BAPTISM: Sign of Our Identity
Text: Genesis 17:7,10-11; Galatians 3:26-29
7 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. … 10 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. ~Genesis 17:7,10-11
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. ~Galatians 3:26-29
Today we are in our second week of a series on baptism. Last week we looked at the symbolism of baptism. In the Bible, water symbolizes death, washing, life, and the Holy Spirit. Using water in baptism then specifically symbolizes and points to four things God has done that correspond to those four symbols. Death corresponds to God’s rightful judgment of sin, the consequence of which is death, borne by Christ on the cross and buried in the tomb. Washing corresponds to God’s generous mercy, shown through the forgiveness of sin, the “washing us clean” through Christ. Life corresponds to salvation, raised with Christ to new life with God now and forever. And the Holy Spirit is a direct basis for Christian hope that God has done and will continue to do what He promised, and remains with us and in us. All that water baptism symbolizes then serves as a SIGN, pointing to what God has done: judge, forgive, save, and remain.
Today we continue with another way that Baptism serves as a sign. Remember, a sign is not “the thing” but points to the thing, the reality, the person, or the action. Today we will see in Scripture that not only does Baptism point to what God has done, it also points to WHO WE ARE because of what God has done. This is our IDENTITY at the deepest level.
What God Did Before He Did It
So interestingly enough our story starts about 4000 years ago with a man named Abraham. Well really, our story starts all the way back, before that. Abraham’s story came about because of Adam and Eve’s sin, because of the Fall, because humanity was estranged from God and facing a death-judgment for that collective sin and disobedience. I often say, with wondrous gratitude, that God did not turn away from us when we turned away from Him, but pursued us in love. And so He did. That is the story told again and again in Scripture.
We touched on one example last week, when we talked about Noah and the Flood. There God spoke into a world facing rightful judgment for human sin and disobedience. And one man listened and obeyed to build an Ark of Refuge, a means of grace, a God-given means of salvation. And in obedience and faith, Noah led his family into the Ark and was delivered through the water-judgment in an event that Scripture connects with water to baptism in terms of judgment, mercy, salvation, and promise (those four symbols we talked about last week!). And God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants not to ever again destroy the whole world with water and signified that covenant with a rainbow. (Genesis 9)
And so, generations later, when the world was again dark with rebellion, God spoke into a world facing rightful judgment for human sin and disobedience. And one man heard the call and followed it to a new place where God would establish a land and a people and bless them in order that they might bless the whole world. That man was Abraham and God established those promises of land, people, and blessing through a covenant, an enduring relationship with Abraham and his descendants based on the faithfulness of God. And that covenant was signified by circumcision. We heard a concise summary of this covenant and sign in the first scripture reading from Genesis 17:7,10-11.
7 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. … 10 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.
And in so many ways, the rest of the Old Testament is the story of God keeping His covenant with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants, though they would seemingly test the limits of God’s faithfulness again and again. Fortunately, God’s faithfulness is greater than human faithlessness!
What God Did When He Did It
That brings us to the time of Jesus and the New Testament. As in the days of Noah and the days of Abraham, the world and humanity continued in disobedience and sin. And as God has always done, He did not turn away from us, but pursued us in love, and now at the right time sent His Son into the world, to be born of a woman and to become one of us, fully human while also fully God. This marked the beginning of the New Testament or New Covenant between God and humanity.
And the story of this new covenant is very much what we heard last week (and hopefully most every week!). Jesus lived and suffered and died as one of us, bearing the full weight of God’s rightful judgment on the cross. Yet through him and that obedient sacrifice, God showed mercy on all who trusted in Him, washing them clean of sin. On Easter morning, God raised Jesus from death to life, and us with him to a new life “in Christ.” And even when Jesus ascended back to God’s right hand, he left the promised Holy Spirit with us… IN us, that we might never be alone or apart from God. These are the four great movements of God symbolized in the waters of baptism. It is the story baptism depicts, pointing to the great and merciful act of God. Baptism is the sign of God’s new covenant with humanity through Jesus Christ.
So what’s the deal? I’ve told you about Noah and Abraham and recapped last Sunday’s sermon. Are we covering any new ground here today?
The Joining of the Two and Where We Fit In
Indeed we are, for those old covenants and this new covenant are intimately connected. I hope you heard and understand how consistently God has acted throughout human history. Where humanity faced death as a spiritual consequence, God provided hope, in His mercy. To those who would listen and follow, God provided life. And God has always held out hope and a future. With each covenant, God has acted in the same redemptive ways. With each covenant, God has provided a sign to indicate what He was doing and would faithfully do. With each covenant, God “marked” people with an identity, as those who were part of the covenant. And with each covenant God was faithful to present a means of mercy and salvation to those who would listen, trust, and believe. Let’s look at how Scripture explains this connection.
We heard Romans 11:17-18, which addresses the relationship between God’s old covenant people and God’s new covenant people:
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
It’s a complex bit of theology and life-application, tucked into a word-picture, but Paul is telling Gentile Christians not to despise the Jews (whether Christian or not), but to realize that the Gentile believers are not a new people or new club, but have actually been made a part of something there before them. They are, in every sense of the term, Israel. But they are not “new Israel”; they have become the children of Abraham. Paul actually goes on to say that the Jewish people of his day are “hardened” regarding this new covenant, but it is a great blessing because it has led to a great influx of Gentiles to faith. Finally, God’s covenant with Abraham that his children would bless the nations of the world was really coming to fruition!
Let me say this another way and try to be even clearer. Just as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 that he didn’t come to do away with the Old Testament Law, but to fulfill or complete it, so those who trust in him for salvation have not replaced or done away with Abraham and his children, but have become the fulfillment of what God intended for Abraham and his children. And so Paul warned, “Don’t be arrogant toward the Jews; it is not even the case that you must support them because, in fact, it is they who support you.” It is their Father Abraham, who is your father. It is their old covenant that is the basis for your covenant. It is their scripture that is your scripture. And so on. Let’s consider several more scriptures.
You heard part of the story of the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8:36-38. Philip, the Apostle, encounters this African (not Jewish!) man who has been reading the Jewish scriptures. Hearing from Philip about how Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah he was reading, the Ethiopian eunuch asked to be baptized. Not only did that event mark his profession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, it also signified this non-Jewish, African eunuch becoming a son of Abraham and heir of God’s promises to Abraham. You may be thinking, “Where is all that in this passage?” My point is that this very non-Jewish man was reading the Old Covenant scripture promises in Isaiah, and was baptized into the New Covenant. Now listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-29 about this very situation:
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
The Ethiopian eunuch, trusting in Christ, became one of Abraham’s descendants and heir to the covenant promises, now perfectly fulfilled in Christ! Just one of those covenant promises was for God’s blessing – God’s presence through His Spirit, again no longer a future hope but a present reality in Christ. And we read in 1 Corinthians 12:13…
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
That gets at one part of what is so shockingly radical about Christianity. It is often berated for being exclusive, for Christ being the “only way to God.” And Jesus did say that. But in reality, it is God’s salvation thrown wide open to the world. It is God, who so loved the world, sending salvation among us. It is throwing open the doors of the Ark saying, “If you want to live, come find rescue here!” It is making a covenant that not only identifies and blesses a particular people, but has in view all the nations of the world. That’s what God promised to Abraham! But it was only fully realized at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit blew out from Jerusalem into the nations of the world. Jesus is very much keeping and fulfilling the covenant with Abraham when he gives the Great Commission to go to the nations, making disciples, BAPTIZING and teaching them. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Our Identity in Christ
So, what does all this mean related to baptism and our identity as Christians – our identity in Christ?
In the Presbyterian Church, we baptize the children of believers as Abraham and his children did with circumcision. This is not because baptism or even being in the covenant saves, but because it says God has spoken to us and is faithful and we mark you with the covenant promise that God will not turn from you. Like Ishmael or Esau or the older brother of the prodigal, a child may grow up to reject their name – their earthly family name or their Spiritual Family name; but God has declared His faithful covenant promise over them: “Though you deserve death, I have offered life and wholeness and hope in Christ.” We also baptize those who would trust God for those promises, who would turn from sin and turn toward God, not because their faith or their baptism saves them, but because God is faithful and says through Christ: “Though you deserve death, I have offered life and wholeness and hope in Christ.”
Said even more simply, baptism is a sign that God is faithful, and it is something that folks come to from outside the covenant, like the Greeks of Paul’s day, and from within the covenant, like the children of covenant families. In either case, salvation is only through Christ, through God’s salvation. Baptism is not simply a sign of conversion, but a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness.
So, to be clear, baptism doesn’t save and doesn’t assure us that someone of any age will be saved. It is a declaration, a marker, a sign, that God is faithful to save all who trust in His salvation through Jesus Christ.
Remember your own baptism. It continually serves as a reminder that God is faithful. God is faithful! Amen!
- Come, People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
- The Church’s One Foundation (AURELIA)
- CHOIR: One Faith, One Hope, One Lord (Courtney)
- DUET (Annie Ball, Karla Katibah): Worn (Tenth Ave North)
- Baptized in Water (BUNESSAN)