Baptism as a Seal of Saving Blessings

Posted by on January 11, 2010 in Baptism, Means of Grace | 5 comments

There seems to be a lot of confusion of late surrounding baptism, and more specifically, what kind of salvific blessings can be attributed to the sacrament. In the minds of some, if things like union with Christ or forgiveness of sins are the results of faith, then we mustn’t give baptism any of the credit. After all, we’re not Federal Visionists, right?

I think the Westminster Confession is helpful here. We read in xxviii.6:

The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwith-standing, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost….

So it appears that there is a thing called “baptismal efficacy,” but we are cautioned against insisting that baptismal efficacy takes place at the time of baptismal administration. What, then, is baptismal efficacy? In WCF xxviii.1 it says:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life….

Baptism, then, is a seal to the believer of his union with Christ, his regeneration, and the forgiveness of his sins. Now the whole point of a “seal” is that it provides some sort of confirmation or authentication of something. In this case, the seal is baptism, which is meant to function for the believer as that which confirms his participation in the blessings of the entire covenant of grace.

Now here’s the kicker: If the Confession says that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it stands to reason that there is a “moment” to which it is OK to “tie the efficacy of baptism.” Now, we would all agree that that moment is when we exercise saving faith. It follows, therefore, that it is perfectly valid for the believer (who has exercised saving faith), seeing his baptism as the seal of his regeneration, union with Christ, and forgiveness of sins, to attribute to that sacrament the blessings of the covenant of grace. In other words, he can say, “I have been united with Christ through baptism,” or “I have been forgiven of all my sins because I have been baptized.”

To deny this not only demonstrates a person’s suspicion of the language of confessional Reformed theology, but it also leaves him with little to say in response to the sacramental language of Scripture.

5 Comments

  1. So my 4 year old son comes to me and says, “Dad, you know what hell is like?”
    “What?”
    “It's like getting spanked forever.”
    “Yes, that's right. Are you going to hell?”
    Silence.
    “Who goes to hell, little one?”
    “God's enemies.”
    “Are you God's enemy?”
    “No.”
    “How do you know you're not God's enemy?”

    What he OUGHT have said:
    [[Because I believe in the imputation of Jesus' active and passive obedience, Papa.”
    “Good boy. Now when did you receive this IA&POoX?”
    “When you explained it to me the first time only moments ago.”
    “And what sign has God given you to show that these things are true?”
    “Baptism and the LS. But I was baptised when I was born, so didn't I have Jesus then, Papa?”
    “No, God only promised you to forgive your sins, when you believed for the first time.”
    “Oh. And now that I have faith, I am assured never to come into condemnation?”
    “Only if you're one of the elect.”
    “How do I know that?”
    “If you have faith.”
    “I do have faith.”
    “Then you are elect.”
    “So, I will never come into condemnation?”
    “Only if you persevere in faith.”
    “So, if I stop believing I will go to hell?”
    “Yes.”
    “But I thought you said the elect can never fall away.”
    “They cannot.”
    “But you just told me I'm elect.”
    anon….]]

    But this is the answer he really gave:

    “Because he baptised me.”

  2. This is an excellent post and much needed. In reacting to the errors of FV re: sacramental efficacy, some Reformed end up sounding like Baptists, effectively denying baptism as a means of grace. Infant baptism ends up sounding like a wet baby dedication rather than a biblical sacrament. Bottom line: baptism is a means of grace for the elect, sovereignly applied by the Holy Spirit in His appointed time. It conveys the benefits of Christ and His Gospel, i.e., regeneration forgiveness of sins, adoption, union with Christ, etc., to those whom these graces belong. We present our children for baptism with confidence in God's promise to be a God to us and to our seed, and that Christ has given the kingdom to such as these.

  3. Now here’s the kicker: If the Confession says that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it stands to reason that there is a “moment” to which it is OK to “tie the efficacy of baptism.”

    A breathtaking leap of logic… It indeed does not stand to reason that there is a “moment” to which it is OK. Muddled…

  4. A followup to my previous Anonymous comment:

    From Calvin's Institutes (Calvin is safe to quote, right? we can still consider him Reformed I hope…):

    I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God . . . we are restored by this regeneration through the benefit of Christ into the righteousness of God . . . And indeed this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh,
    cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples, renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will only end at death” (3.3.9).

  5. Now where have you been while I've been getting pummeled at GB? 🙂

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