We’ve been working our way through the Apostles’ Creed as a guide for what has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all” Christians. The core of our Trinitarian faith is contained in the Creed, yet the Creed does not contain all that we believe. Within our ancient, historic faith are broad streams that diverge on various matters, yet we remain united because of our common confession. One of these areas of divergence is the issue of baptism.
Last Sunday we were encouraged and exhorted to remember our baptism (in case you missed it, you may find it here). Baptism functions much like an adoption ceremony in a courtroom. It is the formal declaration that a child belongs to a new family, though that family has already embraced the child as their own. The formal declaration is important. So baptism is the formal declaration by a church that God has claimed the one being baptized as his own. I pointed out in that sermon that baptism is less that we are publicly identifying with God and much more that God, through baptism, is publicly identifying with us. It is the formal, visible, and public ceremony by which one is identified as God’s child.
One of the great difficulties with preaching is knowing what to cut. A given text says many things and the challenge I face each week is knowing what to leave out and what to keep in the sermon. (Prayer is absolutely vital for this.) In that sermon I focused on baptism as the instrument God uses to grant us a new identity in Christ. All other identities will fail; his identity given to us never will. We rest in who we are in Christ, come what may. While baptism does this, this is not all that is happening in baptism!
Dr. Michael Svigel, a Patristics scholar (early church fathers) at Dallas Seminary, points out six things that baptism is. Baptism is:
- a public confession of the Trinitarian faith (Matthew 28:19)
- a personal association with Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:3–4)
- a repentance from a life of sin (Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11)
- a pledge to live a sanctified life (1 Peter 3:21)
- a rite of initiation into the covenant community (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27)
- a mark of official community forgiveness (Acts 26:18).
On Sunday I focused on the personal association with Christ’s death and resurrection, and touched on baptism as a rite of initiation into the covenant community and as a mark of official community forgiveness. Through baptism the church declares what God has already determined to be true: the one being baptized has been forgiven of his or her sins through faith in Christ, thus indicating that he or she is a part of the body of Christ.
Throughout this series we’ve focused on the Apostles’ Creed, which began as a baptismal confession. This is why the Creed is Trinitarian in focus, with the three major headings being, “I believe in God… I believe in Jesus Christ… I believe in the Holy Spirit”. Baptism is merely the beginning of this public confession of Trinitarian faith.
What about the other two things baptism declares, that of repentance from a life of sin and a pledge to live a sanctified life? When we are called to remember our baptism, we are being called to remember these as well. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.Romans 6:1–4 ESV
Baptism is a pledge to remain identified with Christ as one who has died to sin. The outcome of this is newness of life—a life no longer under the control of sin. Sin’s power has been broken in the life of the believer, for by union with Christ that power remains nailed to the cross. It remains buried, and sin’s power will never experience resurrection. We, however, have been raised with Christ, that we might walk in newness of life. However, in the very next chapter of Romans Paul expresses the struggle with sin that we all experience:
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.Romans 7:19 ESV
None of us is free of sin. Each one of us struggles with the ongoing pull toward it. When we remember our baptism, we resist this pull, but we must also remember that baptism is our repentance from a life of sin. Remembering our baptism means a life of ongoing repentance. (For more details see this article.) A life of repentance is a life filled with God’s grace and mercy. Consider John’s words in his first letter:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.1 John 1:8–10 ESV
To deny that we sin is to lie to ourselves but to confess our sins to God is to receive his mercy! What a beautiful declaration! Notice the reason why God forgives: he is faithful and just. We get the faithfulness. We know God is good and merciful, yet John also says God is just to forgive us. He is upright and fair and righteous for doing so. Why is this? This is because if one is in Christ, his or her sins have already been dealt with at the cross! Remember that through baptism when Jesus died, we died, and when he was buried, we were buried, and when he rose from the dead, we were raised with him in newness of life. It is just for God to forgive us our sins because he has given us his identity as his people, and that means in his eyes we are already righteous. His ongoing forgiveness is his repeated declaration that this is true.
So let’s remember our baptism. Let’s remember that our public confession of our Trinitarian faith is our rite of initiation into God’s covenant community by which God unites us to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, which is also the church’s declaration that we belong to God and have already been forgiven by him. It is also our pledge to live as his people as we live in ongoing repentance and continually receive his mercy and grace.