Heidelbasics: Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. Chuck Muether
69. How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?
Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water and joined to it this promise, that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.
70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, so that we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and blameless lives.
71. Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?
In the institution of Baptism, which says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” This promise is also repeated where Scripture calls Baptism the “washing of regeneration” and the “washing away of sins.”
In the means of grace given to the church, our Lord has designed this particular sacrament to be both a comforting confirmation and a solemn declaration. In his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus writes:
The chief end of baptism is, the confirmation of our faith, or a solemn declaration by which Christ testifies that he washes us with his blood and Spirit, and confers upon us remission of sins, and the Holy Spirit, who regenerates and sanctifies us unto eternal life. Or it is a sealing of the promise of grace, that is, of our justification and regeneration, and a declaration of the will of God, to this effect, that he here grants these gifts to those who are baptized, and that he will forever grant them. For he himself baptizes us by the hand of the minister, and declares to us this his will.
The apostle Paul reminds us: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3, 4).
Baptism as a sign and seal identifies us with Christ. It demonstrably shows the washing away of our sins, and it signifies our new standing in Christ. It does not in and of itself save us, nor is it ever to be considered as an instrument of salvation, but the sacrament does reinforce the proclamation of the good news — the true gospel that does indeed save. By grace, through the instrument faith, on account of the person and work Christ, are we saved. Through this faith, a gift from God, do we come to know and trust what the sacrament of baptism does: it testifies and it also bolsters up our faith.
Baptism confirms and declares to us that we have been made clean only on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness, and furthermore that we are being cleansed, but again it does not save. Children who are baptized are brought into the covenant community: the visible church. Baptism does not regenerate the child as to say the little soul is of the elect. This was well understood by the Petrine imperative: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38, 39).
Hence, the sprinkling of water signifies the cleansing and all the benefits that are promised in the gospel to the true church and sealed to true believers in baptism. Properly understood, we are called to improve our baptism insomuch as we are to consecrate all things unto Him and grow daily in our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism reminds us of our need for His grace and that we are not our own, but bought body and soul. How comforting to know that we have been marked as His!