We need grace like we need air. One is essential to physical life and the other to spiritual life. For this reason, the Church strives to be a family full of God’s favor. Our sins and our suffering can only be overcome by the love of God, so the Church seeks to be a community abounding in grace. But, God’s love does not grow on trees; it is not harvested or gathered. God ordained specific instruments to be His means of grace: mostly, the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship. Baptism, one of those precious sources of grace, seems to have slipped from the church’s high esteem.
The lasting power of water applied in the triune name is too easily lost. For too many baptism is just a ritual to accompany a public profession of faith and for too many infant baptism is just baby dedication with water. Too many Christians struggle to realize the ongoing significance of a once-for-all moment that many of them do not remember. Baptism is not a temporary experience but an initiation to be consummated. Baptism launches a life which then must be cultivated. Baptism must be improved.
According to Westminster Larger Catechism 167, this needed, but much neglected duty is to be done by us our whole life but especially when tempted to sin. We improve our seemingly unalterable experience by considering it, being humbled by it, and growing from it. Progress in our baptism starts by understanding it. We seriously and gratefully meditate on the nature, purpose, privilege, and benefit of baptism, recalling our commitment too. Next, we grieve both our need for baptism (“sinful defilement”) and our falling short of, or even contradicting, the grace given to us in our baptism. Every sin repudiates the truth of our baptism. We must be ashamed when we forget that we are not our own; we were bought with a price. Last, we move our wills by augmenting our assurance and renewing our strength. By the humbling consideration of baptism, our souls sink deeper into the conviction of God’s pardon and blessing. In seeing our unworthiness better, we squeeze His grace a little tighter and find it ever stronger. From such hope surges the strength to attack our temptations and drive away our beloved sins. Amid such comfort faith finds deeper roots and bears sweeter fruits.
In other words, improving your baptism means remembering who you are and being who you are. Paul summarizes this duty in Romans 6:11, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” To improve your baptism, take an hour alone to consider the following questions and then take another hour with a beloved brother or sister to review your answers. You might even improve someone else’s baptism.
1. Recount a memorable baptism. What made it memorable?
2. What (and/or who) reminds you of your union with Christ?
3. What (and/or who) tempts you to forget your union with Christ?
4. Where is your new identity in Christ most evident to you?
5. Where is your old identity most evident to you?
6. What has strengthened your assurance of salvation?
7. What has troubled your assurance of salvation?
8. What area(s) are you actively struggling to trust God?
9. What area(s) should you be actively struggling to trust Him?
10. Where, with whom, and how are you experiencing a shared union with Christ?