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The Gift of Baptism – A Holy Covenant

Tommi Kinnunen and Eric Mattila | The Voice of Zion February 2022 --

Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him…Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. – Psalm 89:19–22;27–29

As sinful yet believing people can we ever thank God enough for what He has promised and done for us?

This Sunday’s theme speaks about the gift of baptism, and the 89th Psalm that is set aside for this Sunday speaks about a covenant, a covenant between God and His chosen. Let us pause and consider this covenant and remember to give thanks to the heavenly Father for extending His love and great gift unto us.

We can think of a covenant as an agreement, where two parties are bound together. Our Psalm relates about God’s covenant with David, His anointed who would lead the kingdom of Israel. God’s covenant with David is that “mine arm shall strengthen him” (v. 21).

Likewise, in a baptismal covenant God promises to “help” (v. 19) and to “exalt” His chosen, here, by granting unmerited grace toward sin-fallen humankind. It is God’s way of extending His help to us; we are thus recipients of God’s goodness and mercy without any effort or work of our own. This is something we need to be reminded of throughout our lives: God loved us first before we were even capable of loving Him.

Covenant of Good Conscience

Certainly most of us have attended a baptism and heard of this covenant of good conscience with God. Perhaps you even remember the words the minister reads, partially excerpted here: “We have now assembled together before the face of God for the baptismal festival of this child. The Word of God teaches us to consider a child as a gift of the Lord. Therefore, we thank our heavenly Father for this child’s birth. God has not only created us according to His image and into His fellowship, but has also redeemed us by His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of our transgressions according to the riches of His grace. In the fellowship of this saving grace, we today bring this child into the Covenant of Holy Baptism. Baptism does not signify new birth, but it is a covenant of good conscience with God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

We see in this Covenant of Baptism text some important matters that the Psalmist also writes about in God’s covenant with David. First is this matter that it is a solemn occasion, since we heard we are gathered before the face of God. Verse 20 tells, “with my holy oil have I anointed.” It is therefore good if we can remember to treat this occasion with respect and reverence.

Another thing we notice in the Covenant of Baptism text is that it speaks of extending this covenant to a child. We can begin to question, does a child have personal faith? Is it important that we baptize children? Or for those who have lost a child before baptism, is my child saved without baptism? How about if someone repents of unbelief? These are all questions that have come into God’s kingdom in the past. Thankfully, God has through His Word and Holy Spirit guided believers even in these matters, so we do not need to ponder them but simply believe as we have been taught.

We believe that every child is born with a living soul and is a child of God and is already in a saved condition, even before baptism. As Jesus Himself said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). Here, we can notice that Jesus says “which believe in me,” clarifying for us that children are believing. We can also remember what David, the one anointed by God about whom our Psalmist writes, said when he lost his baby son. “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). In these words, we can see that David knew and believed his baby was in heaven.

Saved by Faith

So, what then does baptism signify? Juhani Uljas writes in this way, “In baptism, God joins a child into the fellowship of His congregation to be cared for. The endeavor as a child of God begins there. When a child grows older, the battle of sin begins. Baptism obligates us to it. Paul writes to the Romans, ‘So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life’ (Rom. 6:3,4)” (Uljas, The Treasure Hidden in a Field, SRK 2000).

A person is not saved by baptism but by faith. Faith does not come through baptism but precedes it. As Christ said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Faith comes first, and then the sacraments serve to confirm and strengthen faith.

Although we believe faith is first and foremost, we in no way wish to despise nor neglect to baptize our children. Neglect of a sacrament is illustrated by the account of Moses when God had called him to lead His people from the bondage of Egypt. Moses had failed to have his son circumcised, according to God’s command. We can read in Exodus 4:24–26: “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him [Moses], and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So, he let him go then said she, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” Moses had neglected to keep the sacrament of circumcision, and the condemnation was not directed to the child but to the father.

Baptism is a sure covenant. For example, if one was baptized as a child, even in an unbelieving church, by an unbelieving priest, a new baptism is not required after repentance to God’s kingdom. The first baptism is still in effect, even though the baptized on their own part have broken the covenant. God is faithful and His promises are everlasting.

If one comes into God’s kingdom and was never baptized as a child, it would be good and appropriate to be baptized even as an adult. On one hand this newfound faith is so precious to the finder it is a joy to enter into that covenant with God and on the other hand we recall how church father Augustine has written, “Not by lacking a sacrament, but by despising of a sacrament one is damned.”

Let Us Hold the Covenant Dear

As it is with many matters of faith, our understanding of baptism is also limited. Jesus taught His disciples in His mission command: “And he said unto them, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned’” (Mark 16:15,16). Therefore, we wish to be faithful to God’s Word and to keep these matters in the correct order: Preaching, Faith, Baptism, Doctrine and Fellowship.

We are also reminded of the endeavor of the believer, the cross that we must bear. We wish to avoid sin and temptations and when we fall, we remember the words Paul wrote to Timothy, to keep faith and good conscience. We have in God’s house living water, so we never need to thirst or carry burdens. We can live as free children of grace. As God so long ago promised to care for and protect David, we as believers are also included in this promise. May we all remember to keep the baptism covenant dear in our hearts.

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