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10 Things You Should Know about Baptism

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. Baptism is a sacrament.

A sacrament is a covenant sign that is appropriate to the promises made by God in his covenant. The tree of life pointed to God as the author of human life and his promise of eternal life, the rainbow in the Noahic covenant signified God’s promise that he would never again flood the world, while the Passover signified God’s passing over those protected by the sacrificial blood.

2. Baptism is a sacrament of the new covenant.

It is to be administered to all disciples of Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20) and signifies union with Christ (Rom. 6:1-9) and washing from sin (Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

3. Baptism should be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture.

As a sacrament of the new covenant, it represents the fulfillment of all God’s work of redemption as promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Systematic Theology

Robert Letham

This single-volume systematic theology seeks to provide a clear and concise articulation of the Reformed faith, rooted in historical teaching while addressing current challenges in the life of the church.

4. Baptism mainly refers to what God does, not to what we do.

Sacraments are signs of the work of God; only he gives eternal life, provides atonement for sin, unites us to Christ, and washes away our sins. God’s saving actions are always accompanied by the covenantal signs he prescribes.

5. Baptism is in the new covenant name of the trinity (Matt. 28:19-20, 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Consequently, it belongs to God, not to the church or any particular denomination.

6. Baptism is integrally connected with the death and resurrection of Christ.

Jesus described his death as his baptism (Luke 12:49-50, cf., Matt. 3:13-15). Covenant promises entail contrary warnings and so the sacraments are signs of judgment as well as blessing. In baptism we are united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-9) and washed from our sins.

God’s saving actions are always accompanied by the covenantal signs he prescribes.

7. Baptism is inseparably connected with the work of the Spirit, inasmuch as the work of Christ and the Spirit is inseparable.

We are baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life; the idea that water baptism and Spirit baptism are separable realities entails a dualistic mode of thinking.

8. Therefore, baptism is connected with the beginning of spiritual renewal and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-9, 1 Cor. 12:12-13).

9. Baptism is one of the four spiritual doors.

Tony Lane says the four spiritual doors are repentance, faith, forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit, which are all featured variously in the evangelistic sermons in Acts.

This means that there is an invariable connection between baptism and faith. Paedobaptists maintain that the household continues as the basis of covenantal administration in the New Testament, so that infant offspring of believers are in the covenant of grace (Eph. 6:1-3).

10. Like regeneration, baptism comes at the very start of the Christian life, as soon as a person can be considered a Christian.

This does not mean that baptism is the efficient cause of regeneration, nor is there any necessary temporal order between them (except in the case of converts), but that they are linked theologically.

Robert Letham is the author of Systematic Theology.

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