“What good is baptism?”
We can answer that one of the primary gifts that is given to us in our baptism is the confidence that no matter what comes into our life, no matter what suffering, no matter what spiritual depression and dark night of the soul, we can be confident, above all things, not only that God is good and loving in general, but that God is good to me in particular, that God loves me, that I have indeed been engrafted into Christ, that my sins have been forgiven by Christ’s blood, that I have been regenerated by his Spirit, that I have been adopted into the family of God, and if he has done all that for me, he will surely also remember me on the last day, in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
In other words, one of the reasons that baptism is given to us is so that, to use the language of the great protestant pastors Martin Luther and John Calvin, we would remember our baptisms. Not that we would remember the day of our baptisms, remember the feeling of water on our head or what the pastor said, but remember that we are baptized, remember that before all things, before I say that am a husband or I am a father or I am an American, I can say: “Here is what is true about me. I am a baptized man.”
This is how John Calvin puts it: “We must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once and for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins.”
Or as Martin Luther puts it, even more viscerally and forcefully: “For this reason we must hold boldly and fearlessly to our baptism, and hold it up against all sins and terrors of conscience, and humbly say: ‘I know full well that I have not a single work which is pure, but I am baptized, and through my baptism, God, who cannot lie, has bound himself in a covenant with me, not to count my sin against me, but to slay it, and blot it out.”
It is important to notice that in the advice Calvin and Luther both give, they do not say, “When you doubt your faith, when you are overwhelmed with your sin, when you feel God is distant — here is what you must do: You must grit your teeth and stir up your faith and remind yourself that you really, truly, believe and trust in God.”
No! Calvin and Luther tell you not to think of yourself at all. Don’t put your confidence in your own faith. Don’t put your confidence in what you believe as far as your subjective experience tells you to be true about yourself. Rather put your confidence in what God says is true about you. Put your confidence in the covenant God has made with you—not in the secret recesses of your soul, but in the objective, public, sacramental act of baptism.
I know that as modern people we intuitively believe that our lives find their meaning only in whatever feels authentic and real to us and to our experience. I know we are told a million different ways every day that we create and construct our own reality, that to be free means we are responsible to define who we are.
But, beloved, I want us to be a people who live by faith and not by experience. And I want us to be a people who realize that our identity is not one we create, but one that is given to us by someone greater than ourselves.
And that means that I want us to be a people who learn what it means to remember our baptisms. To remember, in whatever life situation we find ourselves, whatever sin or terror of conscience, to remember — “I know at least one thing is true about me—I know that I am baptized.”
Isn’t it a grace that God in his wisdom gave us something so ordinary as water to mark us as his own?
This means that every time you take a shower it is an opportunity not only wash your body but to remember: “I am baptized.” Every time you bathe your children it is a chance to tell them: “Remember, you were baptized.” Every time you go for a swim there is a moment, when your head goes under the water, for you to remember your baptism. Every time you splash water on your face or wash your hands or walk in the rain, it is an opportunity to remember your baptism.
So, what good is baptism? We might say this—our baptism is given us to so that we might remember all of our days that, whatever else we are, we are most truly the beloved of God and we belong to him. For we have been buried with Christ in baptism, and in baptism we were also raised with Christ through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And, beloved, because you have been baptized, you can trust that this is true for you as well—You have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with him in glory. Amen.