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Author: Rick VanderHorst
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:Baptism is about identity: Who am I in Christ?
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 7:1,2

Hy 1

1 Corinthians 6

Ps 42:1,3

LD 26 and LD 27 Q&As 72 and 73

Hy 84

Ps 56:4,5

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

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, over the course of a day we will undoubtedly make judgments about ourselves in our hearts. These judgments are often about our identity, about who we believe we are.

Here is a list of random examples:

I’m great at my job;

I wish I were more attractive;

I’m a failure;

I’m good at sports; 

I’m no good at anything;

I am worthless;

I am popular;

I’ll never get over this sin;

God must not love me;

I’m smarter than that person is;

I’m the black sheep of the family.

Now, perhaps most of the time we don’t even realize that we make these judgments in our heart. However, making these sorts of judgments in our hearts about who we are has an effect on us. Often it affects us in two different ways: First, many of these judgments tend to push us towards either pride or some kind of despair. For example, if a person believes he is worthless, it will push him towards despair. Second, we often live according to our identity. For example, if someone identifies himself as the “class clown”, he will tend to act that way. That’s his identity and so he acts on it.  Our identity impacts us in profound ways.

This afternoon, we are studying the doctrine of holy baptism. What I want us to see this afternoon is that baptism is also about identity, an identity that God gives us. Baptism is about who we are in Christ. You see, God wants us to identity a certain way in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Baptism is given to strengthen the belief in our hearts about who we are and what we have in Christ Jesus. This helps us in this life in so many ways as we hope to see this afternoon.

That brings us to the sermon theme:

Baptism is about identity: Who am I in Christ?

This message of baptism helps us when we are

1) Struggling with doubts about salvation

2) Battling against sin

3) Dealing with the troubles and trials of life


Baptism is about who we are in Christ.  Look at what LD 26 and the first part of LD 27 say about this: What are some of the messages of baptism? “As surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly Christ’s blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is all my sins.” Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin. The Spirit of Christ makes us spiritually alive, so that we can obey God rather than sin.

This is also not a complete list in LDs 26 and 27. Baptism pictures other things too. It proclaims to us that in Christ Jesus we are, justified before God, new creatures with a new nature, adopted into God’s family, temples of the Holy Spirit, and heirs of eternal life. Baptism is also meant to separate the people who belong to God and those who belong to Satan - the people of the world and the people of the church. God is declaring to those who are baptized, I have claimed you ----you belong to my church.

There is a negative side to baptism also. Baptism is also a message of judgment. It’s a message of judgment to people who do not believe. Think of the OT events that symbolized baptism. There were two such events: The Great Flood in Noah’s time and the crossing of the Red Sea. Both of these waters symbolized baptism. These waters were waters of judgement for those who did not believe. We can think of the unbelieving world and Pharaoh and his army. It’s the same thing with our baptism. If we refuse to believe, then the waters of baptism are waters of judgment.

However, even though this message of judgment is there in baptism, baptism is not meant to discourage those who are weak in faith. There is a difference between struggling with doubts about salvation and outright rejecting Christ. Sometimes God’s children can really struggle with assurance. They face many doubts about salvation. Maybe they wonder if they are actually under God’s judgment. Then things can go in a downward spiral: “Am I really God’s child? Maybe I am not one of his chosen ones. After all, if I were God’s child why would he let me struggle with thoughts like these? Why doesn’t God do something? After all, I have struggled for so long!” But beloved, it does not work that way!! God HAS done something to help you with your doubts. He’s given you baptism. How does God move us from a weak faith to an ever-increasing faith? God uses means! One of those means is the sacrament of baptism. God uses something that comes to us from the outside, to change our thinking on the inside.

God comes to us with baptism from the outside, not the inside, but from outside of ourselves. And he declares to us in that baptism: “Here, look at this. Believe this identity in your heart. Stop doubting and believe what this baptism proclaims to you.” Look at what we confess in Q&A 73. There we confess: “God wants to assure us by this divine pledge and sign that we are as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually as we are bodily washed with water.” If you want to grow in faith, then understand and believe the message God is proclaiming to you in baptism.


What difference does this identity make? Perhaps an illustration can help. It’s a bit of an old news story but I think it’s a helpful illustration. In the summer of 2018, the world was captivated by news out of Thailand. 12 boys from a soccer team along with their coach got trapped in a cave. They explored the cave one afternoon. Suddenly they realized that water had come in and blocked their exit out of the cave. Rising cave waters forced them further and further into the blackness of the cave. There they sat, trapped, with no way out. They were 4 kilometers inside the cave without hope. Way back in that cave, those waters separated them from life outside.  If they tried to get through those waters on their own effort, they would die. So they were without hope and death seemed inevitable

But then, about ten days later some divers came through the waters and found them. They came to rescue them. Eventually they brought them out. They sedated the boys with medication. Then they carried them through those waters safely to the other side. Those boys did nothing to save themselves.   All they did was pass through those waters by the strength and work of someone else.And when they exited that cave, what a feeling of relief and joy they must have felt. WE have been saved! Against all odds we have been saved! Now we have hope! Now we are on the side of light and life. We are no longer sitting in the darkness doomed to die. We are free!


Beloved that is similar to us and the message of baptism. By our sin and folly we plunged ourselves into darkness and ruin and we were left without hope. WE had it worse than those boys trapped in the cave because we were spiritually dead. We were without hope. In order to be saved we would need to pass through the judgment of death and then rise again on the other side. None of us could do that by our own efforts – we would simply die. None of us can pass through God’s judgment on our own and live.

But thanks be to God, he came to us when we were without hope to rescue us! He sent us Son Jesus Christ to save us from that hopeless state. What did Christ do? Scripture says we are joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. Just like those boys were brought through those waters out of the cave by those divers. Christ has brought us through death into life by his own merits. Now, we are raised with Christ into eternal life. He has rescued us from our hopeless condition!

Baptism symbolizes this change. Baptism symbolizes this passing from death to life and salvation. In baptism we move from one side of the water to the other. It’s not that the water of baptism itself saves us. However, it represents the salvation Christ has given to us in bringing us from death to life. By passing through those waters of baptism God is assuring you of this saving work of Christ. He’s proclaiming to you that in Christ. now you stand on the side of the resurrection. You stand on the side of eternal life on the side of light and on the side of freedom and joy. It’s just like those boys were moved from the darkness and death of the cave to the light and life of the outside world. 1 Corinthians 6 affirms this change, represented by baptism, when it says: You were washed, you were justified, you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. It’s all by the grace of God and it’s all by the merit of Christ.

God is saying to you who have been baptized: “Look at your baptism and now believe that this is who you are in Christ. Stop doubting and believe!!” If you have not been identifying yourself in this way, then start! Start doing it today and do it everyday. Yes, you might struggle still with thoughts of doubt and fear but that’s okay; it might take time for this to sink in. But this is why baptism doesn’t only benefit a person when the waters are first placed on them. You can continually look to baptism and remind yourself about who you are and what you have in Christ. That is the way to ever increasing faith.


2) This message of baptism helps us when we are battling against sin

Having given us this identity in Christ, God now calls you to live according to that identity. As I said in the introduction to the sermon, we tend to live according to how we identity. God has given us an identity in Christ. And now he calls us to live according to that identity. In fact this identity is the vey thing we need to fight against sin and to overcome sin.

Look at how this works in our reading from 1 Corinthians 6. Paul rebuked the Corinthian Christians because they were making lawsuits against each other and taking each other to court. Things got so bad that he says, “Why not suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers!!!” It’s terrible enough to defraud anyone but how can a Christian defraud his fellow Christian. It’s outrageous! And so Paul warns them saying, “Do you knot know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

He’s saying, right now by your behaviour you are affirming your old identity apart from Christ. That’s your old life, that’s who you used to be! So, first he warns them: Make no mistake, it’s those people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. So make sure you turn from that old sinful way of life! But then he reminds them of who they are in Christ “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Basically, he is saying, “Why are you living in a way that is completely opposite of who you are in Christ?” It doesn’t make sense. God has not only changed your status, but he’s also changed your spiritual condition.

To drive this home, let’s think of those boys trapped in the cave again. For over two weeks those boys were in that cave. They were forced to live a terrible life in that cave: They were trapped. They weren’t free to live as they were created to live. The life they lived was more like death than like life. But then they were rescued, and they were brought out of that cave. How will they then live once they are rescued? They will live as free people! Does it make any sense for them to continue living like they are still trapped in that cave? Of course not!! They are now free! If one of those boys after being rescued pretended like he was still in the cave, people would tell him, “Why are you living like that? That’s ridiculous. You’re free; you can live properly now. Stop living like you are still in the cave!”

That’s similar to how it is with us. Being joined with Christ in his resurrection, pictured by baptism, we are not only forgiven and justified children of God, but we are raised to new life, and given a new nature. We have been set free from sin. We can now live the way we were created to live. It makes no sense to live like we were still on the side of sin and death. That’s our old identity of death.

You can see how this works further on in 1 Corinthians 6 also. Corinth was a city known for its sexual immorality. It appears that the Corinthian church struggled in this matter.  To teach them to flee sexual immortality, what does Paul first teach them? He states again who they are in Christ: Listen to vs 15: “Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Since you are joined to Christ and he is your head that means this: Your body is a part of Christ’s body. And so, when you do things with your body it’s as if Christ himself were doing those things!!  How then can the members of Christ engage in sexual immorality? Don’t you see that you are defiling the body of Christ?

The Apostle Paul does a similar thing in vs 19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” Since you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, when you do things with your body it’s as if the Spirit himself were doing those things!!!! Don’t you see then how wrong it is to live a life of sin? You are then defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Remember beloved, baptism represents the change we have. It’s declaring to you: You are members of Christ; you are a temple of the Spirit. You were bought with a price. Therefore, act according to that identity. Honour God in your body. If we live how we identify in Christ, we will learn to please the Lord.


3) This message of baptism helps us when we are Dealing with the troubles and trials of life

Baptism proclaims to us we have been raised with Christ. Because this is true it helps us throughout our life. As Belgic Confession article 34 says, “Baptism benefits us not only when the water is on us and when we receive it, but throughout our whole life.” This identity gives us the rock-solid foundation to face all the trials and suffering of life.

We might find our identity in many different things: Maybe it’s in our job, maybe it’s in being athletic, maybe it’s in a relationship or something else. And strictly speaking, there’s nothing really wrong with that.But, we must know this: All those other identities can be damaged or taken away by the brokenness of life.  What happens to us if we have built our identity completely on those things? As Tim Keller has said, “Our world is shaken to its core when things go wrong.” You could build your identity completely built upon your career. It can easily lead to workaholism. It can also lead to heartbreak when things go wrong.  What happens then if you lose your job or make mistakes at work? The thing that makes you who you are has then failed you. You have no more foundation upon which to stand and keep going in life.

If your identity is entirely built on being a good athlete what happens? Well, you will do everything you can to try hold on to that identity. Why do you think all these superstars come out of retirement again and again? They have no identity apart from sports. What happens if you get injured or cost your team the game, or get too old to play sports? Again, you will suffer terribly. The very core of your identity is gone. How can I then live? If your identity is entirely wrapped up in having a boyfriend or girlfriend, what happens if that’s lost?  If that relationship fails, then you feel like your life is ruined. And we could go on and on with countless examples. Any identity apart from Christ can be lost in the suffering and brokenness of life.

But against all of that, God gives us the good news of baptism. He proclaims to us an identity that is rock solid. This identity is not taken away by the suffering of this life!  That’s because it’s tied to Christ and what he did in his death and resurrection. Christ stepped into everlasting life by his resurrection and has taken us with him. Christ cannot be destroyed by the brokenness of life. He cannot die. And we share in that life. And so if I am in Christ, I might lose my job, my possessions, my health, a spouse, a car, a business opportunity, whatever it might be, but none of that has affected this identity. You can hold on to your baptism and the message it proclaims in Christ and say, “I will always have this.”

Now, all of that doesn’t mean we can’t mourn when we face the brokenness of life. It doesn’t mean we are not affected by difficult things. No, you may mourn and cry out to God as you go through pain. It’s natural and fitting to do so. But what it does mean is that God has given you an anchor by which you can face all the storms of life. You can say, “I have been baptized, I can trust that I belong to God through Christ.” I can always lean upon this no matter what I might go through. It won’t be taken away from me.

This can help you too if you have ever been hurt by other people. When you have been hurt badly by other people, it’s hard not to make that experience your identity. And, again, it’s true it will have a deep impact. You may cry out to God if you have been hurt by others. But baptism declares to you that no matter how badly someone has hurt you, that person cannot take away what God has given you in Christ. Christ has bought you body and soul, you belong to him. And you will one day be with him forever no matter what someone has done to you.

This identity God gives us in baptism, helps us in so many ways as we look to the future also. I think of some of the younger members among us. As you live through the teenage years and into your early twenties, often you have many big life decisions to make: You have career choices; you might be trying to find a spouse. It might be hard to know even how to identity yourself. “Who am I even? It can be hard when those life decisions don’t work out like you want them to.Then you might struggle with questions such as, “What’s my purpose in this world? I can’t seem to get my life together. I feel like I don’t have direction in life.”

But in those moments, remember your baptism. God has given you a beautiful direction in your baptism. Baptism isn’t just about what God has done for you in Christ but about where he is taking you. He is taking you to the New Heavens and the New Earth. Eternal life is coming. And so God says to you, “Trust this message in baptism. Build your life on this identity. Even if all the other things seem to go wrong in your life, this will not. I guarantee it because it’s built upon my promise. It’s built upon what Christ has done and so it will not fail you!” Even if you feel directionless, just serve God. It’s not going to waste. God will reward any work you do for him in faith and you will find fulfillment along the way.

Beloved, God has given us so much in baptism. Look to this always, give you the identity, direction, and anchor you need always. Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rick VanderHorst

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