A Sign and a Pledge: H.C. Lord's Day 27

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 27

Q 72. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? 
A 72. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

Q 73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins? 
A 73. God has good reason for these words. To begin with, God wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins just as water removes dirt from the body.

But more important, God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water physically.

Q 74. Should infants also be baptized? 
A 74. Yes, Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.

Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.  This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

What God first called Abraham, He gave him a sign of covenant belonging that we know as circumcision.  This sign was given to all male boys that were born into Abraham’s family from that time forward, 8 days after their birth, of their belonging in the family (or nation) of Israel.  In the same way that the last name of a parent is given to their children upon their birth, signifying their belonging in their family, so too were these young offspring of Abraham a part of his family.

This sign, however, saw its true meaning realized in the coming of Jesus and the revelation that it indeed was not a physical sign that distinguished God’s people, but rather an internal change that took place.  Paul describes this a “circumcision of the heart” in which the Holy Spirit, through building faith, transforms a person.  This inner change is marked by an outward change different than a physical mark on a body; it is a life change that happens when one turns from living their life for themselves and begins living for God.

All of this is symbolized in baptism.  When people come to faith, baptism is a sign and a symbol that their sins have been washed away, that they are cleansed and renewed, and that they are sustained by Jesus Christ, the living water.  Being immersed in water, going down and bring brought back up is also symbolic of dying and rising, like Christ who died and went down to the grave and was raised to life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We too, when we come to faith, experience this through dying to the “old self” and the new life that we experience in Christ.

So then, what about infant baptism?  There are a great deal of questions surrounding infant baptism, especially if we talk about baptism carrying the symbolism of new life, redemption, and salvation.  None of these are possible without faith and therefore, seem to be out of place within the context of infant baptism.

Furthermore, there is no place in Scripture where we are expressly told to “baptize babies.”  Certainly, this is true.  However, Colossians 2:11-12 links the acts of circumcision and baptism and gives both spiritual importance.

In fact, both do carry a significant amount of similar themes including belonging to the covenant community and the assurance of God’s covenant promises.  Actually, the Jews also practiced baptism for those who would convert to Judiasm and it symbolized this covenant belonging.

How, then, can Baptism, which carries many other themes that are related to forgiveness and cleansing, be something we do to people before they have been forgiven or cleansed?  Well, drawing from the themes of Scripture that point to the promises of God being offered uniquely to the families of those who are God’s people, we claim that God’s promises are for our children as well.  The sign, symbol, and seal of those promises is seen now through the act of infant baptism in a similar way that it was seen in circumcision in the Old Testament.

Infant Baptism expands the image of circumcision, bringing both genders equally under God’s promises, reminding us of the promise of forgiveness and salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, welcomes children as full participants in the community of faith, and reminds us of our identity in Christ and God’s faithful presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

Washed: H.C. Question 70

What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?

Zechariah 13:1 – “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Ephesians 1:7-8 – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,

Hebrews 12:24 – to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

1 Peter 1:2 – who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Revelation 1:5 – and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

Ezekiel 36:25-27 – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

John 3:5-8 – Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Romans 6:4 – We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

1 Corinthians 6:11 – And that is what some of you were. 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.

Colossians 2:11-12 – In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Acts 15 – Council

Read Acts 15

Throughout the history of the Church, many councils like the one described here have considered issues that arise in the faith.  Many great creeds and confessions have come out of such councils and the Christian faith has been strengthened through them.  It is important to consider, in this council, the intent of the Apostles and the Elders.

Facing the question of whether circumcision, a part of the Law of Moses, was necessary for salvation, there came a point where the Gospel and the Law clash.  Now the Law was written to identify sin and warn people away from it.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that sin is forgiven and there is now freedom from it in Christ.  Paul goes into great detail about this; we will undoubtedly talk about it again.

Freedom, however, can be scary for us, and receiving the free gift of grace has often led people to think about what they can do to earn it.  Here we see a group of people suggesting that circumcision must happen if we are to fully obtain salvation.  This is nothing more than returning to living under the Law; seeking to earn our own salvation, something that is contrary to Scripture.  God’s grace is free to those who believe.

Yet, out of this council there are some suggestions in how to live.  These aren’t necessarily rules, but rather guidelines on lifestyles that are good for believers.

For those who believe in Christ, are we free?  Yes, absolutely.  Does that mean that we should do whatever we want?  No.  There are still things that are bad for us, things that hurt our relationship with God.  We want to build into this relationship, and there are ways to live that help with that.  And when we fail, grace abounds.

Day 322: Acts 13-16; Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem Council

Today our focus shifts a little bit from the original Apostles like Peter and John and to the work of some of the “second generation” disciples, those that would have not necessarily followed Jesus, or not been close to Him during his earthly life, but have become believers and have been filled with the Holy Spirit during these first years of the Church after Jesus’ ascension.  Specifically we turn here to Paul and Barnabas, to key figures in the spread of the early church outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the “ends of the earth” as they knew it.  As we said at the beginning of the book of Acts, this is really a historical account of the Holy Spirit’s work as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, the center, outward like the ripples on a calm pond that has just been disturbed by a rock.

We see also today the same pattern that has really taken place over the course of this book already.  By this point, we are already over a year past the time that Jesus has been taken up into heaven.  Remember, from Pentecost on, we see that in these events where the Apostles and believers speak, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and then open their mouths to speak the Word of God.  In some ways, they are not unlike the prophets of old that spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well.  The message has changed quite a bit though for those 400+ year old prophetic messages.  In these times we are hearing how those messages and all of Scripture have led us to this point and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been spoken and written before Him.

Anyways, this pattern continues here in chapters 13, 14, and 16.  Each move, each message, each time of spreading the Gospel is not something that is done on its own, but happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in those who do not yet believe either.  This really is the beginnings of the central theme and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ.  From church meetings to worship services to outreach, the Holy Spirit is the one that is working within our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we encounter as believers.  I think too often we feel like it is up to us now to take care of things.  Even though the Spirit is with us (whether we acknowledge the Spirit or not), we are robbed of such confidence and comfort that it is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit that is really key in the spread of the Gospel.  He will never leave us or forsake us!

One other thing that I wanted to point out today was Acts 15 and the first church council that was held in Jerusalem.  In many ways, this was the first rumbling of what would later become a church governmental structure.  Throughout history, there have actually been a great number of council type meetings that have taken place.  Their subjects have ranged from creating creeds and confessions like the Nicene Creed from the two councils of Nicaea in 325 and 381, to dealing with issues of heresy and wrongful teaching within the church which have taken place throughout history.  Some of these councils have also focused on things like changing how we worship, the most recent of which was Vatican II, in which the Roman Catholic Church decided to change the Mass into the common tongue so that all could participate, something protestants denominations had done a few hundred years before.

In this case, there were some that were teaching that all converts to what was becoming known as Christianity had to be circumcised like the Jews.  For the Jewish people, circumcision was a part of their identity, part of what made them the people of God.  It was a sign that they were members of the covenant.  Yet it is all to clear that things like circumcision and land had become more important to the Jews than their identity as the people of God.  Peter once again stands up in front of the people and speaks to the heart of God in this matter.  Like all councils, the goal is to discern what is God’s will for the direction of the Church.  I think it just awe inspiring that they see here that the purpose of the Grace of Christ is not one that binds them further into the Law, and it is not because of any particular action or association of this world that we are saved, but only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their letter, then, and the decision that they made here in this council has much to do with instruction and encouragement, urging the new Gentile believers toward a purely lived life in which they honor God in all that they do and say, but because they are required to in the law, but out of gratitude for the grace that they have received.  May the same be true for us yesterday, today, and always.

Day 63: Joshua 5-7; Obedience and Disobedience

It’s nice to be into an area of the Bible with familiar stories again.  The battles of Jericho and AI are probably the most familiar in the conquest of Canaan.  Our reading today is a narrative that directly comes from four(ish) particular passages that we have already read this year regarding the life of Israel and their living at God commanded them.

1.  Circumcision/Passover:  Joshua 5 happens right after the Israelites have crossed the Jordan River.  Scripture tells us that the hearts of the people in the land melted because God had dried up the river.  Like the Egyptians, the people of Canaan worshiped many gods, one of which probably had something to do with water.  God’s showing of power here would have been a sign that the God of Israel was stronger than this god.  When they have crossed the river, the chapter says that they all perform the act of circumcision.  Scripture explains that none of the children were circumcised as they were wandering in the wilderness, but if we remember back to Abraham in Genesis 17, we will know that the sign of the covenant relationship between Israel and God is circumcision.  As the people have now been, in a way, baptized, they once again recommit themselves to the Lord performing a sign that they belong to God.  Scripture also tells us that rather than going up immediately and taking Jericho, they spend time (7 days) encamped across the Jordan celebrating the Passover.  If you remember back to Exodus 12, God commands the people of Israel always to remember the Passover on the 14th day of the 1st month.  Joshua 4 says that Israel crossed over on the 10th day of the first month, after which they were immediately circumcised, healed for 3 days, and the celebrated the Passover.  That’s a whole lot of remembering and being re-membered, or once again claiming their identity as God’s people in one week.

2. Obedience (Jericho):  The Battle of Jericho, apart from being a miraculous victory that is attributable to none other that God, is a narrative about the blessings and victory that are found when the people of Israel obey God.  You see in this story that there is no disobedience, the people do as they are told, and everything goes right.  If we remember back to Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 we see that there are specific blessings that the Lord lays out for the people of Israel when they obey him.  The Battle of Jericho is a narrative that remembers all the good that comes from obedience as well as the faithfulness and power of God.

3. Disobedience (AI):  The Battle of AI is, in stark contrast to Jericho, a narrative about what happens when the people are disobedient.  Remembering once again Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 there are also lists of specific curses that will come with disobedience.  Where the people found victory in the Lord at Jericho, they met with the defeat of themselves at AI.  Sad as it may be, the sin of one person reflects on the whole community, which may not seem fair to us, but is none-the-less true in this situation.  The anger of the Lord “burns against the people of Israel” because of Achan. and until he is punished for his sin there will be no blessing for obedience.  Again, this is one more way that God is teach the people of Israel about the need for obedience, and showing them what it truly means to have their identity in Him as His people.  They are to be holy ans He is Holy, which cannot be accomplished or realized if even one has sinned and disobeyed the command of God.