“Improving” Our Baptism
Question 167 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How is our baptism to be improved by us?” The catechism’s answer is as follows:
The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
This answer suggests that “improving our baptism” is frequently neglected to our detriment. We ought to make much of our baptism, especially in the time of temptation and when we are present at the baptism of others. Luther, when tempted, would often reply, “I am a baptized man.” This was his vivid way of resisting the devil and reminding himself that, because he was declared God’s freedman, his freedom was to be used, not in servitude to sin, but in joyful service to Christ. Temptation always involves the enticement to idolize the creature, perverting God’s good gifts from their proper usage, enlisting the creature to provide what only the Creator can provide. As we remember that we are Christ’s, signed and sealed as his, we are strengthened to die to sin and live to righteousness.We ought, then, seriously and thankfully to consider the nature of our baptism. Christ instituted it to apply the blood that cleanses us from all sin, both to justify and to sanctify us. Our baptism speaks to us of that unqualified acceptance that we have with our God by his declaration of righteousness that we enjoy in justification, and that perfectly in this life. It also speaks to us of the transformative work that goes on in sanctification, a work neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection (WLC 77). Considering all the ways that WLC 167 speaks about improving our baptism, Vos writes that “these various experiences and duties, taken together, mean a continuous, serious undertaking to live a faithful, consistent Christian life, according to the teachings of the Word of God, all along the line. As baptism stands for salvation from sin, improving our baptism involves taking salvation from sin seriously, in actual living experience.”
Strange discusses baptism further in his article Baptism in our Confessional Standards.