Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Profiting from Baptism

This was originally published as a slightly shorter version in "The Messenger", which is the RPCI's youth magazine:

What does Baptism Mean to You?

What does baptism mean to you? Is it just a rite that was carried out when you were a child, but has no relevance to your life now? For many of us, we don’t think about baptism a lot, except maybe to ask the question, “Should children be baptised, or not?” We need to change our whole approach to baptism because the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and the Saviour of all those who trust in Him to deliver them from their sins, gave this sacrament to His church for a reason.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:21.) Christ did not give us this sacrament to look at and remain unchanged. He gave it so that we may understand, and believe and do.

Meaning, Mode and Subjects

Many people think about the subjects of baptism, who should be baptised; or the mode of baptism, how one should be baptised (is it immersion, pouring or sprinkling?). However, the purpose of this article is to look at the import of baptism, what does it mean; and more particularly how should we apply the meaning to our lives.

Space does not permit me to look at the subjects or the mode, but I will assume our Presbyterian belief that baptism is a washing with water administered by pouring, sprinkling or immersion, and that not only believers, but also their children should be baptised.

If you have questions about how baptism should be administered and to whom it should be applied, then don’t keep them to yourself. Ask your parents or elders (respectfully!).

The Meaning of Baptism

There are different strands to the meaning of baptism. These can be distinguished, but like the strands of a fabric they are so intimately woven together they overlap one another, and one cannot totally separate them from the others without damage to the garment. God has revealed all these different strands and they’re all important. (A good definition of baptism may be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 165.)

Identification and Union with God in Christ

When we are baptised, we are baptised “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), or as the Bible also says “into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16). (It is generally agreed that the word “in” should be translated “into”.) The use of the word “into” has a two-fold significance: it means that we are identified with the Triune God in Christ; and also that we are united with God in Christ.

In 1 Cor. 1:12,13, Paul shows us that being baptised into the name of someone causes us to be associated with that person (c.f. 1 Cor. 10:2). We have taken on the name of Christ and we have taken on the name of the Trinue God. This means that as children we became part of the outward people of God, and when we trust in Christ we become part of His body and are adopted into God’s family.

We have also been united with Christ through faith. This is sometimes referred to as being “engrafted” into Christ (Rom. 11:17-24) or being “planted together” with Christ (Rom.6:5). Often plantsmen graft a shoot onto a tree in orchards. This involves making a slit in a main branch or trunk, then putting a shoot or bud from another tree into this slit, and binding the two together. The two grow together, thus uniting. The root then feeds this branch that has been grafted into it.

This union with Christ means that we become part of His body (1 Cor. 12:12) and we share in the benefits of all that He has done, just as if we ourselves had done it. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 6.

In Romans 6, Paul argues that when we are spiritually baptised into Christ (or united to Christ), it was as if we are buried with Him, it is as if we die to sin with Him, and it is as if we are resurrected to newness of life with Him. Therefore those who are Christ’s will make a radical break with sin and will seek to live for God.

Not only are we united with Christ in His burial and resurrection, but through baptism our old nature has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6) and we have been planted together with Him in the likeness of His death (Rom. 6:5). We have also put on Christ like a garment in our spiritual baptism (Gal. 3:27); that is, He dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17) and we are being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). (Note that the figurative terms associated with baptism are more than burial and resurrection, which poses a problem for our immersionist brethren.)


Baptism involves the application of water to our bodies by either pouring, sprinkling or immersion (Acts 8:36; Acts 10:47). Water is a symbol of purification or cleansing. When we apply water to our bodies it is for the purpose of washing ourselves. In the Old Testament, water was frequently used for purification rites associated with the Temple, so believing Jews would have been familiar with this. (Indeed, in Heb. 9:10, the Greek word translated “washings” is literally “baptisms”.)

There are clearly two types of cleansing signified by the ceremonial washing of baptism: the cleansing of our souls from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ (“He who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood” – Rev. 1:5); and the change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit,“the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:15).

Washed in the Blood of Christ

The washing of baptism cannot effect the washing away of the guilt of our sin as the Papists claim. It is only a sign. The Bible does not say, “He that is baptised will be saved,” but “He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

The writer to the Hebrews says that the “the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh” – that is all that the bloody rites of the Old Testament can do. They cannot purify the heart and neither can the water of New Testament baptism. Rather “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13,14)

“[K]nowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16.)

The reality represented by the washing is the blood of Christ, which alone can cleanse us from sin. When we are baptised it represents the spiritual reality that happened when we believed in Christ. “Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). When we trust in Christ and confess our sin to God, He “cleanse[s] us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

How does the blood of Christ wash our sins away? It was necessary for the justice of God that someone should bear the punishment for our sins. Christ as the guiltless substitute of His people (1 Pet. 1:19), and as the infinite God (Acts 20:28), bore all the sins of His people on the Cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and in several hours took away the punishment of His people, which is eternal damnation away from the gracious presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9). It is through trusting in Christ and the blood that He shed for us that can only cleanse us from sin.

Baptism in the Spirit

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13.)

Just as Christ’s blood cleanses away the guilt of our sin, even so God has given His Spirit to His people to change their hearts (Tit. 3:15) and to cleanse away the pollution of their hearts, so that they should live for Him.

After listing some of the sins that the Corinthians had commited before being saved, Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11.)

A Sign of the Covenant

God made a covenant with Abraham to be a God to him and his descendants after him (Gen. 17:7). As believers, we are the children of Abraham by faith and we enter into this same covenant made with our father Abraham (Gal. 3:7,9,29), so the covenant is made with us and our children after us.

Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for the Jews, but, as Reformed Christians, we believe that the unbloody sacrament of baptism has replaced the bloody rite of circumcision, which we find in the Old Testament. (Circumcision involved the removal of a piece of skin from a dirty part of the body, and thus also signified cleansing. See for example, Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Col. 2:11,12.)

Baptism is thus a sign of the covenant and of all the benefits that belong to that covenant.

Entrance into the “Visible Church”

As previosuly stated, circumcision was a sign given to all those in a covenant relationship with God since Abraham until Christ’s resurrection. Thereafter baptism has replaced this. As those who belong to God and are baptised into His name, we are his people, that is part of the visible Church.

What do I mean by “visible”? What I mean is that we belong to those people who are outwardly God’s. Under the Old Testament, one could be circumcised and belong to God’s outward people and yet be uncircumcised (unchanged) in one’s heart (Deut. 10:16). Not all Israel are Israel (Rom. 9:6), that is not all who are in the Church are necessarily true Christians. Moreover, just as in the Old Testament the children of believers were included in God’s people, so it is now in the New Testament. God’s attitude toward believers’ children hasn’t changed.

The Parties Involved in Baptism

Although much of the application of the meaning of baptism must be clear from what has been said, there are different parties involved in baptism and there are different ways that these parties can benefit from baptism, so I’ll deal with each in turn. (A good definition of how we may profit from baptism may be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 167.)

Covenant Children

As those who have been baptised as the children of believers, you have shared in the benefits of the covenant relationship of God with your parents (or parent). Paul once asked the question, “What is the profit of circumcision?” We may ask a similar question, “What is the profit of baptism?” Paul would answer, “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them (i.e. to those in the visible Church) were committed the oracles of God.” (Rom. 3:1)

You have had high privileges. You have been raised in a Christian home (or by at least one Christian parent). You have heard the Word of God and in particular the Gospel of Christ from your earliest days. You have been raised in a congregation of God’s people, and come under the preaching of God’s Word and the influence of God’s people.

But with great privileges come great responsibilities. Have you lived up to your baptism? Have you come to know the reality of baptism in your life? Have you become united to Christ through faith? Have you trusted in Him to deliver you from your sins?

This sacrament shows that you need to be washed. Don’t you know that “we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”? (Isa. 64:6.) You need to come to the place that Isaiah did and cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” (Isa. 6:3,5.)

You need to be washed from the guilt of your sin. Christ alone can wash away the filth of your iniquity. You need your heart washed by the Spirit, so that you become a new person in Christ – you need a radical heart change!

If God has caused you to repent of your sin and trust in Christ, give thanks to God that He has worked the reality of the sign of baptism in your heart, and that He used your covenant home as part of that.


As believers you have been washed by the blood of Christ from the guilt of your sin and given a new heart by the baptism of the Spirit, so that you may walk in newness of life. You have not only been brought into the visible Church, but also into the true body of Christ. God has truly become your God; you belong to His family and have His name. Give thanks to God!

You have also died to sin with Christ and been raised to newness of life in Him through your union with Him in spiritual baptism. Therefore “reckon yourselves as dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:11.)

Believers Raised in Non-Christian Homes

Obviously all that applies to believers applies to you to, but there are special aspects to baptism for you. When Paul spoke to the Ephesian Gentiles, those who were not brought up in God’s visible church, he said, “Therefore remember that... you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13.)

Believing Parents

Some of you will become parents. If you are trusting Christ, then this sacrament, when applied to your children, speaks of the position that your children in the sight of God. He is not unconcerned about your children, for they are the children of His children (Acts 2:38,39; 16:31,33). God distinguishes them from the children of the world by saying that they are “holy”, that is set apart as special (1 Cor. 7:14.) God states that “He seeks godly offspring” from Christian marriages (Mal. 2:15).

It would appear from these passages and others that we should expect to see the reality of baptism appearing in the lives of our children – that they will repent and trust in Christ as their Saviour, if we are faithful in our responsibilities (Deut. 6:7; 30:6). Can you read the first chapters of Proverbs and see yourself speaking to your children this way?

Members of the Church

Those who are baptised have become part of the visible church and as such we have a responsibility for their spiritual well-being.


Some of the guys reading this may become elders (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:1). If so, then remember that you will be called to care for all those in the congregation who have been baptised. Remember that you must “watch out for [their] souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13:17). Will you care for the lambs as God does (Isa. 40:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-4)?


Are you seeking to profit from your baptism?


Blogger C G said...

Good to see you're "immersed" in the subject!

Thursday, April 27, 2006 8:00:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

I wouldn't say that I have "immersed" myself in it. I've only "dipped" my toes in really, so I have a "sprinkling" of knowledge in this area; but I thought I'd "pour" out my thoughts.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 11:59:00 pm  

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