Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Improving Our Baptism

The following is a version of the article I submitted to the monthly news letter of Prosperity Presbyterian Church.

As confessional Presbyterian's we believe that members of the visible Church are offered promises of great blessing in their baptism. Although the sacrament of baptism is one of the ordinary means by which the Spirit applies the benefits of Christ to effect our salvation (see Larger Catechism 154, 162, 165) it is not an absolute guarantee that everyone baptized will take advantage of this for their profit. Indeed, some certainly will not and will therefore make the promises void by becoming a covenant breaker.

It is within this context about salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ that we are admonished to improve our baptism in the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 167. The language of "improving" upon baptism is probably an odd expression for many as it seems to have fallen into disuse. Nevertheless, it is confessed within the PCA to be a needful duty just as neglecting our baptism is confessed to be a great sin. The Westminster Divine's use of the term "improve" is now somewhat antiquated and its meaning not immediately obvious. For the sake of simplicity we may simply assert that "to improve" carried for them the meaning of making productive or profitable. Thus, the Larger Catechism is asking something like "How may we embrace the blessings promised in baptism (e.g., ingrafting into Christ, the remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life) so that they will be profitably realized in the life of the one baptized.

In answer to the question five ways are listed by which a person can improve their baptism.

By striving to live a life of faith. Our baptism is a sign that we have given up our own individual identity so as to be identified with Christ. In the context of our new identity we need to struggle to live by faith, in part at least, that we may live a holy life united in brotherly love with all others baptized into the body of Christ.

By finding strength in the reality that Christ died and was resurrected to newness of life. The Scriptures make clear that in baptism we have been united to Christ who was raised to a new life. From this we are to draw strength for the purpose of mortifying of the old sinful way of being human and the enlivening of God's grace for our new life.

By maturing in the blessings sealed to us. It is utterly important that God's people grow in the assurance that we have been pardoned of our sin. In baptism we are distinguished from the world by being admitted to a privileged place- the family of God - apart from which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Our baptism functions as seal or official certification. Baptism tells us that we are we are official participants in the covenant of grace and the benefits of Christ and, in turn, we must mature in our appropriation of that truth.

By having humility. Baptism is a tangible manifestation of God's grace. It is only right and proper that we are then humbled concerning those aspects of our lives which are not commensurate with the incredible graciousness that God offers and exhibits in baptism.

By taking time to soberly and gratefully reflect upon various realities concerning baptism's nature and the privileges conferred in it. We are required to remind ourselves that we are baptized people. This needs to be done through the entirety of one's life but especially in times of temptation. In baptism, we are- in a visible way- transplanted from one kingdom into another. We become members of a society which has been given Jesus Christ (Col 2.11-14; Eph 1.22-23) with all the benefits and blessings accompanying it.

Therefore, let us encourage each other and especially our youth of our baptism and the necessary duty to improve upon it.


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