Back in 2003, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I was 24 years old. That was almost 20 years ago. Wow. I’m getting old. Anyway, I ran the marathon on a beautiful day in October in Pennsylvania. The morning was cool and it warmed up to the point I could run without a shirt. This allowed spectators and other runners to see what Kristina had written in Sharpie across my chest: “I’d rather be preaching.” As I ran the 26.2 miles in Philly, I availed myself of the drink stations to stay hydrated. I also had a gel pack or two. These periodic energy boosts made a difference along the wearying racecourse.
Paul compares life to a race (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7). Life is a wearying race, and we need energy boosts or encouragements along the way. Certainly, the weekly preaching of the law and gospel are necessary energy boosts. Certainly, receiving the body and blood of Christ by faith in the Lord’s Supper is a necessary energy boost. Certainly, prayer is an energy boost. However, we often miss the ongoing helpfulness, even necessity, of something that also gives us an energy boost – baptism.
Now, we were only baptized once (or should have been; only one baptism is necessary; Eph. 4:5). Baptism is different from the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the initiation into the visible church, whereas the Lord’s Supper is covenant renewal. So, baptism happens only once. It initiates unbaptized believers (and their children) into the visible church, the covenant community, as “we recognize their place in the external administration of the covenant of grace.”  But even though baptism is administered just once, it continues to play an ongoing role along our wearying way. Baptism continues to be an energy boost or an encouragement as we look to Christ communicated and promised to us in our baptism.
One significant problem with the credo-baptism view is, at least in my experience and as I understand the position, that the credo-baptism position places the emphasis of baptism on “going public” with your faith. It places baptism in gratitude instead of in grace because it sees baptism as something the believer does to express their trust in Christ. I think this misses the point of the gospel expressed and promised to the church in baptism, and God’s kind act of placing someone within His kingdom made visible on earth.
What does baptism communicate and how is it helpful along our pilgrim journey, even the pilgrim journey of little covenant babies who grow up as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19 – we are to baptize disciples, not converts)? Well, Heidelberg 69 helps us understand those questions. It asks: “How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?” Notice how the question is worded. Baptism is holy. Baptism is a sign and seal of something that God does for us, something through which God communicates the gospel to us. Baptism is about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and how God benefits us through that sacrifice. God extends to us (and our children) the promise of the gospel in baptism. So, “How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?” Answer:
In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly His blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins.
You take showers or baths, right? Right? Please do. Anyway, when you take a shower the water flows over your head and in conjunction with body wash washes away the dirt on you. Water is a cleansing agent. It washes dirt away. Water is used in baptism. Why? Well, as water washes away dirt from your body, the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ your Lord washes away the impurity of your soul, your sins. Just as God attached a glorious gospel promise to circumcision to comfort and assure Abraham and his offspring, God also attaches to baptism a gospel promise. Baptism communicates a promise, and all those who truly believe receive the realities of that promise. Heidelberg 70 explains what is received by true faith.
So, as we run the race on the wearying racecourse, we stop along the way to be comforted and heartened by our baptism through which God continues to communicate to us His gracious promise of Christ. Sure, devotions are helpful, but how often do you ponder your baptism in order to draw comfort from it? It will give you a boost. Your baptism communicates to you the cross of Christ, his bloodshed which cleanses you from sin, the forgiveness of God which is yours in Christ, the sacrifice of love which Christ made for you, the gift of the Holy Spirit which washes you according to sovereign grace, the renewal you are experiencing in the Holy Spirit, the sanctification that is happening according to God’s will, the union you experience with Christ as members of his body, etc. Your baptism communicates to you the gospel by which you are compelled to respond to God in obedience to His Ten Commandments.
Dear saints, dear beloved adopted children of God, dear little children in the visible church, dear disciples of the living Christ, you have been blessed to receive the sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace, His gospel, and you are in the visible church. You are part of the community of faith where disciples are learning how to obey the Lord. The external administration of grace in the Word and sacraments ministry of your local church is happening, and you are present, hopefully, receiving the benefits of Christ by true faith. Consider how good and gracious God is being with you as He continues to extend to you the promise of the gospel through preaching and your baptism. Be grateful that God gifted you with baptism, that God, through the hand of the minister that baptized you, made a promise to you. Trust Christ. Believe Christ. Receive the promise of God by true faith and you will find comfort and assurance in possessing all that baptism signifies and seals for you.
As you run your race to obtain the prize, don’t run past the frequent energy boost of your baptism. Sure, you were baptized once, but baptism helps you more than once. It continues to help you as you run the course ahead of you. If you’re tired, weary, or exhausted, look to Christ in your baptism and be heartened. God is loving you.
Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.