Our baptism, which stands in close connection with our subject of “Christian Living,” has a twofold purpose. Being what it is, a sign and seal of the righteousness which is by faith in Christ, instituted by God Himself for His Church only, ordained for and used only by the believers, it serves as a distinguishing mark, an earmark, a UNIFORM for the church. The sacraments do not belong to and with the world, but to the church of God. By her only they are administered and for her only they are intended. Therefore, your baptism reveals you, distinguishes you as belonging, not to the world, but to the church and people of God. For this reason our Heidelberg Catechism states concerning the baptism of infants: “They must, by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian Church, and DISTINGUISHED FROM THE CHILDREN OF UNBELIEVERS.” What this means in the way of admonition and obligation to walk as children of God we feel at once, do we not? A young man wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army is certainly obligated to be faithful to his country and to fight the battle for America. If instead he betrays his country into the hands of the enemy, he surely makes himself deserving of a traitor’s death. You and I, who, by virtue of our baptism, wear the uniform of God’s church and covenant are certainly under a double obligation to be ever faithful (simper fidelis) to the cause of our God and to live as His children in the midst of the world. We shall say more about this in due time. In connection with this first purpose baptism also is intended to confirm the conscious faith of the child of God, by the operation of that Spirit, Who alone is the Author of our entire salvation.
Bear in mind the distinction between the SIGN of baptism and the THING SIGNIFIED; the sprinkling of the forehead with plain water and the sprinkling of the soul with the blood of Christ: our water baptism and our spiritual baptism. The one is for all the children of the church; the other, the spiritual, is realized only in God’s elect, through faith. You may have the one with all the entails in the way of admonition and obligation and not the other. These two must not be confused or identified, lest we deceive ourselves into believing that merely because we have the sign we also have the thing signified. Such deception may well mean that one is actually on the road to hell while he makes himself believe that because he is baptized all is well. Though baptized, you still must make sure that you have the answer to the question: do I also have the reality? Am I also partaker of that for which the outward sacrament stands?
What is that deeper reality? What does our water baptism stand for? What happens when one is really baptized?
The first and main answer to this question is: our true, spiritual baptism is THE ENTERING INTO THE COVENANT OF GOD. That’s what our baptism stands for. That this is the heart of the matter is clearly indicated by our Baptism Form, which begins: “The principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism are these three: First, that we with our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, except we are born again. This, the dipping in, or sprinkling with water teaches us.” I say, this is the main answer. There are various aspects of this same matter. When you enter INTO something you also go OUT OF something, and you also pass THROUGH something. Together these constitute one act. Passing out of one room, going through a door, and entering into another room are three aspects of one thing. Thus it is with our baptism. You may ask: HOW do I enter into the covenant of God? The answer is: only through Christ, Who is the door. You may also ask: WHENCE do I enter into God’s covenant? The answer is: out of the world of sin and death wherein we lie by nature. Even so, the end of it all is this: baptism as the spiritual reality is our ENTERING INTO THE COVENANT OF GOD. We pass OUT OF the world of sin and death THROUGH Christ, INTO God’s covenant. And only then are we truly baptized when this has been realized in our hearts by the grace of God. In other words, baptism does reveal us; distinguish us as having entered into the covenant of God.
What is meant by the covenant? We shall not concern ourselves with the legion of false answers that are given in answer to this question. The covenant is the concrete relation of friendship and spiritual fellowship which God establishes between Himself and His people in Jesus Christ. To my mind, nothing on earth represents the idea of the covenant more beautifully than does the home. Home, yours and mine, speaks of fellowship, friendship, love. There we dwell with those who are nearest and dearest to us. Together we sit around one family table, gather around one hearth, eat and drink, walk and talk, laugh and play. In the home you can take off your shoes and act yourself. There you have a covenant life on earth. Covenant life is family life, home life. Likewise, God’s covenant with man is essentially the relation of friendship between Him and His people. It is the family life that the Most High establishes with His own. It is this: that the eternal God will be our Friend and we may be His friends: He will be our Father and we may be His children: He will walk and talk with us and we may walk and talk with Him; the great, eternal God will condescend to receive us into everlasting fellowship with Himself; we may sit together around God’s table and gather around His heavenly hearth. That is the idea of the covenant. And that is the heart of our salvation, the highest blessedness for the creature; the end of all God does in the way of redemption for His people.
Baptism is the sacrament that signifies our ENTERING INTO that covenant by the irresistible grace of God. It visibly represents and guarantees that sure work of God, whereby the lost sinner is delivered and separated from the world and sin, incorporated into Jesus Christ, in Whom we have both forgiveness and spiritual renewal, and thus received into God’s covenant.
That sure work of God, spiritual baptism, is intended for and accomplished in the elect only. That stands to reason. Baptism does not signify some definite promise; nor is it some kind of an offer of salvation to all the baptized; but it represents the sure work of salvation. Therefore the thing signified is for the elect only. Baptism does not preach: I want to establish My covenant with you; I want to be your God; I desire to wash away your sins and renew you, if you also desire this and permit Me to perform this work in you. It preaches, promises, pledges, in the Name of the Lord: I WILL establish My Covenant with you, I WILL be your God, I WILL wash away your sins and renew you, and I WILL make you want this and cause you to embrace my promises by a living faith.
However, the SIGN of baptism is administered to all the children of the church. That is the will of God. Therefore we all are baptized. And this baptism has for us all a tremendous significance. It burdens us with tremendous responsibilities. It implies that we all wear the uniform of God’s covenant and as such are distinguished, historically, from the children of this world. That uniform declares that you are children of God’s covenant. It testifies that you belong to the party of God, that you are children of God and members of His family, and that you dwell with Him and He with you. Whether or not these things are really true (that is a question of faith in Christ), but that is what your baptism preaches to the world and to the church. How unspeakably terrible if your life testifies the very opposite; if you wear the uniform of God’s covenant but actually love and serve the world; if your baptism distinguishes you as a child of light and your life reveals you as a child of darkness. Surely, your baptism comes to you with the mighty calling: Serve the Lord and live as a child of God. Live worthy of the uniform you are wearing. If you don’t you will be beaten with double stripes. To be sure, the lot of all the ungodly in hell will be terrible, but—for traitors it will be doubly so. And a traitor you are of the worst kind, if you deny your baptism by a life that is ungodly. Walk as children of God, inquire in all sincerity after the will of your God, and you have the promise of life and glory, now in principle, and presently in perfection, when the tabernacle of God will be with us forever.