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Catechetical Refresher - Baptism

Catechetical Refresher
Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
August 7, 2018

The fourth of Dr. Martin Luther’s six chief parts of Christian doctrine as found in the Small Catechism is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. You will get the most benefit from this essay if you have your catechism open as you read.

If you asked a Christian missionary in the 2nd century, “why do you preach the gospel to people,” he would have answered, “so that they might be baptized.”

As our Lord’s death on the cross was the pivot point of history, baptism is our own personal pivot point. Before baptism we are “dead in trespasses and sins.” but afterwards we are “made alive” in Christ. The beautiful Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, says it well: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.” The appearance of our Lord into the world at his incarnation, and into each of our lives at baptism changes everything for the good.

Before baptism we are strangers to the covenants and promises of God, but after the life-giving bath we are: saved, raised up with Christ, and seated with him in the heavenly places. Study the below verses to understand the difference of before and after.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7)

Based on this, and many, many other Scriptural teachings regarding baptism Dr. Luther writes: “What benefits does Baptism give?” Answer: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” What wonder! What wealth of spiritual blessing!

Don’t be fooled. One can be alive to the world but dead to Christ: alive in every earthly way but spiritually dead. You are spiritually alive to God in Christ because of your baptism. It is a life that will never end, not even when you die. Indeed, then it begins fully, as the sinful world and sinful flesh are left behind. As we sing in TLH #409 "And the grave that shuts us in, shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus here I die with thee, there to live eternally."

In Lutheran doctrine baptism is a one time affair. As St. Paul writes, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism …” (Ephesians 4:5). Not all churches abide by this. In some pieties, for example, believers are baptized many times, whenever they want to show their love for God, and commitment to him.

It’s not our purpose to quibble with others but that rather misses the point. The traffic, as it were, flows in the wrong direction. Baptism is not something we do for God, but what God does for us, in us and to us by this "new birth from above." (John 3:5)  Baptism is a gift to you from God. It is indeed, “THE gift of God” as St. Paul writes of in Romans 6:23. That term “the gift of God” was one of the early church’s standard designations for baptism. (cf. Clement of Alexandria et. al.)

So again, whereas the Lord’s death on the cross is the turning point of all history, the end of night and beginning of Day; even so your baptism is your own personal turning point from death to life; from the status of “sons of disobedience” who are under the wrath of God; to this new status: made alive, saved, raised up with Christ and sealed with his Holy Spirit. God be praised for this unspeakable gift.

If you are baptized rejoice and be filled with gladness come what may. For as Luther writes in his hymn: “What harm can sin and death then do, the true God now abides with you. Let hell and Satan rage and chafe, Christ is your Brother you are safe.” (TLH #103)

Moreover if you are baptized, then live the baptismal life. St. Paul especially outlines this new life beginning in Ephesians 4:17 and running through the end of the epistle

Living the baptismal life includes Divine Service because it is the time and place that God communes with his children, the place where heaven and earth meet. Here he continually cleanses them, and gives them new mercies and greater power to face down sin, sorrow and temptation.

Next it includes a life of holiness detailed in Ephesians 4:17 ff. It is hard to be a Christian because living the baptismal life incurs the scorn and wrath of culture. It is a clean break with culture. As God’s baptized children we are now Light, but the brightness pains the eyes of those who live in darkness. They make their displeasure known, and seek to extinguish the light, so that they can return to the "comfort" of the darkness. This is what we learn in Ephesians 5:8 ff

“8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

Finally, baptismal life means dying with Christ. But only to be raised again to new and eternal life in heaven. The remembrance of our baptism gives us calm in the face of death and its many tentacles such as trouble, illness, and the cruelty and injustice that marks life in this sinful world. By baptism we overcome all enemies because as Dr. Luther says, “It … delivers from death and the devil.” There is no greater benefit to be had anywhere at any cost.

And so rejoice in your baptism. Remember it daily as you wash your body. Remember it as you pray the invocation in Divine Service each Sunday: the name in which, and into which, you are baptized. And that is another thing. Never speak of baptism in the past tense. Never say “I was baptized” but “I am baptized,” because it is a permanent blessing that will never end. It is life and salvation in Christ.

If you are not baptized, unsure if you are, or wonder about it talk to your pastor. If your children are not baptized, bring them to God’s House soon.

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Peace be with you. Amen.

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