Baptism Benefits You Three Ways
Baptism benefits you 3 ways, but I'll start with one not listed. It inoculates you from 12-step, how to, purpose-driven, kingdom-building Christianity. Fallen hearts always want to be told what to do and to feel like they're doing something toward their salvation. Pastors, even Lutheran ones, meet these needs with programs, plans, stewardship. However, we confess in the Large Catechism, "every Christian has enough to study and to practice all his life. He always has enough to do to believe firmly what Baptism promises and brings" (IV, 41). Before asking yourself what you can do for Jesus, first ask what He has done for you in Baptism.
Baptism is not inert water. It's not like a household poison that has 99.7% inert ingredients and only .3% active. Baptism is all activity. It does something to lost and condemned persons. It does something to those imprisoned in the devil's lair and in Death's deep haunts. It does something to those who are going to live forever one way or another, either in bliss or in pain, either dying or thriving. Baptism works, rescues, and gives. All active words, all these words indicate not what you do but what Baptism does for you.
Baptism works forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness Jesus paid for with His innocent life and guilty death on Good Friday is worked for you in Baptism. It rescues you from Death and the Devil. Death whispers in your ear with every untimely passing, with every lump, every noise at night, or every chill of the heart, "You're mine. I determine when you go. Maybe today; maybe tomorrow, but you go when I say." And the Devil imprisons some with filthy disgusting chains, others with velvet chains, and most with chains they're ignorant of. The 3 handfuls of water put on you in Baptism sprung the dungeons of Death, broke the chains of the Devil, and rescued you. And while most people believe they are working their way back to God, unless eternal salvation is given to them they're really digging down, down into a burning ring of fire. Baptism in time gives salvation for eternity.
How do I know Baptism does such totally unbelievable things? I mean we're talking about what looks to be nothing but water? When you were initiated into the religion of Venus or Cybele, you were at least bathed in the blood of a bull. You went down into a pit and a bull was slaughtered above you (ODCC, 1342). That's impressive. Research any American Indian initiation ritual; much cooler than Baptism. Baptism isn't impressive and yet it's benefits are mind-blowing. We admit this in the Large Catechism: "The blessings of Baptism are so boundless that if timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true" (IV, 42).
So, how do we know the blessings are true? We answer that in Baptism II. We say Baptism works forgiveness, rescues from Death and Devil, and gives eternal salvation "as the words and promises of God declare." Acts 2:38 says we are baptized "for the forgiveness of sins." Hebrews 2:14-15 is clear: the Devil held the power of death and that Christ came to "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." 1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil." Galatians 3:27 says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Clothed by Christ you break Death's and Devil's hold on you. Finally 1 Peter 3 promises: "Baptism now saves you."
All those passages that promises forgiveness, rescue, or gifts "in Christ" point you back to Baptism where you were baptized literally into Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For example, "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ" (Rom. 8:1). "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). If God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and you're in Christ by Baptism, guess what? You're reconciled to Almighty God in Baptism. Finally, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4). In Baptism, you're greater than the god of this world, Satan.
Here's a puzzlement. There are many "words and promises of God" that prove what benefits Baptism gives, and yet our Catechism only cites one: "Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'" That's it? Just one passage, and I'm betting dollars to doughnuts most don't see how it applies. Let the Large Catechism teach us: "We must also learn for what purpose it was instituted, that is, what benefits, gifts, and effects it brings. Nor can we understand this better than from the words of Christ 'He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.' To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. To be saved, we know is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with Him forever" (IV, 23-25). About the Lord's Supper we say the fact that it forgives also means it gives life and salvation. So in Baptism, the fact that it saves means it must work forgiveness, rescue from Death and Devil, and give salvation.
But the one passage we quote is used by those who think Baptism does nothing to beat us up. "See," they say, "Baptism isn't necessary and doesn't give salvation. Only faith is needed because it says whoever does not believe will be condemned.' It doesn't say, Whoever isn't baptized will be condemned.'" Also from these same folks comes the error that Baptism is only for believers since Baptism is nothing unless a person is a believer. So far from Baptism working, rescuing, or giving anything, faith is the active power.
Don't think these are modern errors coming from contemporary, nondenominational, para-churches. These are ancient errors from the Radical Reformation. Luther responded to them all. If you can only baptize a believer, then you must believe you are God for only God "can discern the hearts of men and know whether or not they believe" (LW, 40, 239). He said a person couldn't be sure of faith even in himself (Brecht, II, 336-7). And if true that Baptism was nothing unless a person is a believer, no work of God is anything unless a man believes it. That makes the power man not God. That means that the sun is not the sun to an unbeliever; earth, water, air, every good gift of God is made nothing by unbelief. Luther said that men who believe such things are not possessed men "but are themselves demons possessed by even worse demons" (LW, 27, 148-149). If God's gifts, temporal or spiritual, "depended upon our assenting Yes' they would have to descend into nothingness with our dissenting No'" (Peters, Baptism & Lord's Supper, 138-9).
What Mark 16 really proves is that nothing from us needs to be added to Baptism. No works, no promises to do better, no excuses for doing worse. No blood, sweat, or tears from us need to be added to the font. Baptism contains all that Jesus earned with His blood, sweat and tears. Faith in your Baptism, faith in God's working, rescuing, and giving in your Baptism receives all that Jesus earned. Faith only receives from Jesus it doesn't do for Jesus. Faith doesn't empower Baptism; it receives God's power to forgive, rescue, and save in Baptism. The reason the second part of the passage doesn't say "whoever isn't baptized and doesn't believe will be condemned" is that "he that doesn't believe is already condemned, whether baptized or not" (Krauth, Con. Refor., 441).
So, if there is more than a lifetime of benefits in our Baptism, why don't we use them day to day? Luther comforted himself and others not with the doctrine of Baptism but with the fact they were baptized (Elert, Lord's Supper Today, 7). Luther would respond to the despondent, the grieving, the frightened, the guilty not like we do with, "It'll be okay." "It'll all work out." "Don't worry." No, he would say, "You've been baptized!" In the Large Catechism we say that when our sins or conscience oppress us, we must retort: "'But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body'" (IV, 44).
Why oh why do we, do I, go anywhere else but my Baptism when sins oppress, Death and Devil distress, and Hell molest? Why isn't my Baptism the answer of a good conscience before God as 1 Peter 3:21 says? Why don't I see with Hebrews 10 that I have a heart sprinkled clean from a guilty conscience by the Waters of Baptism that touched my body? Why when I am feeling dead in my trespasses and sins don't I run to Baptism which Titus 3 declares to be a washing of rebirth? Why when I feel no peace, sense no grace, find nowhere to rest don't I retreat to what 1 Peter 1 says? That my Baptism is a sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ giving be grace and peace in abundance?
You conscience may chant "sinner, sinner, sinner" but your Baptism positively orders, "Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!" Satan it's true laughs with delight any day the music of faith, hope, love, and joy die in your heart. But your Baptism commands the Devil himself and he must obey because the voice of Christ speaks there. Your Baptism commands, "Satandrop your ugly accusation: I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I've traveled, all your might has come unraveled." And with that cue the green scales to fall like rain, the head to be bent in sorrow, and Satan the mighty dragon to slip into his cave. Sure the fear of Death quakes the very ground we stand on declaring that because we're sinners we're at its mercy. But your Baptism speaks truth to Death's power saying, "Death you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ! Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine."
You know why we don't go to our Baptism? We weren't taught to. The hymn I'm referring to is an 18th century Lutheran one, but I was never taught to rely, use, trust in my Baptism. In the equation He promises; we believe, all the emphasis was on my believing. This is Protestant Christianity; this is America's civil religion. It's all about you: you're choice, your decision, your believing. Contrast this with our confession since 1529: "For my faith does not constitute Baptism but receives it" (LC, IV, 53). The more Baptism is preached into your ears like Luther did as water that takes away sin, death, and all sadness, and helps all the way to heaven; as precious, aromatic medicine (Peters, 93) - not mere clear, odorless, tasteless water the more ways Baptism will benefit you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek II (20181205); Baptism II