What Do I Get From Baptism?
A German theologian of the 50s said of Baptism Part II, "Quite bluntly, it could be understood as an answer to the question: What do I get from Baptism?" (Teaching Catechism, 28). I don't think that's blunt; I think it's fair. Baptism is a gift. The one who gives you a gift wants you to use it. Ever get a gift and said, "What's it for?" You can't, you won' use a gift if you don't know what's it for. So what do I get from Baptism?
Baptism is given as an aid to your believing. Melanchthon said that when we think about God whether that be in worship, in living, in dying "'we should turn our attention to the doctrine of Baptism and the promise connected with it'" (by Chemnitz, Locci I, 51). Chemnitz said that when the Galatians and the Corinthians were in crisis Paul called them back to the grace promised in Baptism (Gal. 3:27, 1 Cor. 12: 12-13) (Examination II, 157).
The Apostles Creed summarizes the faith Baptism gives you: That God the Father sent His only Son into the world through the Virgin's womb to be your Lord. This Jesus purchased and won you from sin, from Death, and from the power of the Devil not with the gold or silver we think so precious but with something even more so: His holy blood and innocent death. When the pastor baptized you all this was put upon you. That's why we confess the Apostles' Creed at Baptism. At Baptism Christ's death and resurrection, your dying and rising, eternal rightness, innocence and blessedness are all put on you (Sasse, We Confess Sacraments, 23).
All these gifts are to be used by faith, by believing, but faith needs an object to hold on to otherwise faith, sense it goes on in your heart, turns inward. You think about your believing. Then you start to ask how much do you really believe? Then right next to the believing in your heart is doubting and down right unbelieving. Faith needs to be anchored outside of you. Baptism is a solid anchor. It's not a sign or symbol but the actual thing which rebirthed you to everlasting life (Ibid. 40).
Baptism is the outward seal, guarantee, pledge that God has allied Himself with you for life (LW, 35, 33). You know how carefully countries guard their peace treaties? That's your Baptismal certificate. Your Baptism is the proof that God has spoken from heaven testifying that He receives you (Locci, II, 725). The sin that still mars your soul, the Death that still stalks it, and the Devil who still taunts it are to be ignored. You're to hear the Father speaking in Jesus' name, "This is My beloved child with whom I am well pleased."
You are to believe that you have forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil and eternal salvation not because you believe it, let alone feel it, but because you have been baptized. Luther said, "'The only way to drive away the devil is by believing in Christ and saying, I am baptized, I am a Christian'" (Grace upon Grace, 218). When Luther was tempted by the devil about his salvation he would say out loud, "'I have been baptized!' It was the concrete action of Baptism by the down to earth' God that settled the question" (Where God Meets Man, 27).
So why don't we do what Luther did? Because we don't believe Baptism is a power, a tangible thing to be turned to, to hang on to. We think our believing is. So we turn to things that we think increase our faith. Not Baptism, not going to church, but praying. In prayer, however you go to God, He doesn't come to you. Worse still we think that once we feel "better," are more happy, less gloomy, or reach that gold standard of modern feelings "are more positive" our faith has increased.
We get tripped up over the role of faith by our own Catechism. What was written against errors plaguing the Church we take as doctrine for the Church. We hear Baptism "gives eternal salvation to all who believe this" and think with Protestants that faith gives power to Baptism. But we're really confessing against Catholicism which says you don't need faith to benefit from Baptism. We cite Mark. 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" and think with the Baptists, "See, you just need faith not Baptism." In reality we're confessing against the Baptists who say Baptism isn't needed at all. The reason Jesus doesn't say he who isn't baptized is condemned is that the person who doesn't believe is condemned whether baptized or not (Krauth, 441).
Don't mistake the errors we're confessing against for the truth. The truth is you can't have too much faith in Baptism. You can't rely on it too much, go to it too often. Nothing more is needed besides faith to get all the benefits of Baptism: forgiveness, rescue from Death and Devil, and eternal salvation. Where would we be if Jesus had said, "Whoever believes, is baptized, and does his best, or gives generously, or doesn't sin will be saved"?
What do I get from Baptism? It's an aid for believing what God in Christ did for you in the past, does for you today, and will do for you forever. And Baptism is also answers (note the plural) for your life. Whatever you're praying, concerned, worried, fearful about you'll find the answer in that Baptismal font you walk by every service. Don't think so? Can't whatever bothers or troubles you be summed up under one of the following: Sin, Death, or Devil? Aren't these what Jesus purchased and won you from? And isn't Baptism where you are given His victory?
So, is sin disturbing your soul? Does a sin of long ago, of today, or of many days ago rob you of comfort? Does a guilty conscience seize you in night's darkness or memory's vividness? Here we could learn something from the Greek Orthodox. After a Baptism they chant Psalm 32:1, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered." Luther saw this too: "For our beloved God and Father in heaven averts His eyes, and though He sees my sins, He does notimpute them to me, because they have all been washed away in Baptism and completely forgiven" (LW, 58, 368).
Think about that every time the gorge of guilt rises in your soul. Think about that every time your soul is disturbed by your sin. Think about that every time you your sinfulness brings you discomfort. The answer to your sin, sins, or sinfulness is not determination to do better, excuses for why you haven't done better, or pretending you haven't done anything. The answer to sin is forgiveness. Baptism is the gift of forgiveness. Use the gift.
Death make you sad? Do you feel sometimes that Death is all around you easily, capriciously, and viciously picking off people you know and or love one by one? Does the open-eyed staring of your grave unnerve you saying here is where it all ends? It's dirt, dust, and ashes for you and that's it.
You're not alone. The Gauls in 160 AD also wanted to answer death. They mimicked Baptism with a ceremony called the Taruobolium. A consecrated bull was lifted on top of a platform and slaughtered. The devotees were placed in a pit beneath the bull to bathe in the bull's blood to be purified. The effect lasted 20 years. If you died within that time your tomb was engraved with "born again to eternal life" (Persecution, Workman, 65). The blood of bulls can't forgive sins, as Hebrews says, so it can't give eternal life. The blood of Jesus does forgive sins and so gives eternal life. In Baptism you were sprinkled with Jesus' blood.
In our Catechism we call Baptism "a life giving water." We call it that because Scripture calls Baptism "the washing of rebirth." You know a person can't give birth to himself. He must be born from someone else. It's like that with rebirth. You can't rebirth yourself. Someone else must do it; someone else did do it in Baptism.
The Protestants will say things like, "When fear knocks on the door send faith to answer it." There's a certain truth here, but since faith happens in you, it's still you answering and so you need to muster up the courage. No, when Death knocks on your door, send your Baptism to answer it. Don't send the results of your latest physical, your good diet, or your exercise plan. Death has taken plenty of healthy men. Only Baptism "has the strength divine to make life immortal mine." That's not just a hymn writer's pious thought. That's the assertion of 1 Peter 3, "Baptism does also now save us."
How about the Devil? Bothered by his ugly accusations? Enticed to dialog with him so you can prove you're not as bad as he says? Don't you feel his tyranny? Scripture does call him the god of this world, and in this present evil age he is indeed winning. Can't you see Satan laughing with delight as the sacrificial fires are lit and the unborn and marriage are tossed on the pile?
Baptism is the answer to the Devil who seems unstoppable. Luther said that the person who regards Baptism with the wonder and esteem it deserves "would laugh at death and demons" (LW, 5, 22). Yes, when you were baptized it was as if the pastor said to you, "'I am snatching you from the hands of the devil and bringing you to God and I am doing this truly and in fact" (Ibid. 141). Every time the Devil shoots one of his flaming arrows at you, hear it go out with a hiss in your Baptism. Every time the Devil asserts you belong to him and must do his bidding feel the Waters of Baptism and know they guarantee that all his might has come unraveled because against his tyranny God your Lord has united with thee.
We think, or at least I do, that an aid to believing would be seeing Jesus and I also think that would be the answer to all my problems in life. Luther didn't agree. "Indeed, if I had the matter under my control, I would not want God to speak to me from heaven or to appear to me; but this I would want and my daily prayers are devoted to this end that I might have a proper respect and true appreciation for the gift of Baptism" (LW, 3, 165). Once you know what a gift does, you know what you're to use it for. Make no mistake, if you're baptized, you have all Baptism is and does. Use it right now: forgive that sin, be rescued from Death and Devil, and walk out of here with eternal salvation. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek I (20141203); Baptism I