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.