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Author: Rick VanderHorst
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:Gospel Promises Declared in Baptism
Text:LD 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 96:1,2

Hy 1

Reading: Deuteronomy 23:2-8; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Ps 40:2,5

LD 27

Ps 65:1,2,3

Hy 75

* 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, there’s something I love about the sacraments. They are so simple and yet so complex. Think about baptism. It’s such a simple thing. In baptism, the minister sprinkles a little water on a new Christian or on the child of a believer. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s packed with meaning. Baptism teaches us about the simple gospel message, the washing away of our sins. That simple message is something a young child can understand. But baptism also shows us the depths of what Christ has accomplished for us. The most seasoned theologian will never be done exploring those depths.

But of course, what is one of the best things about baptism? God has given us this sacrament to strengthen our faith. I think we all know that in theory; probably most of us have heard that before. But let’s get practical: The last time you struggled in faith, did you think about baptism? And to help you grow in faith, do you ever think about baptism? Well this is one reason why God gave us baptism. Baptism, as a sacrament, is a means of grace. God will use it to help us grow in faith. That’s what we want to explore some more this afternoon.


In baptism, God teaches and assures us about his gospel promises in Jesus Christ

We are assured of:

1) The washing away of our sins through Christ’s blood

2) The inclusion of our children among God’s people


One major theme found in the Bible is the theme of washing. Think only of God’s covenant with Israel. When people became ceremonially unclean, they went through a cleansing ritual. When the priests entered their service to God, they had to wash themselves thoroughly. God’s promises to his people sometimes involved washing as well.  God said to his people in Ezekiel 36 “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean form all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” This theme is carried through into the NT. Listen only to Titus 3:5 “God saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

Why does this theme of washing appear throughout the Bible? It’s because sin has stained us. It has defiled our hearts. Our souls are dirty from sin. And Scripture teaches us something important about this: People stained with sin cannot just come into God’s presence. God is holy, holy, holy. He cannot look upon sin. Think of the OT temple. The priests had to go through elaborate cleansing rituals. God was teaching everyone that if you wanted to come before him, you had to be made clean. But not only that. God was assuring us that if sinners were indeed washed, then they could come before him. God makes it possible for people stained with sin to be washed clean.

This is what baptism pictures for us. Remember, Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself instituted baptism. This is a sacrament given by God himself. God is showing us by this sacrament that he has made a way that we can be cleansed from every stain of sin. Through this washing we can come into his presence. In baptism, water is sprinkled upon a person. It’s meant to assure you that your sins have been washed away.

Now, when I say that, perhaps you immediately ask the same question as does LD 27: Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? Here we confess in A 72, No, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.Think of the ceremonial washings and sacrifices in the OT. What did it all point to? They all pointed to the shedding of blood for purification – to be cleansed from sin. In the OT God was always pointing to the need for blood to solve the problem of sin. It all pointed ahead to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross.

The NT is clear that the blood of Jesus Christ for the washing away of our sins is received by faith. Think of what the Spirit says through Peter about the Gentiles in Acts 15: God cleansed their hearts by faith. Think of what the Spirit says through Paul in Romans 3:25 God put forward Christ as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Propitiation is a sacrifice that turns aside God’s wrath. So, we receive Christ’s blood and sacrifice by faith. Baptism is meant to strengthen your faith in these things for your salvation. Baptism is an outward washing – water is sprinkled on a person. But it’s meant to assure you of an inward reality – Christ’s blood has washed away your sins.

Listen to the powerful effect of Christ’s blood. 1 Corinthians 3 describes the amazing reality of the church: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit [lives] in you?” This is the power of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. In the Old Covenant only the priests were allowed in the temple. Only the High Priest could enter the innermost sanctuary where God was. He only entered there once per year. But now the Spirit of God lives in the church. The church is the NT temple. Paul will also tell us in 1 Cor 6 that individual believers are also temples of the Holy Spirit.

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his cleansing blood has made this possible. Hebrews 10 speaks about the power of Christ’s sacrifice. Heb 10:10 says, “By [Jesus’ obedient] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And finally, Heb 10:14, “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” This is why we can be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s blood offered in his sacrifice makes it a reality. Baptism is mean to assure you that these things are a reality for you! Not just someone else in the pew, not for people who seem to have their life all put together, it’s meant to assure you that these powerful saving benefits are for you! Believe it with all of your heart. By believing these things you will bear fruit.

Listen to Q&A 73: Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins? God speaks in this way for a good reason. He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ remove our sins just as water takes away dirt from the body. But even more important, he 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.

Here we see the double cleansing pictured in baptism. A 73 speaks about the cleansing of both Christ’s blood and Spirit. To understand this double cleansing, perhaps an illustration will help. It might sound a bit strange at first, but I think it can help to get the point across. Imagine for a moment that you own a property with a lot of garbage on it. You want to get rid of all that garbage. Instead of bringing your garbage to the landfill you decide that you are going to dump it all on a local parking lot to save money. So now that parking lot is filled with your garbage. And guess what happens? The city bylaw officer comes around and he says, “You’re littering. You broke the law. You need to do two things: You need to pay a fine. You also need to get rid of this garbage.” But there is good news: You have two friends who are going to help you out. One of them is rich. He is graciously going to pay the expensive fine so that you don’t need to. The other one owns a truck and a front- end loader.  He is going to help you get rid of all the garbage and bring it to the dump.

This illustration pictures the reality of sin in our hearts. Our hearts have all been filled with the pollution of sin. We have all stained ourselves with sin! That sin is a violation of God’s law. In response, God tells us we need to do two things: We need to pay a penalty for polluting our hearts with sin – that penalty is death. We also need the pollution of sin to be removed. The beautiful message baptism pictures for us is this: God himself provides these two things for us. Christ himself steps in and has paid the penalty for our sins with his blood. Our record of debt is washed away by Christ’s blood. The threat of condemnation no longer stands over believers. He paid the price for our sin by dying on the cross. But not only that. The Holy Spirit also begins to work in our hearts to remove the pollution of sin. He works in your heart to remove all the garbage that’s there. The Holy Spirit is living water.  By his power he will work to cleanse away everything dirty and everything rotten from your heart and your life.

This is the double cleansing spoken of by the catechism. This helps you in a very real way in your life. When you see the sin in your life and in your heart, I urge you to think about baptism. Think about the message it sends and then come to God in faith. Ask him to forgive your sins through the blood of Christ knowing that Christ’s blood as paid the full price. Ask him to cleanse you from the pollution of sin by the power of the Spirit knowing that the Spirit is powerful to cleanse you. Ask God these things, and also trust that these things are yours in Christ Jesus.


2) The inclusion of our children among God’s people

Now, having said these things, that leads us also to the next logical question: Should infants too be baptized? This the question asked at the end of LD 27. You can understand why the question comes up. We have just been talking about washing away of our sins by Christ’s blood. I told you that the water of baptism does not by itself wash away our sins. Rather this washing is received by faith in Christ’s blood. The reality is that infants do not have faith. It’s logical that we would then ask, “Should infants receive baptism?”

We as Reformed believers have answered this question with an emphatic “Yes.” Yes, infants too should be baptized. That’s what we confess in LD 27 of the catechism. LD 27 gives the following reason for this answer. “Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation. Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirt who works faith are promised to them no less than to adults. Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.” The reason why the children of believers must be baptized is because they have a certain status, a covenantal status. Baptism marks this out for them.

Now, some people believe the Bible is unclear about this whole matter about infant baptism. After all there is not one clear example of an infant being baptized in the NT. Other people perhaps think to themselves, “Well, I can kind of see where the Reformed churches are coming from with their infant baptism, but I don’t think they have a really strong case. Maybe you have had thoughts and doubts like that before. Maybe we think the Bible is unclear about this matter. However, I would say to you  that the Biblical case for infant baptism is in fact crystal-clear.

Today, I would like to look at this truth from our reading of 1 Cor 7. We are going to look at the specific words here and explore them light of the OT background. Some of this background was brought to my attention by a colleague sometime ago. It’s really quite beautiful when you see it.

To begin, let me give you the most basic argument for infant baptism. In the sight of God, are the children of believers considered “clean” or “unclean”? Now, we might immediately say, “The children are unclean. After all, they are conceived and born in sin.” And, indeed, if we view the children of believers only by their nature, we would have to say they are ‘unclean.’ However, what does Paul say about the children of believers in 1 Corinthians 7? He says, “Your children are NOT UNCLEAN!” We will look at the reason Paul uses this language in a moment. However, one thing this language undoubtedly shows us is that the children of believers should be baptized. Paul says that the children of believers are not unclean. Therefore, they must receive baptism to mark their ‘clean’ status. After all, baptism, done with water, marks out who is considered “clean”. If we withhold baptism from infants, we would be declaring by that act that the children of believer are “unclean”. But this is the very opposite of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.

Now at this point at this point, we might ask, “Why does Paul say that the children of believers are clean and holy here if they are conceived and born in sin?” First of all, let’s be clear on what he is not saying. The Apostle Paul is NOT saying that original sin has been washed away in infants. He’s not saying that the children of believers are born without a sinful nature, or that the water of baptism has washed away their sins as the Roman Catholic Church teaches. He is also not stating that children of believers are regenerated or born again.

Instead, we must understand that Paul is using OT language here. Think of the word holy. The word holy was often used to describe the people God set apart for himself. In Exodus 19, God tells Israel that they will be for him a holy nation. Think also of the language of clean and unclean. In the OT clean and unclean referred to who could be a part of the assembly of God’s people. Those who were unclean had to be removed from the assembly of God’s people. They were not allowed to be part of it. The unclean people had to be removed form the camp where God lives among his people. But those who were clean belonged to that assembly. Paul says in 1 Cor 7 that the children of believers are not unclean. This means they belong to the assembly of God’s people in the NT!

Now, sometimes in the OT the infant children were not allowed to be a part of God’s holy people. We read about one example in Deut 23 where Moses talks about the children born to certain mixed marriages. If an Israelite man was married to an Ammonite woman, for example, their children had to be excluded from the assembly of God’s holy people. In the case of those mixed marriages, the infants took on the unclean and unholy status of the non-Israelite parent. There are other examples in the OT.

However, the amazing thing is that this situation is reversed in the New Covenant. This is what Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians 7. In the section we read Paul is explaining what should be done in mixed marriages. In the early church, it often happened that people who became Christians were already married to someone. Many times, the person’s spouse did not become a Christian along with them but stayed an unbeliever. So the Corinthians had asked Paul, “Should the Christian spouse divorce his or her unbelieving husband or wife?” The question makes sense. They probably wondered, “Does staying married to this person or engaging in a sexual relationship with him or her defile me? Does it affect my status before God? And what about our children? Does being married to this person affect the status of my children? Do they have to be excluded from the assembly of God’s people like the children described in Deut 23?

You can see why this would come up. In the OT, usually a clean thing became unclean when it came in contact with something unclean. Usually the holy thing became defiled by the unclean thing. However, here in 1 Corinthians 7 things are different. Why? Well there were some situations in the OT when an unclean thing was made holy. This happened if it touched something most holy. In that case the most holy object made the other object holy. One example is the OT temple. Jesus alludes to this when he says about the temple in Matt 23, “What is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold [holy] (or sanctifies the gold)?”

Why is this significant? Well, what does Paul say about the church in 1 Corinthians 3? The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And what does Paul say about individual believers in 1 Corinthians 6? Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is why the believing spouse sanctifies the unbelieving spouse. The believing spouses’ status as temple of the Holy Spirt overcomes the unclean status of the unbeliever. This does not mean that the unbeliever has been saved. Someone can be holy without being regenerated. There are plenty of examples of that in the OT. However, it does man that the union between the believer and the unbeliever has not affected the holy, clean status of their children. This is one reason why the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant. Children born into mixed marriages belong to the assembly of God’s people just as much as the children born to two believers! Just as much! They are no different! The same goes for children adopted into a family with a believing parent.

Now, let’s be clear on one thing: This is not to give the go ahead to single members seeking a spouse to find an unbelieving husband or wife. The Bible strongly warns against that kind of thing! However, if any Christian does ever happen to find himself or herself married to someone who does not believe, this has not affected the holy and clean status of their children. Or if a child finds himself or herself in the situation where one parent is a Christian and the other one is not, that child never need doubt his or her status. The promises of God are for them just the same! All the children born to believers, whether one believer or to two believers, and holy just the same. They are clean, they all belong in the assembly of God’s people, and so, they all must be baptized.

It’s important for us to see this. But we want to know this not just so that we happily continue baptizing infants. Rather, there are some very practical applications to this. First of all there is encouragement: God has made his covenant with our children. Parents, God is there to help you and to guide you as parents. Seek his help. Encourage your children with the promises of God in Christ. Children, God is eager to guide you in the ways of his covenant. Seek him, trust him. He’s not out to get you. Don’t be afraid of him. Come to God in faith. Ask him to strengthen your faith and lead you in obedience. He will do it.

At the same time, there is also a warning. Even though 1 Corinthians 7 calls the children of believers clean and holy, this does not mean they have been automatically regenerated or born again. Your status does not allow you to embrace a life of sin and unbelief. Covenant children, you must take care not to turn away from Christ. If you reject Christ and the blood of Christ, there can be no salvation for you.  Take care that there is never in any of you an evil heart of unbelief leading you to fall away from the living God. Take care that you do not embrace a life of sin or there will be judgment

Finally, let me also leave you with some comfort. The children of believers belong to the assembly of the people of God. Death does not cut them off from belonging to that assembly. Rather, they have simply joined the assembly of God’s people in heaven. You can know that! I think of those among us who have suffered miscarriages, or perhaps still-births, or even the death of a child. As difficult as those things may be, take comfort also. Your children are with your covenant God in heaven. So do not fear but be at peace, and praise your covenant God. 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 2019, Rick VanderHorst

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