Your Baptism and Your Savior

What does the ceremony of baptism really mean? What does your baptism mean to you? Paul explains in Colossians 2:11–12.

Christ has brought you into a covenant relationship with himself. The Old Testament sign sealed a special relationship with God. Circumcision was more than a sign of national identity. It was a seal of the covenant God had made with Abraham and his descendants, Genesis 17:7ff. It symbolized the removal of defilement, Jeremiah 4:4; 6:10. Too often Israel trusted in the outward sign, but that alone, without trust in God and a life of covenant obedience was worse than worthless.

A sign points to something beyond itself. Christ has done what the sign pictured. This is the powerful Christ of Colossians 2:9, 10. In him the (sinful) flesh is put off — not a surgical operation, but a cleansing from sin. He breaks the power of sin and sets you apart to be God’s holy, pure people.

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Washing with water is a great defense against germs. Water is also the element used in the sacrament of baptism–and it also involves cleansing. Your baptism seals your cleansing from sin, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11.

This what you were! The wicked will not inherit God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is contrasted with the wicked. The so-called “kings” of 1 Corinthians 4:8 are in danger of being excluded from the kingdom! “God” and “the wicked” are juxtaposed (in Greek) for the sake of contrast. Sin a violates God’s character and nature. When Paul speaks of inheriting the God’s kingdom, he is talking about eternal life, being with God in the new heavens and earth. Will you inherit the kingdom? Paul lists especially notorious sins. He focuses on the extremes, but the Corinthians were moving in that direction. And we live in a culture where these sins have become so accepted that “sin” is an almost unknown term. The culture affects the church. All Christians (this side of heaven) are guilty of sin. The sins Paul lists are sins which tend to control and characterize the sinner.

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Sealing the Promise

A diploma has a seal on it, placed there by the faculty and trustees of the school, authenticating what the diploma says. Paul uses that language in Romans 4:11 as he teaches us something about the sacraments.

The covenant sign is a seal of your faith. God ordained a sign of his covenant with Abraham. The heart of the covenant is fellowship between God and his people. It includes the other things promised to Abram, the land, an heir, becoming the father of a great nation, etc., Genesis 17:6, 8. But the heart of covenant fellowship is “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Genesis 17:7. The sign points to the existence of what it signifies. Golden arches point to a fast food place. The sign itself doesn’t feed you. The Bible doesn’t use the word sacrament (nor does it use the word Trinity), but it refers to the signs and seals God has ordained as signs of the covenant. The don’t replace the Word of God, but God has ordained them for us in addition to the Word. They have been described as the Word in visible form. The sign of circumcision pointed to the reality of covenant fellowship, to the reality of Abram’s trust in God. Recognize that the sacraments function in two directions. We are saying something to God, but, even more importantly, God is saying something to us.

“In the sacrament God first comes to believers to signify and seal his benefits. He assures them with visible pledges that he is their God and the God of their children. He attaches seals to his Word to strengthen their faith in that Word (Gen. 9:11–15; 17:11; Exod. 12:13; Mark 1:4; 16:16; Luke 22:19; Rom. 4:11; and so forth). On the other hand, the sacraments are also an act of confession. In them believers confess their conversion, their faith, their obedience, their communion with Christ and with each other. While God assures them that his is their God, they solemnly testify that they are his children. Every observance of the sacrament is an act of covenant renewal, a vow of faithfulness, an oath that obligates those who take it to engage in the service of Christ (Mark 1:5; 16:16; Acts 2:41; Rom. 6:3ff.; 1 Cor. 10:16ff.).”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pages 476–476
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Bear Fruit!

Each day of the final week of our Lord’s public ministry, up until his arrest, had involved him being in the Temple, presumably with the disciples. Josephus, the historian, tells us that above the entrance to the Temple was an ornate vine, made of gold. Clusters of grapes on the vine were as long as a man is tall. Although there is no Biblical record of a command to make such a vine, its presence is understandable in view of the repeated imagery of God’s people, Israel, as a vine. In John 15:1–5, Jesus, uttering the last of his “I am” statements, claims to be the true, the genuine vine.

You are united with Christ. Remain in Christ. Our text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, but he is telling you to remain in him. The imagery of the vine was used in the Old Testament to refer to Israel, Psalm 80:8–16; Isaiah 5:1–7. Often the context speaks of Israel’s disobedience. Now Jesus applies it to you, the church in the New Testament. Just as it is essential for the branch to remain in the vine, so you must stay in fellowship with your Savior. Without that union you wither, dry up, and die.

“[Union with Christ] promotes sanctification, not only because all sanctifying grace is derived from Christ as the crucified and exalted Redeemer, but also because the recognition of fellowship with Christ and of the high privilege it entails incites to gratitude, obedience, and devotion. Union also means communion and communion constrains a humble, reverent, loving walk with him who died and rose again that he might be our Lord.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 171

Contrary to popular views, you cannot do good works to make up for sin or to earn your way into God’s favor. Christ is calling you to continue to live in covenant fellowship with him. He calls you to trust him, to put him first in your life, to structure your life around him. To make your relationship with Christ a living one you need to make use of the means of grace which God has given you. Feed on the Word, both on the Lord’s Day, and in your daily life, turn to your Lord in prayer, take part in the sacraments. Your Lord’s invitation to his Table today is an invitation to sinners, sinners who trust him, sinners who need their union with him to continue to grow in grace and obedience.

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