This isn’t to do with how and when we get baptised. It’s about what we do with our baptism after we have been baptised. That may be a startling thought. What can we possibly do with our baptism after the event?
Martin Luther often responded to the temptations he faced by saying to himself: “I am a baptised man”. His baptism was still speaking to him of his dedication to God and Him alone. It reminded him of his duty to renounce sin, Satan and the world. This is a practical, everyday matter. What does your baptism say to you?
We ought to hear what Scripture says through baptism. It speaks about the blessings of the covenant of grace, regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Scripture also shows how baptism speaks of our duty to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5). In baptism, we have given ourselves up to God, to be His alone. That is why we are baptised in the threefold name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a sign and seal of the saving benefits of Christ. It commits us to live through the strength of union with Christ (Galatians 3:27). We are also to live to righteousness and die to sin (Romans 6:6,11; Colossians 2:11-12).
John Brown of Wamphray in his Commentary on Romans sums up helpfully.
“Baptism is a sacrament appointed by God, to signify and seal the ingrafting of all believers into Christ. It also seals the certainty of them partaking of the fruits and effects of His mediation. This is needed both for mortifying corruption and strengthening the new man of grace. It seals and confirms that everything promised in the new covenant will certainly without doubt be accomplished. But only to all who believe the promise and lay hold on Him in whom all the promises are ‘yea and amen’. Therefore, we are said to be baptized in Him and baptized in his death. Buried also with Him in baptism that as He was raised from the dead, we might walk in newness of life (see also Colossians 2:12)”.
This highlights some of the ways in which we are to make use of our baptism. It is connected with some the most fundamental duties and privileges of the Christian life for the whole duration of our lives. The French Confession of Faith (1559, Article 35) puts this point well. “although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification”.
The Westminster Larger Catechism (167) speaks of “improving” our baptism. This doesn’t mean that we can improve upon our baptism, repeat it, make it better or rise above it. It means to make the best and most use of something in order to get most benefit from it. According to the Larger Catechism few consider this. It is a “much neglected” duty. Baptism is not something to be received and then forgotten about. It is to be made productive or profitable by diligence (see Larger Catechism 167). It is a means of grace. It is vital to our growth in grace. We are not limited to getting benefit from baptism at the time it is administered (Westminster Confession 28:6).
Some brief and clear questions and answers may bring out these truths in a simple way.
Who Should Make Use of their Baptism? Everyone who has been baptised.
Why Should We Make Use of our Baptism? Because we must enter into its reality, spiritual meaning and blessing.
When Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? Every day of our life. But especially in times of temptation and when we witness the baptism of others. It should remind us of both our privileges and our failures.
How Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? This is the key question and much more involved. How can we embrace the blessings represented, sealed and promised in baptism so that we will benefit from them in our lives? The Larger Catechism outlines very fully six ways to make constant spiritual use of our baptism.
1. Considering the nature and purpose of baptism in a serious and thankful manner. Paul emphasises that we must “know” what baptism means (Romans 6:3-5). It is a means of grace. It is a sign and seal of the benefits that we receive by faith through Christ. It represents our solemn vow and dedication to live to the glory of God alone.
2. Being humbled because of our backslidings and sinful failures to live in accordance with our obligations and promises. Particularly how we have fallen short of living up to all that baptism represents.
3. Growing in spiritual maturity and all the other blessings represented by baptism. In particular, deepening assurance of forgiveness of sin and God’s love in “the answer of a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).
4. Drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ. This is necessary for living to righteousness and dying to sin – indeed putting sin to death (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12).
5. Seeking to live by faith in dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. To live our lives in holiness and righteousness as those who are Christ’s (Romans 6:22).
6. Walking in brotherly love together with those who have been baptised into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13; 25-27).
These are the most vital matters for Christian living. They are every day, lifelong duties. There is no doubt that making best use of our baptism is truly necessary or “needful”. Believers have many privileges and they must give account for them on the last day. The question must be answered: What have we done with our privileges? The Larger Catechism helps us consider how we can best make use of the privilege of baptism rather than neglecting it. The answer in full from the original text is given below.
Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:4,6,11)
- by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein (Romans 6:3-5)
- by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; Romans 6:2-3)
- by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament (Romans 4:11,12; 1 Peter 3:21)
- by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace (Romans 6:3-5)
- and by endeavouring to live by faith, (Galatians 3:26-27) to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, (Romans 6:22) as those that have therein given up their names to Christ (Acts 2:38)
- and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13,25-27).
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