Sacramental Piety: Improving Your Baptism
Jesus Christ established two sacraments for his church, baptism and communion. In these sacraments he visibly manifests before our hearts and senses the benefits of his new covenant. In the participation by the worshiper the benefits are sealed and applied as a means of grace. The Lord Jesus Christ has made the participation in these sacraments a necessary means of his church's growth in grace and a practice of the church's piety, or reverential love.
On the coming Lord's Day we will have an opportunity to participate in sacramental piety as we witness the infant baptism of Kyle and Victoria Boyce's child Adeline Jennings Boyce. This will be a joyful occasion for the Boyce and Wilson family, but also for our church family. There will be the joys of seeing this beautiful baby being held before the congregation and our Lord, the nervousness of watching her infant responses as she is handed over to the minister, and the anticipation of watching her responses to having water poured over her head. Yet in the midst of this participation through the senses of our eye gate we have the privilege of improving upon our own baptisms in our hearts. We have an opportunity for a sacramental piety that goes beyond just watching.
The idea of improving upon our own baptisms is expressed by the 17th century writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and particularly the Larger Catechism. In question 167 it is asked, "How is our baptism to be improved by us?" The answer to this question is quite extensive and our understanding of it enables us to know how we may worship God from the heart improving upon our baptisms during this particular infant baptism.
The first section of the answer reads this way:
"The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein;"
The first way we learn to improve upon our own baptisms is by thanksgiving. As we listen to the pastor talk about the different aspects of baptism, hear the pertinent Scriptures read, take vows and watch the baptism we are to be thankful for all that God has done for us in Christ represented by baptism. We are to remember with thankful hearts that we belong to Christ, that we have received the forgiveness of our sins, that the Holy Spirit has been poured out into our hearts, that we have been adopted as the children of God, and are now sealed to an everlasting inheritance and life with all the saints of God. This thankfulness swells from our hearts to God as we consider all his gracious acts toward us that have made us his own and given us an unbroken relationship with him.
Repentance and Faith
The writers of the catechism go on to say:
"by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament;
When an infant, child or adult is being baptized we are reminded of our own sin. Yet, God's grace is shown to be poured out on us for the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Christ. Therefore, while we repent acknowledging our own continued struggle with sin that dwells in us, we are to draw near to him in faith for his assurance that in Christ we have the forgiveness of those sins. Improving upon our baptism while we witness the baptism of another is participating by repentance and faith in the grace signed to us in the gospel.
The sacrament of baptism is one of the ways God continues to engage his own who have been baptized to bring them to completion in Christ Jesus. This brings us to the final way of improving our baptism in holiness.
The portion of the catechism answer says:
"by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body."
Our life in Christ is one of position and progression. In Christ we can be thankful for his grace as we look away from our sin to him for the forgiveness of sins and the certainty that he has made us his own. This certainty of our position is evidenced in baptism, but so is our progression to be made like Christ. If we are possessed by God as his own then he certainly will make us to be his own in likeness. Therefore we are strengthened both by the death and resurrection of Christ for the putting to death the sin of our flesh and the living of the new life in Christ. God has made us his own as he signifies when we were baptized in his names. We are identified with him.Yet, we must remember that being identified with him in his names is being identified with all who share in that same identity. Therefore we improve upon our baptisms as we put the sin away from us that does not belong to our new identity, and we live in his grace in our resurrected identity to holiness and righteousness exemplified in our brotherly love and unity in the particular church. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, so his church who is baptized in his names is to be one. This unity or oneness is God's work of grace through working righteousness and holiness in each one member. The sacrament as well as the word is the means God uses to accomplish this progression until we are glorified together with him.
Therefore, we participate by faith in the sacrament as God communes with us by his grace for our thankfulness, repentance and faith, and holiness. As you worship this Lord's Day it is more than watching a beautiful child receive the sign and seal of baptism and become a visible member of Christ's church. She will have to believe the God and his gospel that is signed and sealed to her that she may have the forgiveness of sins and life forevermore. She will have a responsibility to look to the gospel in the sacrament and believe. But for those who have been baptized and believed the gospel, or believed the gospel and have been baptized, this is a time of affirmation to improve upon your baptism. Participate in sacramental piety from the heart as you look to God in faith with thanksgiving, repentance, faith and trust him for his work of holiness and righteousness in you.