Please forgive me. My first son is about to be born. Needless to say, I am on a huge baptism kick. As I have been studying I have returned time and again to the question of why we should even study this doctrine. Some good reasons came to mind, but why reinvent the wheel?
Westminster Larger Catechism Question 167 asks the seemingly odd question: “How is our baptism to be improved by us?”
A better translation for the modern reader may be, “How is our baptism to be made use of?” In other words, what’s the use of baptism? and why study, meditate, and act on the doctrine? The divines called this “a needful but much neglected duty” and this duty “is to be taken up all our life long especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others (Col 2; Rom 6); by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein.” They than provide some practical application. So here it is, from Westminster, why study baptism?
First, because it humbles us:
As we think on this subject we are humbled by the fact of “our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism.” In short, we are reminded of the fact that we haven’t used it well! When we think on the doctrine of baptism, we are forced to contrast the holiness and goodness of God with our own unworthiness. This includes not only the recognition of our own sinfulness, but also that of our children. As we consider their baptism, it reminds us that they too need the Gospel. Washing (baptism) presupposes something, and that something is a need for cleansing. We study baptism because it makes us humble.
Second, because it gives us assurance:
As we remember our own baptism and that of our children, we increase in our faith and assurance of salvation, “growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament (Rom 4; 1 Pet 3)” As we think on our baptisms we draw strength and assurance that we are indeed in Christ and share in all his benefits. Baptism God’s seal that we share in Christ’s death to sin and resurrection to newness of life. This is as true for our children as it is for us. Not forgetting of their need for cleansing (see above), we can remember the baptism of our children as being the visible and tangible promise that our God is their God, and that they share in the same inheritance that we do.
Third, because it aids us in killing sin and growing in righteousness:
Our baptisms are reminders that we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness,”by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace.” As in Romans 6, “Do you not know, that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been buried together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Paul reminds us that we are not to continue sinning that we may receive more grace. The whole mindset is anti-Christian. As we study baptism, we study a sure fire way to defeat our enemies. When we are tempted to sin, we can shout with Luther “I am baptized!” with the assurance that we are new creatures, filled with the Spirit, and will not fall prey the folly of sin. When our children are tempted to sin, we can remind them of the same, and thus teach them to grow in holiness and grace Baptism teaches us, and our children, not to rely on ourselves and our own strength, but the strength that God provides in Christ’s resurrection.
Fourth, because it teaches us unity:
As we remember and see the baptism of others we cannot help but do so with our affections raised for the Church. It implores us “to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body. (1 Cor 12)” When our brothers and sisters sin against us, or as we are tempted to offend them ourselves, their baptism reminds us that we are one body. It calls out to us to seek reconciliation and unity, forgiveness and confession, and to strive together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. As we study baptism, we recall the way in which Christ is working to baptize all nations, bringing peace and righteousness to the whole world, and reconciling all things to himself. As we consider these things, our actions, words, and purposes become aligned with Christ’s as we interact with his bride.
This is not all that can be said, but the Westminster Catechism gives us good reminders on why we should study baptism – so that we can make use of it.