Baptism is a Sign and a Seal

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  • Baptism is a Sign and a Seal

    Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.


    The circumcision made without hands is symbolized by actual circumcision in the OC (Rom. 2:28-29) and actual physical baptism in the NC (Col. 2:11-12, etc. However, it is more than just a mere symbol. As Pratt maintains:

    With specific regard to baptism, it is worth noting that the New Testament never describes baptism as something ordinary or natural; it never speaks of baptism as a mere symbol. The language of sacrament was sustained by Reformed churches precisely because the New Testament ties baptism so closely to the bestowal of divine grace. For example, Paul spoke of baptism as the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). He also wrote that, through baptism, believers are united to Christ and die to sin (Rom. 6:3-7). Peter, in turn, when asked what was required for salvation, replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). Elsewhere, Peter boldly declared, Baptism ... now saves you also not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21). These and many other New Testament passages at least seem to indicate that baptism is much more than a symbol. In the language of the Bible, spiritual realities such as rebirth, renewal, forgiveness, salvation, and union with Christ are intimately associated with the rite of baptism.

    The Westminster Confession of Faith 27.2 acknowledges this biblical evidence in sacramental terms: There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. A sacramental union exists between the sign and the thing signified. A mysterious union, a spiritual relation exists between baptism and grace so that the names and effects which the Scriptures use to speak of divine grace may also be attributed to the rite of baptism. When the Scriptures attribute the names and effects of Gods saving mercy to the rite of baptism, they speak in a sort of theological shorthand leaving the precise relationship mysterious or unexplained.

    Reformed theology concurs with Scripture that there is more than meets the eye in the rite of baptism. Spiritual realities occur in conjunction with baptism, but the Scriptures do not explain in detail how baptism and divine grace are connected. So, Reformed theology speaks of the connection as a sacramental (i.e. mysterious) union. It is in this sense that Reformed theology rightly calls baptism a sacrament.

    The WLC biblically asserts that baptism is not merely a sign (visible attestations of God's favor), but also a seal (confirmations of God's love, in which he gives assurance of that which is symbolized by the sign). WLC 163 biblically speaks of this reality. It asks, What are the parts of a sacrament? The answer: The parts of a sacrament are two; the one an outward and sensible sign; the other an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified. The WLC 177 biblically asserts that baptism is a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants. Baptism, is more than a mere sign. It is also a seal to the covenant people of God's promise to be our God and to make us his, both now and forever (cf. Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:10; Jer. 30:2; 31:33, etc.). So, it is not only a glorious picture of God's grace, but it also is the covenants members basis for claiming the promise of salvation (the Holy Spirit both sealing us and sealing the promise to us).

    In baptism, the Spirit, in God's timing actually confers grace on his people (part of the sealing activity). As I have stated in part, but now in a fuller way, numerous times already, WCF 28.6 puts it this way: The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.

    So, a seal points back to the sign. The sacrament of baptism is a seal meaning God signifies that the person receiving the sacrament has the qualities it signifies. An illustration that Bob Burridge (The Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies) uses is very helpful:

    When someone receives a diploma upon graduation, the diploma certifies that he has completed the course of instruction as recognized by the faculty and board of the institution granting the degree. If a person forges a diploma or has misrepresented himself to the institution, the certificate does not make him qualified in the field it represents. It would be a serious crime and offense to the institution to make such a false claim. Similarly, someone who wrongly receives a sacrament offends God and does not bring the blessings promised upon himself. Instead he calls down the wrath of God upon himself for his false claim. But when a child of God receives the sacrament rightly administered by Gods prescription he receives that blessing which is represented by the sign upon the authority of God who instituted it.

    In this sense we say that a sacrament is a means of grace. It does not convey the grace by its outward application. But God uses the sacrament, when rightly applied and received, as a means by which he dispenses his grace to the recipient.

  • #2
    I think this was in response to a question I asked in another thread. Would it be appropriate to continue the conversation here then?

    We are pretty much in agreement regarding God using baptism as a means by which He conveys His grace to the recipient, I would term that, as Catholicism does, as Sanctifying Grace, the life giving, empowering grace of God bringing salvation.

    And I believe we are in agreement that this sacrament can and should be given to children, infants, as well. In so doing, I believe we would agree that this same life-giving, empowering grace of God is given to them as well. And as this is the moment of entrance into the New Covenant relationship with God, an infant would be saved just as much as an adult would be.

    What I do not understand though is this: If an infant can be saved through baptism just as an adult who makes a conscious choice for Christ, yet has not made a conscious choice yet due to an infant's inability, that infant, though he or she has been infused with God's life-giving, empowering grace and so has received salvation, That infant must, at some point once they have reached the age of reason, make their own choice for Christ. There is nothing that forces them to make such a choice, and so even though they have been the recipient of salvation through baptism, they can choose to reject God.

    Since they can reject God even though they have been saved, this would indicate their salvation is not a permanent state, but one that can be revoked at will by the individual. How can one logically hold to once saved always saved and hold to the sacrament of baptism for infants and all it entails regarding salvation when it is apparent they can choose to reject God once they reach the age of reason?




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    • #3
      Originally posted by thereselittleflower View Post
      I think this was in response to a question I asked in another thread. Would it be appropriate to continue the conversation here then?
      Hi therese,

      I think you are addressing me, thinking I posted this as response to you. That was not the case, as I was unclear whether your response was directed to me or to Zachary. He made a post on baptism elsewhere. It is best to practice quoting someone if you're responding to them directly.

      Originally posted by thereselittleflower View Post
      What I do not understand though is this: If an infant can be saved through baptism just as an adult who makes a conscious choice for Christ, yet has not made a conscious choice yet due to an infant's inability, that infant, though he or she has been infused with God's life-giving, empowering grace and so has received salvation, That infant must, at some point once they have reached the age of reason, make their own choice for Christ. There is nothing that forces them to make such a choice, and so even though they have been the recipient of salvation through baptism, they can choose to reject God.

      Since they can reject God even though they have been saved, this would indicate their salvation is not a permanent state, but one that can be revoked at will by the individual. How can one logically hold to once saved always saved and hold to the sacrament of baptism for infants and all it entails regarding salvation when it is apparent they can choose to reject God once they reach the age of reason?
      I suggest asking a Catholic about baptismal regeneration and a Baptist about OSAS (Once Saved Always Saved). Personally, I do not adhere to either doctrine, but the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the saints. Perseverance of the saints is the Calvinist doctrine that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. It doesn't mean that a person who is truly saved will never lose faith or backslide at any time. But that they will ultimately persevere in faith (inspite of failures) such as not to lose their salvation. The doctrine of perseverance is rooted in God's unconditional election and predestination. That is, since God is the One who chose and predestined the elect to salvation, therefore the elect will be saved. They might turn away from faith and give appearance of losing their salvation, but if they really are elect they will repent and ultimately return to faith, because God is the One ensuring their salvation. Since we cannot determine who are and are not the Elect we must fulfill the great commission by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without distinction from every tribe tongue and nation.

      Personally, I do not believe Salvation begins at baptism (baptismal regeneration), nor at a one time profession of faith, but rather acknowledge God will preserve or a man will persevere to the end if they are truly saved by God. Baptism does not save, and neither does a profession of faith from a prayer or creed at any age, likewise both young and old demonstrate apostasy or a falling away from the faith which makes an age of accountability argument rather null, because if only adult profession guarantees salvation... . there shouldn't be any adults falling away from the faith, but there are. The Baptist or credo baptism argument really comes down to the New Covenant, while Baptists further suggest that the church is not a "mixed multitude" of unregenerate and regenerate, but rather a body of those who are "truly saved," as evidenced by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The issue with our Baptist friends are, actually, more over the nature of the church than it is over the subjects of baptism.

      Lastly, you seemingly prescribe to the unbiblical notion that man has free will therese (I say this kindly). I would like to acknowledge first that your definition in numerous contexts suggests that you believe having a choice is free will. Calvinist reject free will in an autonomous and libertarian sense. Man is either bound by a sin nature or a regenerate nature, they're either a slave to sin or a slave to God. Having a choice is not free will, I can ask you to breathe under water like a fish or to flap your arms and fly like a bird, the choice is yours, but you are unable to actually do so because of being grounded in your human nature despite having a choice otherwise.

      The only place in Scripture I am aware of free will existing comes from an age old hiss from out of the garden:

      Genesis 3:5, when Satan, disguised as a serpent, said to Eve, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

      Here are the double lies being offered to Eve springing out of the same principle behind his botched coup attempt:
      1. She would be like gods, and thus independent, able to rule over herself apart from God
      2. There is not one God, but many gods; each is sovereign over himself or herself.

      Lemme ask you therese, if God is sovereign, and man has free will, and God sovereignly elects a man and man rejects salvation, who is sovereign? In other words, the doctrine of autonomous self teaches that men in both unregenerate and regenerate states are completely independent and capable of self-determination of what is good and bad for him (hence the term autonomous) and from which make decision without any external divine influence or swaying to a particular direction.

      “To be autonomous means to be a law unto oneself. An autonomous creature would be answerable to no one. He would have no governor, least of all a sovereign governor. It is logically impossible to have a sovereign God existing at the same time as an autonomous creature. The two concepts are utterly incompatible. To think of their coexistence would be like imagining the meeting of an immovable object and an irresistible force. What would happen? If the object moved, then it could no longer be considered immovable. If it failed to move, then the irresistible force would no longer be irresistible.” - RC Sproul
      God bless,
      William
      Comment>

      • #4
        It seems to me your view is focused on man's ability to act, and mine is on man's ability to choose, but I do not believe these are the same issue.

        The way I look at free will is this: Man was created in God's image with free will. Our higher aspects of our soul, our spiritual aspects - the part of our soul that relates to the spiritual realm, which includes our will, conscience, and intellect, were created to be in perfect control of our being. Our lower aspects of our soul, the aspects that relate to our physical body and the world around us, our physical and sensual desires, etc, were in complete and perfect subjection to the higher, spiritual aspects of our soul. And so all was in perfect balance. In the fall our human nature was wounded. This wounding upset this balance and control, and our higher aspects of our soul became dominated by our lower aspects, and the carnal powers of our soul dominate as a result of the fall, giving rise to actual sin. So I agree, we are not free to act according to our wills. But does that mean we do not have free will? I don't think so. I think it means we are so wounded our will lacks the power to fully control our desires and actions, but we are still free to choose, even if we are powerless to act on those choices apart from God's grace

        I find Paul speaks to this:

        [FONT=Verdana][SIZE=14px] Romans 7[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Trebuchet][SIZE=15px][FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]14[/SIZE][/FONT]For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]15[/SIZE][/FONT]For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]16[/SIZE][/FONT]But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]17[/SIZE][/FONT]So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]18[/SIZE][/FONT]For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]19[/SIZE][/FONT]For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]20[/SIZE][/FONT]But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.[/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Trebuchet][SIZE=15px] [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]21[/SIZE][/FONT]I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]22[/SIZE][/FONT]For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]23[/SIZE][/FONT]but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]24[/SIZE][/FONT]Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? [FONT=Arial][SIZE=11px]25[/SIZE][/FONT]Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.[/SIZE][/FONT]


        According to how I understand Paul above, the issue of our will and the issue of our actions are two separate issues. Also, the ability of our wills to choose to act for good according to is determined by how our conscience is formed. If our conscience is formed properly, we know the proper way to act and are free to choose with our will to act accordingly, but this does not we have the power to act according to the dictates of our will because of sin and the power of sin, and the power it gives our carnal desires. However, if we will to go the opposite direction from God, if we choose to reject God, we will find all sorts of help and empowerment from our lower nature to do so. It is by the grace of God we do not make such a choice. But God does not want stepford wives. I believe it is dangerous to presume upon God's grace as though there is nothing we can do to remove ourselves from it, and this is why the Apostle Paul tells us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]Phl 2:12[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;[/SIZE][/FONT]

        The words fear and trembling are very strong words in the Greek.
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]"Fear" is[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]φόβος phóbos, fob'-os; from a primary φέβομαι phébomai (to be put in fear); alarm or fright:—be afraid, + exceedingly, fear, terror.[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]fear, dread, terror
        that which strikes terror[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px] [/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]"Trembling" is [/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]τρόμος trómos, trom'-os; from G5141; a "trembling", i.e. quaking with fear:—+ tremble(-ing).[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]a trembling or quaking with fear[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px]with fear and trembling, used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfil his duty[/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px] [/SIZE][/FONT]
        What need would there be to working out our own salvation with fear, dread, terror and trembling, quaking with fear if we are assured our final salvation anyway?


        I know I have said this before, but rather than seeing salvation as a one time event, I understand it to be a process, and this is what I find in scriptures about salvation - it is a path we start on with our initial salvation, it is path we continue on in our sanctification, our theosis (the ancient Greek term for our sanctification), and it is the gift we receive in it's fullness, our final salvation, when we leave this world in the friendship of God:
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px][FONT=verdana]Q: "Are you Saved?" * * * * [/FONT][/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px] [/SIZE][/FONT]
        [FONT=Basic][SIZE=14px][FONT=verdana]A: "As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."[/FONT][/SIZE][/FONT]

        Whether we stay on that path is not something God will force on us, but will give us ample Grace to ensure we are empowered to do so according to our choice - but will never force us to.

        There is only one way I know to ensure our final salvation for at any moment our lives may be required of us; and that is to live in the friendship of God every present moment, for the present moment is all we have and the present moment is where we touch eternity.



        Comment>

        • #5
          Hello therese,

          We may certainly discuss free will further though I will more than likely refrain from such debating. May I turn you to the sections of the forum called Heresy Hill. I recommend familiarizing yourself with either the Pelagian/Semi Pelagian or Arminian categories. These are the categories which promote free will doctrine. I'm sure others will be happy to discuss, debate, or dialogue with you regarding these subjects and topics within these categories. Lastly, Catholic soteriology may be further discussed in the Catholic sub-forum without interruption from others.

          Hope you're not disappointed therese, but I am refraining from serious debates while holding a staff member position.

          God bless,
          William
          Comment>

          • #6
            I understand and no offense taken I assure you. :)

            Comment>

            • #7
              Originally posted by thereselittleflower View Post
              I understand and no offense taken I assure you. :)
              Thank you therese!

              God bless,
              William

              Comment>

              • #8
                I also believe that sinners do have a free-will. Because nobody is holding a gun to their head and forcing them to sin, they sin willingly. But they choose what they desire,crave,and lust for, because this is now their fallen sinful nature. John 3 depicts what they LOVE which is the DARKNESS and they HATE the light. So they know the differences, but choose what they LOVE to do, which is evil deeds. They hate the light because it exposes what they love to do. Ephesians 2 is another great run of passages that showcases this sinful nature, and the Divine Act of Grace & Mercy that God gives freely to sinners which they receive with empty hands by Faith which is also a gift. Sorry for the rambling. Just my two bits to throw in.
                Comment>

                • #9
                  Therese, I am just curious. What is your religion? And what theological seminary did you attend? Its been a while since I read about free-will, because I have been busy learning Covenant Theology. Do you have extensive knowledge in this area? The reason why I ask is because I wanted to know, where does the distinction between Law & Gospel in relation to Justification by Faith Alone fit into the Covenant Theology motif?
                  Comment>
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