbolism of Baptism

Question 94: What is Baptism?
Answer: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. (WSC)

Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the new covenant. It is the sacrament of initiation. Baptism ratifies one’s identity as a disciple of Christ. It is like the membership card of the church. It symbolizes and confirms the benefits you have by faith as a disciple of Jesus, and it also obligates you to live as his disciple. 

It is essential that the minister baptizes with water and that he does so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism requires the use of water, but not a certain amount of water. Baptism is legitimate whether it done by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, although sprinkling and pouring are especially appropriate (Is. 44:3, 52:15, Ezek. 36:25-27, 39:29, Acts 2:17-18, Heb. 9:19-22, 10:22). The essential thing is washing with water.

Jesus speaks of baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19. Earlier, in chapter 3, Matthew had recounted the baptism of Jesus himself. When Jesus was baptized, the Father reaffirmed his identity as his Son and the Spirit descended upon him. For us, baptism is a sign and seal of our ingrafting into Christ (Rom. 6:3-5), who brings us to the Father and pours out upon us the Spirit. Baptism symbolizes our union with the Son, adoption by the Father, and sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Through our union with Christ we partake of the benefits of the covenant of grace (Gal. 3:27-29). The washing of baptism thus symbolizes the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16) and the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). It makes visible the transition from the world into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). It also signifies and seals our covenant obligation to the Lord, to live as his holy people in newness of life (Rom. 6:4, 13). Baptism is thus designed to strengthen, direct, and distinguish you for the rest of your life, summoning you to faith in the promises it symbolizes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What Is a Sacrament?

Question 92: What is a sacrament?
Answer: A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

Question 93: Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
Answer: The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. (WSC)
The medieval church had developed a list of seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination. The Reformers saw that not only had these seven practices been distorted by error, but also that they had been improperly grouped together as sacraments. For example, while marriage is a divine ordinance, marriage is unlike Baptism and the Lord’s Supper because marriage is a creation ordinance that is common to all humanity. And while marriage is an earthly analogy of Christ and the church, it is not a sensible sign of invisible grace in the way Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are.

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ for his church in his capacity as our Redeemer. Not only that, but a sacrament is an ordinance with two parts: a sensible sign and spiritual grace. There are other ordinances appointed for the church, such as the reading and preaching of the word, but sacraments are those ordinances instituted by Christ in which sensible signs represent, seal, and apply Christ to believers.

The sacraments of the New Testament are two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The old covenant had sacraments as well, which also pointed to Christ and built up the faith of believers in those days (1 Cor. 10:1-4, Rom. 4:11, Heb. 8-10). But with the coming of Christ, new sacraments were instituted by him as part of the clearer and more powerful new covenant administration (Matt. 26:26-29, 28:18-20).

In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers by sensible signs, i.e. water, bread, and wine (Gal. 3:27, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:23-26). They represent Christ and these benefits to us. They seal and confirm them to us, assuring us of our share in them, as a handshake or wedding ring seals a promise. They apply them to us, truly offering us what they symbolize, that we might participate in them by faith.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Efficacy of the Sacraments

Question 91: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
Answer: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (WSC)
The word of God is not the only means by which the benefits of Christ’s redemption are applied to us. Christ has also appointed the sacraments to build us up in his saving grace. The sacraments must not be separated from the word, but are signs and seals that symbolize and confirm God’s word to God’s people.

The sacraments do not become effectual from any virtue (i.e. power) in them. They do not work automatically or by the work itself. Not all who are baptized or who take the Lord’s Supper are saved. Simon Magnus was baptized but proved himself to be in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:12-24). Paul warns Christians with the example of the Israelites in the wilderness who partook of the equivalents of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and yet perished for their apostasy (1 Cor. 10:1-6). Some people partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and are disciplined by God for it (1 Cor. 11:27-32).

Nor do the sacraments become effectual from any virtue in the one who administers them. As Paul wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). While the godliness of a minister is important, it does not give the word and sacraments their saving power. They can be effectual even if they are administered by hypocrites (Phil. 1:15-18). If the minister who baptized you later proves to be an unbeliever, this does not make your baptism invalid.

Instead, the sacraments become effectual means of salvation only by the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit in those who receive them by faith (Matt. 3:11). Men may plant and water, but God gives the increase. When Jesus sent out his church to disciple the nations by word and sacrament, he also promised to be with them, making his ordinances effectual, for it is Jesus who disciples his people by these means (Matt. 28:18-20). He fulfills the promises that are sealed by these sacraments. He makes baptism effectual, washing and incorporating his people into his body by his Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, Titus 3:5). He makes the Lord’s Supper effectual, feeding his people with his flesh and blood by his Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, John 6:53-63).

These truths help keep us from idolizing the symbols and resting in mere formality, idolizing particularly gifted ministers, or placing our trust in man, but direct us through the sacraments to Jesus Christ himself, that we might rest upon him for salvation.

Friday, September 2, 2022

How to Read and Listen to God's Word

Question 90: How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
Answer: That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives. (WSC)
If you want to benefit from the word of God, you should read and listen to it in a devout manner. The church described in Acts 2 set a good example when they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). We have been given the word of God, and “you will do well to pay attention [to it] as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Diligence and teachableness is essential to profiting from its instruction. As the book of Proverbs teaches, life-giving knowledge and wisdom comes to those who fear the Lord and eagerly seek and call out for knowledge and wisdom from him (Prov. 2, 4, 9:7-12). Psalm 119 is an extended meditation on the surpassing worth of God’s word, the believer’s devotion to that word, and his prayer to be instructed and guided by that word.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you … Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law … I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments … Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” (Ps. 119:11, 18, 131, 135)
To attend to the word with diligence refers to consistently reading and listening to the word, diligently observing what it means. Preparation refers to putting yourself in a teachable frame of mind, turning away from rebellion, and remembering whose word this is that you are receiving. The prayer we should pray is that God would give us a true understanding of his word and bring it to us, not only in word, “but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).

Hebrews 4:2 tells us that the gospel did not benefit the generation that died in the wilderness because they did not receive the word with faith. 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says of those who are perishing, “that they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Therefore, we should seek to receive the word with faith and love, that we might benefit from it. The Westminster Confession of Faith has an excellent summary of what it means to receive the word with faith,
“By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.” (WCF 14.2)
Out of faith and love, a person will lay up God’s word in his heart and practice it in his life. And likewise, this faith and love is further supported and strengthened as we keep God’s word on our heart, in our mouths, and before our eyes as we go about our lives (Deut. 6:4-7).