The Objectivity of Baptism
In last week’s exhortation, Pastor Jonathan talked about how baptism makes faith — which is invisible — visible by publicly identifying with Jesus through the act of being baptized. This week, I’m picking up on his language of baptism being “a visible symbol of a spiritual reality,” but coming at it from another angle.
Yesterday, I attended a wedding ceremony. One of the highlights of every Christian wedding is the exchange of vows between the bride and groom. And, yesterday, over two-hundred people witnessed the couple make their promises to one another. The congregation heard the vows, felt the earnestness of the commitments, and saw the sincere love the groom had for his bride, and her’s for him. Finally, the couple sealed their vows with the exchange of rings. And now, for the rest of their lives, those little cylinders of precious metal and stone will function as a visible symbol of the spiritual reality of their one-flesh union.
Hearing their vows caused me to think about the solemnness of vow making and the rarity of hearing people make vows. The only other vows I could think of were friends vowing to pay me back, the vows we make to one another as members of Cities Church, and baptismal vows — which, for many of us, are fresh on our minds.
The Significance of Vows
Vows are meaningful and binding because our God is a vow making and vow keeping God. As we see in Scripture, he is always true to his word and delivers on every one of his promises. In the gospel, God has made vows to us. He has vowed to forgive you of all your sins and to credit you with Jesus’s righteousness. He has vowed to be your God and to keep you as his people. He has vowed to never leave you or forsake you. And as a sign and seal of his promises, he has given you his Holy Spirit as the guarantee that he keep you in this life and in the next. In response to the vows God has made to us in the gospel, we also make vows to him.
A moment ago, I mentioned baptismal vows. Last week, if you were here, you witnessed fourteen people vow to trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins and the fulfillment of all God’s promises. They vowed to forsake Satan and all his works and all his ways; and, with God’s help, to obey the teachings of Jesus and to follow him as their Lord, Savior, and Treasure. But why then did they have to get wet? Why wasn’t the confession of their vows to God enough? What does baptism do that speech alone cannot?
The Significance of Symbols
To help us answer those questions, I want us to think about the significance of a wedding ring.
By God’s power, the couple who was married yesterday will keep their vows, but — as with all marriages — it will be a struggle. One of the means that God will use to assist them in their vow keeping will be the rings upon their fingers. Anytime one of them begins to stray, the objective, physical, metallic band around their ring finger ought to remind them of the promises they made to their spouse. Moreover, any one of those two-hundred witnesses has the right and the obligation to point to that ring and charge them, again, to uphold the vows they made.
Brothers and sisters, you too, by God’s power, will persevere in faith and faithfulness to God, but — as with all Christians — it will be a struggle. One of the most significant means of grace that God will use to keep you along the way is your baptism. Anytime you begin to stray, remember your baptism. Remember who you were before stepping into that baptismal. Remember your identification with Jesus’s death as your body was immersed under that bone-chilling water. Remember the joy and newness of life you experienced as you rose to the cheering and celebration of your church family. And if you don’t remember, expect that your brothers and sisters, those who witnessed your baptism, will lovingly charge you to uphold your baptismal vows.
The physical and objective nature of baptism seals your vows to God in a tangible way that words alone cannot. It gives you a marker in space and time of your professed and public faith. It ties your abstract words to faith filled action.
So, church, my extortion to you this morning is this: remember your baptism. Remember Jesus’s work in your life and the vows you made to him by calling to mind your physical and public identification with him.