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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Holy baptism is a sacrament of God's covenant of grace
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 33:1,2

Psalm 33:6

Hymn 1

Psalm 57:1,4,5

Scripture reading:  Romans 6:1-14

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 26

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Do you remember your baptism?  That’s a question that can be taken two ways.  Do you remember your baptism?  That could be taken as, “Do you remember the moment when you were baptized?”  For most of us, the answer to that would be “no.”  After all, we were baptized as infants, and we don’t remember being brought to the front of the church for the first time.  Our parents told us that we were baptized and we took their word for it and perhaps we have a certificate to prove it. 

But there’s another way to take that question:  do you remember your baptism?  It can be taken as:  do you keep in mind the fact that you have been baptized?  Is that something that’s important to you?  Do you take it with you and let it encourage you and help you in your Christian walk? 

Several authors say that the Reformer Martin Luther did that.  They say that he took the words “I am baptized” and wrote them in Latin on his desk.  Whenever he would feel the intensity of spiritual warfare, he would look at these words and be reminded of his baptism.  He would be reminded that God had come to him in this sacrament when he was still a baby.

When we remember our baptism, there’s help and strength for us too.  This sacrament exists for the strengthening of our faith.  When we’re faced with life’s struggles, we can reflect on the fact that our God came to us and declared publically that we belong to him.  He made it known that he has a covenant bond with us.  When we’re Christians, that announcement made in our baptism is a huge boost.  It tells us of God and the relationship that he has graciously established with us.

That relationship is the covenant of grace.  The covenant of grace is God’s bond with us and our children.  We haven’t earned entrance into that relationship – that’s partly why it’s called a covenant of grace.  We also don’t deserve the maintenance of that relationship – our Saviour Jesus is the Mediator, the one who keeps this relationship functioning as it should.  That’s the other reason it’s called a covenant of grace.  This covenant has two sacraments:  the Lord’s Supper and holy baptism.  This afternoon with Lord’s Day 26 as our catechism lesson, our focus is on baptism as the sacrament of initiation into the covenant of grace.  There are two things that we’ll consider:

  1. What God promises in baptism
  2. How we should respond to our baptism

One of the key things we need to remember at the start is that the covenant is a two-sided relationship.  Yes, it’s a covenant of grace and that fact highlights the truth that God alone initiates and facilitates the covenant.  But like any relationship, as it exists in this world, there are two sides.  So we first want to consider what our covenant God is doing in the sacrament of baptism.

In Lord’s Day 26 our Catechism summarizes what God is doing by pointing out that we are given the promise of washing.  That’s what baptism portrays, that’s what it is a sign of.  When you take a shower, the water washes away the dirt from your body.  Baptism portrays the washing away of our sins through Christ’s blood and Spirit.  Now we have to be clear:  it’s not that baptism itself washes away our sins.  If we believed that, we would be Roman Catholics.  No, baptism is the sacrament that pictures it.  It’s a sacrament where God promises to grant us this, provided we respond in the proper way.

What we are promised through baptism is washing, and the Scriptures teach that it is a two-fold washing.  There is washing with Christ’s blood and washing with Christ’s Spirit.  Let’s look at each of these individually. 

Washing with Christ’s blood speaks of the forgiveness of our sins.  If we are washed with the blood of Christ shed on the cross, then we are released from our debt towards God.  When we sin, we offend his honour and incur a debt towards him.  But if we have been washed with the blood of Jesus, that blood covers our offense.  It pays for our debt.  We are forgiven.  That means that there is no longer any obstacle to fellowship with God.  We can live with him in fellowship in the covenant of grace.  God promises us this good news in our baptism.

He goes further and also promises us washing with Christ’s Spirit, with the Holy Spirit.  That refers to our sanctification, the process of becoming holy, the journey of becoming more and more like Jesus our Lord.   In baptism, we are promised that God is going to continue having dealings with us.  He is not going to leave us the way he found us.  Instead, he is going to transform not only our hearts, but also our entire life.  As the Catechism puts it, God promises that we’re going to more and more become dead to sin and more and more lead a holy and blameless life. 

You can see that taught in Romans 6 as well.  In the words we read, there’s something about our human responsibility and calling in view of God’s salvation.  But there’s also something there about God’s promise.  Christians have been baptized into Christ’s death.  Our baptism reminds us of that reality.  God promises that if we believe, we are no longer enslaved to sin.  If you are a Christian, you do not have to sin.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can say “no” to sin.  God promises that you have been set free from sin’s guilt and are being set free more and more from its power.  Therefore, God’s promise stands fast in Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”  As a regenerated Christian, you are not a spiritual zombie compelled to sin at every single moment.  God promises us washing with the Holy Spirit so that our lives are actually looking different, we are being transformed. 

So at our baptism, God has promised both forgiveness through Christ, and transformation of our lives through his Holy Spirit.  These are incredible promises that we should not minimize or underestimate.  God extends these promises to every single person in the covenant of grace, to all who receive the waters of baptism as a sign of the covenant.  Loved ones, you’ve been baptized, therefore these promises are yours.  I can even say that you are entitled to these things within the covenant relationship. 

However, I also have to remind you that it’s not automatic that you’re going to receive what’s promised.  Sadly, there still seems to be a common misconception in our churches on this point.  Even though we’ve been (hopefully) taught otherwise, sometimes you still hear people talk and act as though if you’re baptized and in the covenant of grace, everything will be all right, no matter what you really believe in your heart, and no matter how you behave in your life. 

I recently came across a blog from a former Canadian Reformed Church member who’s now an atheist.  Sometimes I read these blogs just to get an idea of why people left the Christian faith, the questions they struggled with, and so on.  This particular writer has a post about how many Canadian Reformed people believe that they’re on their way to heaven because of the covenant.  Because they were baptized, many believe that they’re automatically among the elect.  Jesus Christ doesn’t factor into this at all, nor does faith.  It’s simply a matter of being “lucky” enough to be born into the right family and going to the right church.  The author writes, “Since I’m in the covenant of grace, I consider myself to be saved.  Since I’m saved, nothing I do or don’t do, can un-save me.”  The author admits that this isn’t actually taught in the Canadian Reformed Churches, but claims that it’s still the inevitable outcome of Reformed theology.  It’s what people invariably end up thinking.

Now because we’re very similar in our background to the Canadian Reformed Churches, I think you could probably transfer what’s being said there to the Free Reformed Churches here.  Think about it.  Isn’t there some truth to what this person is writing?  Even though we may have been taught otherwise, haven’t we sometimes thought that there’s an automatic ticket to salvation in the covenant of grace?  Haven’t we sometimes thought that as long as we’re baptized, we’re all right?  And even if we haven’t thought that personally, haven’t you witnessed that kind of thinking? 

It has to be said that this is not a right way of thinking.  We also have to disagree with that blog writer that this way of thinking is inevitable when we hold to Reformed theology.  Reformed theology follows the Scriptures.  The Scriptures teach that God has a covenant relationship with believers and their children.  Within that relationship, the call is always there to human responsibility.  God holds each of us personally responsible to heed the call of the gospel, to heed the call to believe in Jesus Christ as our only Saviour. 

You see, it is only when we respond in the right way that we receive what is promised in our baptism.  There’s an illustration often used for this.  Being baptized is like receiving a cheque for a huge sum of money.  A cheque is a promissory note.  When you do the right thing with the cheque, when you take it to the bank, you’ll receive the amount promised.  But if you throw away the cheque or ignore it, you get nothing.  It’s not a perfect illustration, but it helps to explain the difference between receiving a promise and receiving what is promised.

So, how should we respond to our baptism?  In other words, how do we receive what is promised?  How do we receive the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of our hearts and lives?  The basic answer is simple:  truly believe in Jesus Christ.  Do you remember what happened with Nicodemus in John 3?  Nicodemus was a child of the covenant.  He came to Christ and Christ first taught him about his need to be born again.  But Christ also called him to faith in him.  He said that he would be like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, raised up on the pole.  If sinners in danger would look to him, they would be saved, they would have eternal life.  If Nicodemus, that covenant child, would look to Christ he would receive the forgiveness of sins and his life would be changed.  This is true for everyone within the covenant of grace today as well.  It’s true for me and you.  We must all place our trust in Christ alone as the Saviour.  Our baptism calls for a response of faith. 

Let me remind you what faith is.  There are people who think they have faith, when they actually fall short of faith, they have a counterfeit faith, fake faith.  Faith has three aspects to it, and you need all three aspects for it really to be faith.  Faith includes first of all knowledge.  You do need to know basic doctrines, you need to have a basic understanding of the biblical message of sin and salvation.  So faith includes your mind and what you know.  Faith also includes assent to the truth of the Scriptures.  That means that you agree that what the Bible says is true.  You can have knowledge of the Scriptures without saying that it’s true.  You could know the Bible inside and out and yet come away from it and say, “Yeah, it’s an interesting story, but I don’t buy it.”  Faith says, “I know it, and I know it’s true.”  But then faith goes one step further.  The final part of faith is to say, “It’s true for me personally.  When the Bible speaks about sin, I see myself in that.  I am a great sinner in deep trouble.  But when the Bible speaks about the Saviour, I know he’s the Saviour I need.  I place my trust in Jesus alone as my Redeemer.”  You see, faith always has that personal element, that confidence that Christ is yours.  This is what our baptism calls us to.  It calls us to knowledge, to assent, and to personal confidence in Jesus.  We have to respond to our baptism with faith.

If we don’t, we shouldn’t think that everything will be all right anyway.  This is one point where the cheque illustration from before falls short.  If you don’t take a cheque to the bank, what are the consequences?  You miss out on the funds promised.  But that’s it.  The one who wrote the cheque is probably not going to be your eternal enemy.  However, in the covenant of grace, if you spurn God’s promises, if you slap him in the face by refusing his promises, he takes it personally.  Let’s turn to Hebrews 10:26-31 for a moment [read that passage].  If you refuse to believe in the Saviour God has provided and go your own way, that is a fearful thing.  Do you get that?  It is a fearful thing, not only despite your being baptized, but because you were baptized.  It is a fearful thing, not only despite you being a member of the church, but because you’re a member of the church.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in church twice every Sunday and going through all the right motions, ticking all the right boxes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re contributing money, attending Bible study clubs, sending your children to catechism and our Christian school.   If you don’t have Christ as your own Saviour, if you don’t have faith in him, these things don’t help you out one little bit.  In fact, they are adding to your judgment.  I say that because I need to and I say it with great fear and trembling.  As the Scripture says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

It is so much better to be in his hands in the way of fellowship and family.  It is so much better to experience his hands as the hands of a Father with whom we are reconciled.  The only way reconciliation happens for anyone, including for those baptized into the covenant, is through faith in Jesus Christ. 

When you entrust yourself to him, you can always remember your baptism with joy and comfort.  With true faith in Jesus, you can say, “My baptism is where God came to me publically and declared that I belong to him.  He put his Name on me.  He made incredible promises to me.  He has graciously proven to be my help and strength through all my life.”  When you face trials and difficulties, your baptism can encourage you like it did Luther.  Even though it may have happened 20, 30, 40 or more years ago, your baptism testifies of the God who wants to be your God.  Your baptism speaks of a God who established a relationship with you and gave you the means to make that relationship work out in a good way.  He gave you a Saviour.  He gave you his Spirit.  He made promises and he made a way for you to receive what was promised.  Remembering our baptism, we can therefore say, “Blessed be the Name of the LORD, who has not forgotten me, who has never let go of me and never will.”  AMEN.


Our covenant God and Father,

We thank you for being our God. Thank you for the promises that you give in the covenant, promises signed and sealed in our baptism.  We thank you for the promise of washing with Christ’s blood.  You promise to forgive us through the cross.  We praise you for the promise of transformation through the Holy Spirit.  And Father, we pray that you would help all of us to respond to your promises with faith in Jesus Christ.  Help us to believe you and to believe in your Son for eternal life.  We pray especially for our children.  We pray that you would work in their hearts with your Spirit.  Please regenerate them and give them the gift of faith in Jesus.  And Father, if there are those among us who are adults and not yet regenerated, not yet trusting personally in Christ, we pray for them too.  We ask that you would do your sovereign work of saving grace in their lives too.  We know it is a fearful thing to fall into your hands if we don’t believe, and we pray that none of us would experience that.  Instead, please give each and every one of us a true faith and keep us in our faith.  We pray that so that your Name would receive all glory and honour.        

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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