Updated: Dec 8, 2018
I grew up Holiness Pentecostal, then became dutch reformed (Calvinist) and, if you haven't figured it out yet by my blog, I am now Lutheran. However, being raised holiness pentecostal, well that meant a lot of Law and not much grace. Growing up I could remember that women weren’t to put on make-up and if we went up to the church’s camp, girls could not wear pants. It was strict and legalistic. However, that is where I learned to tell others of Jesus and the Gospel and so for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful that it was at Camp where I learned 1 John 1:9 & 10.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (ESV)
It would be those verses that the Spirit of God would use in September 1986 to convince, convict and convert me. So, why am I highlighting December 6th of that year? Well, that’s my baptismal birthday.
This year, the promises of God through the waters of baptism have come to mean a lot to me. You may have noticed that I’ve written about baptism several times since starting this blog. That’s because baptism has taken on a deeper meaning, a deeper reality actually.
After my conversion to the Christian faith, (yes I did say I grew up Pentecostal but that doesn’t me I actually believed the Gospel), I had the desire to be baptized. Now, if you knew me before I became a Christian you would understand this next part. See, my mom did not believe I was truly converted. In fact, her words to me were, “You’re just doing this to get on my good side now.” Well, off I went back to the Pentecostal church and filled out the baptism request card. The pastor came to me a few weeks later and said they would hold my baptism on Anniversary Friday (celebration of the church’s founding). I went home and shared with my parents. My mother went completely white as my father looked at her and said, “You know what this means, right?” I was confused. See, my mom had been re-baptized (she’d grown up Roman Catholic and evangelicals didn’t recognize those baptisms especially of infants…still don’t) on Anniversary Friday 1966 while PREGNANT with me. This made it exacly 20 years to the day that my mom was baptized and I would be too. This is what God used to convince mom I was a true believer in Christ.
Fast forward some 25+ years and understanding, in the Reformed tradition, that baptism is God’s work and marks one out as a believer if one has true faith…and there’s the rub: IF one has true faith. Sadly, true faith in the Calvinist/reformed tradition can look exactly like the real thing and still not be true faith after all. So began my struggle with whether or not I was truly saved. I knew I could not look at my fruit because often that fruit was deformed and too often a bit rotten. Looking inside brought me to despair. Looking inside for assurance was beginning to wreck my faith.
This past year, on Wednesday Nights at Bible Study, we have gone through Lutheranism 101 Holy Baptism. Each week I was discovering for myself what the Bible taught about Baptism. Looking at texts in the Word that I’d read dozens of times were now opening up to me in a way I’d never imagined possible:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleans you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statues and be careful to obey My rules.” Ezekiel 36:25-27
Just as an example of reading the Word for what it says, the promise of the Gospel here in the Old Testament begins with water which actually washes away sins. Peter says in his letter, “baptism now saves you.”
Put just those two together and THIS is where assurance lies. Not in the plain water but in the Water with the Word. Faith is a gift of God through the Means of Grace (the instruments God chose to deliver His promises). They are: baptism, the preached Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Now, my water baptism happened after God used His Word to convert me. However, that does not mean the waters did nothing. In fact, “When God put His name on His people through Baptism, He is saying that all of the promises that He attaches to His name apply to the one who has been baptism.” (Lutheranism 101) In baptism we are made members of God’s Family. He marks us as His. He washes us. He gives us true faith. He forgives us our sins. Notice the focus? God. Whereas in the evangelical circle baptism is our declaration for God, in the Bible (and held as true by Lutherans) it is God declaring us for Himself. In the Calvinistic view, baptism is us declaring the child to belong to God but nothing actually happens. Faith is not given. Forgiveness is not outpoured. Yet, the Bible says, “baptism now saves you” and by the sprinkling of water you are “clean from all your uncleanness” (we are cleansed from sin).
We even confess in our creeds, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins”.
In pentecostalism/evangelicalism you have two baptisms: One of water, after your decision for Christ and one by the Spirit when you decide for Jesus and are born-again of your own choice (and this comes before baptism). In Calvinism you have two baptisms: One of water, like circumcision marking you as belonging to a Christian family as opposed to an unbelieving one, and one of the Spirit, later when you are regenerated.
The Bible, however, tells us that we are given true faith, the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit at our baptism. Now, as someone who believed first and then was baptized, why is this important to me? Why do I keep writing about it? It is because of assurance.
Let me ask my evangelical and Calvinist/reformed friends: Prove to me that you are a true believer with true faith WITHOUT going to your fruit, some choice/decision or some feeling. You cannot. I could not. Now, look at baptism as the fount from which all blessings flow and through the Water with the Word, the promises of God are now yours. See? If you understand that in Baptism your sins are washed away, your unrighteousness is cleansed and the Spirit of God is given to you, then you no longer have to worry if you have enough faith or if that faith is true faith. God gives you these things in the fullest sense through the Waters of Holy Baptism.
All of those struggles. All of those questions. All of your sins have been drowned in the flood of baptism. On December 6th 1986, yes, I went forward to be baptized because God had already converted me. However, no longer do I look at anything I did, such as walk into the baptismal tank, as that which showed the world I’m a Christian. NOW, I look to baptism as God’s Work where he did more than seal to me those promises of forgiveness but actually washed away my sins.
At my Lutheran Church they give out stickers that say, “Baptismal Birthday” to those celebrating theirs. This is a GREAT reminder to them that they belong to God, not because of anything they’ve done, or believed but it is, as Scripture says, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…so no one boasts.” It is a reminder to all of us that in those blessed waters the promises of God were given.
Some 30+ years since I was baptized I now have changed one little word: I am baptized. It is ongoing and is a “source of comfort, because in “those three words, (I) am summarizing all that Scripture says…that God has put His name on (me) and claimed (me) as His own. (I) am saying that He has made (me) a disciple…that He has given (me) faith in Christ.” (from Lutheranism 101: Holy Baptism)
So often my conscience accused me that my faith was too small, or was not true faith; that I had not repented enough; my fruit was more rotten then ripe and that my sins would swallow me up at the end. My struggles with assurance I kept hidden and fell into despair. But, praise be to God that He led us to a church (Lutheran) which has held to the Biblical understanding and teachings of all the benefits given at baptism. I no longer look at my fruit for assurance (and yes, I completely hold that true believers will have good fruit with the understanding that it is called the “fruit of the Spirit” because even that is God’s work of grace in our lives) but instead, I joyfully look to the flood waters of baptism which drowned the old man and in which I was raised to new life in Christ Jesus. As our pastor reminds us, We believe because we are baptized.
At the end of our study on baptism we read:
We must think this way about Baptism, and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promise to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body’.” (LC IV 41-44)
This is most certainly TRUE!!!