Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Means and Hope

Excerpt from 843 Acres post:  The Law and Grace Distinction


Prayer: Lord, We are justified by our faith alone, and it is your grace alone that saves us. Yet we are not merely saved from something, but also for something—namely, a life that is in step with the truth of the gospel. “And this is love, that we walk according to your commandments.” Therefore, Lord, forgive us for using something other than you to make us acceptable. Expose the spiritual roots of our behavior. May we embrace community so that we have eyes to see ourselves better and, in community, may we be like Paul—pointing to the gospel as the means and hope for our conduct. Amen.

A Double Joy

David Mathis post:  Five Benefits of Corporate Worship

Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.
But thinking of worship as a means can be dangerous. True worship is fundamentally an experience of the heart, and not a means to anything else. So it’s important to distinguish between what benefits might motivate us to be regular in corporate worship, and what focus our minds and hearts should pursue in the moment.
According to Don Whitney, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers” (Spiritual Disciplines, 92). Surely, many more could be given, but here are five such “graces and benefits” that we experience uniquely in the context of corporate worship.

1. Awakening

Often we come into corporate worship feeling a sense of spiritual fog. During the rough and tumble of the week, the hard knocks of real life in the fallen world can disorient us to ultimate reality and what’s truly important. We need to clear our head, recalibrate our spirit, and jumpstart our slow heart. Martin Luther found corporate worship powerful in awakening his spiritual fire: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
Better than Luther, though, is the experience of the inspired psalmist. In Psalm 73, he begins by despairing over the prosperity of his wicked peers (verses 2–15). But the fog clears as he comes consciously into the presence of God: “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Psalm 73:16–17).
He was embattled. The spiritual haze was thick. But the breakthrough came in the context of worship. Which then leads to this climactic expression of praise: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).
How many times have we found this to be true for us as well? Instead of staying away from corporate worship when we sense ourselves to be spiritually lethargic, precisely what we need more than ever is the awakening of worship. When our hearts feel it least is when we need most to remind our souls, “For me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28).

2. Assurance

A second benefit is the community dynamic — which means not only meeting our good desires for belonging and shared mission (fellowship), but also providing a catalyst for our assurance.
While we may admire figures like Athanasius and Luther who stood contra mundum, alone against the world, we must remember God has said it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). These heroes were the product of dire days, and inevitably their stories have been thinned in the collective memory of distant history. Neither Athanasius or Luther truly stood alone, but were part of faithful communities that fostered and strengthened their otherwise unpopular beliefs.
And so it is with us. We were not made to stand solo with no fellows. Even in times as troubling as Elijah’s, God gave him seven thousand who hadn’t abandoned the truth (1 Kings 19:18). God made us for community — and named her “the church” — and being part of this great local and global community plays an important role in assuring us not only that we are not deceiving ourselves in pretending our profession is credible, but also that we truly know whom we have believed (2 Timothy 1:12).
And worship in the local church points us to the worship of universal church, and that Jesus has a people from many nations, and one day will include every nation (Revelation 7:9).

3. Advance

Corporate worship also plays an indispensible part in our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Corporate worship is for our general “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3), but also in beholding Jesus together, “we all . . . are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Christian growth is not just something that we take away as sermon application and then work into our lives that week. As Tim Keller says, sanctification can happen “on the spot” as we sit under gospel preaching and engage in corporate worship. There are times — may God make them many — when the Holy Spirit takes the Scripture read, the prayer spoken, the chorus sung, or the truth preached and presses it right to the point of our need, and not merely informs our Christian walk, but heals us in that moment.
When we join in corporate worship, God loves not only to change our minds, but irrevocably change our hearts “on the spot.”

4. Accepting Another’s Leading

One important distinction between public worship and private worship is the place of our initiative. Corporate worship reminds us that our faith is fundamentally reception, not our own initiation. In private devotions, we lead ourselves in some sense. In corporate worship, we’re made to receive the leading of others.
In private worship, we’re in the driver’s seat. We decide what passage to read, when to pray, what to pray, how long to linger in Bible reading and meditation, what songs to listen to or sing, what gospel truths to preach to ourselves, and what applications to consider. But in corporate worship, we respond. Others preach and pray and select the songs and choose how long to linger in each element. We’re positioned to receive.
It is a wonderful thing in our personal devotions to make such choices, but it is also good for us to practice engaging with God when someone other than ourselves is making the calls. Corporate worship demands that we discipline ourselves to respond, and not only pursue God on our own terms. It is an opportunity to embrace being led, and not always taking the lead.

5. Accentuated Joy

Last, but not least, is the heightened experience of worship in the corporate context. Our own awe is accentuated, our own adoration increased, our own joy doubled when we worship Jesus together.
As the Swedish proverb says, a shared joy is a double joy. In corporate worship, the “graces and benefits” we uniquely enjoy are not only awakening, assurance, advance, and accepting others’ leadership, but also the accentuated joy of deeper and richer and greater adoration and awe, since our delight in Jesus expands as we magnify him together with others.
The secret of joy in corporate worship is not only self-forgetfulness — or to put it positively, preoccupation with Jesus and his glory — but also the happy awareness that we are not alone in having our souls satisfied in him.

Friday, May 23, 2014

All Things

John Piper post:  Life's Deepest Pains for Your Deepest Pleasure

This is your verse. If you believe in the God of the Bible, and you love him, all the bounty of one of his greatest promises is yours.
God’s staggering pledge of Romans 8:28 is that “all things” — not just the good, but even and especially the bad — work for your good. Life’s worst pains are for your eternal joy.
All things is a massive phrase. It’s universal, all-inclusive, with no exceptions.
It doesn’t take much to believe that life’s best things work for our good. But what makes Romans 8:28 such a life-transforming promise is that this “all things” includes all of life’s worst things. Every single one. Every stab of pain, every barb, every lingering scar.
And if we want that with specificity, it’s here in this very context. Romans 8:35–36lists life’s greatest pains — none of which can separate us from Jesus’s love: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, and even death ( “regarded as sheep to be slaughtered”). No, in all these things, God is working for our good, not just giving us victory over these pains, but making us “more than conquerors” by having life’s greatest pains serve our everlasting joy.
This is why Romans 8:28, and the Himalayan peaks of biblical promises in Romans 8:28–39, makes for one of the most marked texts in the Scriptures.
In this three-minute video, John Piper continues his series, in partnership with YouVersion, through the Bible’s ten most-highlighted passages.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Scarcely Saved

Excerpt from Bethany at 843 Acres post:  Forgiven Much, Love Much (Newton)


John Newton, The Letters of John Newton (1772)
The righteous are said to be scarcely saved, not with respect to the certainty of the event, for the purpose of God in their favor cannot be disappointed—but in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through. But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility—they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ; Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much because much has been forgiven them!
They dare not ascribe anything to themselves—but are glad to acknowledge that they must have perished a thousand times over—if Jesus had not been their Savior, their Shepherd, and their Shield! When they were wandering—He brought them back. When they were fallen—He raised them. When they were wounded—He healed them. When they were fainting—He revived them. By him, out of weakness, they have been made strong. He has taught their hands to battle, and covered their heads in the day of battle. In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence—have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him—if they had not known so much of themselves!

Monday, May 19, 2014


Bethany post at  843 Acres: Turning Creatures Into Sons

Niceness: If Christianity is true, then why aren’t all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? After all, here, Peter says,“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love”[1]Shouldn’t we be obviously more loving than non-Christians?
Reasonable: “What lies behind that question,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions—if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary … Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Unreasonable: The unreasonable part, however, is to expect that the world is neatly divided into two camps—people who are 100% Christian and people who are 100% non-Christian. “The situation in the actual world,” Lewis continues, “is much more complicated than that.” Moreover, “low output” doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re failures, especially given our different “natural causes” and “certain temperaments.” For example, what comes naturally (not necessarily spiritually) to Polly Anna may come only by the Spirit for Scrooge. “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God,” says Lewis, “would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man.”
Prayer: Lord, you came to make us new. Give us discernment to know whether we are good because of our natural inclinations or whether we are good because of our spiritual redemption. For we long to be changed by you and know that you are working in our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fresh Manifestations of Grace

David Mathis post:  Sing a New Song

We all love old music. Whether it’s centuries old or even just a few months, the tunes we enjoy most are unavoidably the ones we already know. And there’s no getting around it. Music has a strange power to capture thoughts and feelings from the past, recent or long ago, and send them streaming into our present at the sound of just a few bars.
It’s a common experience to find yourself moved by some old song that you’ve sung for years. And if it’s a Christian hymn or worship chorus, you might feel freshly connected to God’s amazing faithfulness, not just through the ages, but in your particular life.
That was my experience recently when I heard an old anthem called “Holy Is He.” The choir at my childhood church would sing it on special occasion, and it had been years, perhaps fifteen, since I’d heard it. It brought back rich memories and inspired gratitude for God’s mercy in my life in surrounding me at an early age with such high praise to him, even before I was old enough to understand it much or feel it deeply. Which has me sensing afresh that there is a wonderful place for old songs.
But I’m unaware of any command in the Bible to “sing old songs.” It’s not disobedient to sing old songs; it simply isn’t something God needs to remind us to do. Our inertia is toward humming and singing and selecting the stuff we already know. We already like the songs we like, after all.
What we don’t yet know is the new songs. And it takes some energy to write them and learn them. So the Scriptures need to remind us again and again to “sing a new song.”

Sing Something New

Three Psalms start with precisely these words — Psalms 96, 98, and 149 — “sing to the Lord a new song.” As does Isaiah 42:10 (“sing to the Lord a new song”) andPsalm 33:3 (“sing to him a new song”). And Psalm 144:9 adds its voice to the chorus, “I will sing a new song to you, O God.”
Why is this the case? Psalm 40 gives us a clue.
The psalmist has “waited patiently for the Lord” for some deliverance. God hears him, and rescues him, and one of the things he does for him in the deliverance is “he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).
New songs of praise are appropriate for new rescues and fresh manifestations of grace. As long as God is gracious toward us, as long as he keeps showing us his power, and wowing us with his works, it is fitting that we not just sing old songs inspired by his past grace, but also that we sing new songs about his ever-streaming, never-ceasing grace.

New Mercies, New Music

And this isn’t just true in this age, but for eternity. God will never cease to inspire awe in us about the breadth and depth and height of who he is and his mindboggling love for us in Christ, and we get the joy of continuing to create and sing new songs of praise to him for it.
If we take our cues from the worship of heaven in the book of Revelation, and get a little foretaste now of the feast of worship to come, it seems God would have us blend in new songs with the old as we prepare to “sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever” (Psalm 89:1).
In Revelation 15:3, we’re told that “those who had conquered the beast” sing “the song of Moses” — which is an old song, from Exodus 15 or Deuteronomy 32 — but they also sing “the song of the Lamb,” a new song. So also the worshipers of heaven are said to be “singing a new song” in Revelation 14:3. And in Revelation 5:9, the four living creatures and 24 elders “sang a new song.”
Forever God will continue to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), and as he does — for his glory and for our joy — we will keep singing new songs.
It’s a beautiful thing when we get a start on that now.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My God He Knoweth None

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Distinguishing Consequences and Condemnation

I was in a NYC taxi cab on a Friday night when I got the phone call from my brother Stephan telling me about what was going down at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale with my friend of 20 years, Bob Coy. I was both shocked and saddened. While it’s hard to admit, things like this happen all the time, but Bob? How could this happen to Bob? You see, it’s easy for us to put Christian leaders on a spiritual pedestal and forget that they are human too, that they face the same temptations as everyone else – maybe even more so.
The sadness I felt for him was justified, but my shock revealed what is an all-too-common mistake that we all make: believing people are better and stronger than they actually are. The fact is we are messed up people living in a messed up world with other messed up people. Jack Miller put things in their proper perspective when he would say, “Cheer up, you’re a lot worse off than you think you are. But God’s grace is infinitely greater than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.”
No church, no organization, no one is immune. We are all human. In fact, at Coral Ridge, we faced a similar situation two years ago. It was discovered that a staff member (and close friend) had fallen like Bob. Like my reaction when I found out about Bob, I was both shocked and saddened. I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. Of all the crises I’ve faced and had to deal with over the last 17 years of pastoral ministry, this was the toughest.
On top of having to deal with this on a very personal level, I had the weighty responsibility of leading our church through it. How do you make sense of it all? What do you tell people?
One week after we discovered the details of my friend’s sin, I had to stand up on my first Sunday back from vacation and tell our church what happened. I, of course, did not share much. I steered clear of details. But I reminded them of an all important distinction that we often confuse: no vertical condemnation does not equal no horizontal consequences. But, and this is even more important: horizontal consequences do not equal vertical condemnation.
Reading all the blogs and comments about what happened with Bob Coy reveal that lots of people confuse these two categories which results in two basic responses. Some people question his salvation: “how could anybody really be a Christian and make the mistakes Bob has made? Off with his head.” Others say, “Wait a minute. We’re no better than he is so why does he have to lose his job? After all, don’t we believe in grace and forgiveness?”
The first group needs to be reminded that God’s love for us and acceptance of us does not in any way depend on what we do or don’t do, but rather on what Jesus has done. Who we are before God has nothing to do with us—how much we can accomplish, who we can become, our behavior (good or bad), our strengths, our weaknesses, our past, our present, our future, and so on. Who we are before God (our identity) is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not ours; his strength, not ours; his performance, not ours; his victory, not ours. Our guilt is met with his grace, our failures with his forgiveness, our mess with his mercy. God only loves bad people because bad people are all that there are.
The second group needs to be reminded that consequences on the ground of life are real. Real people make real mistakes that require real action to be taken. So, for instance, we can talk bad about our boss without sacrificing one ounce of God’s acceptance because, before God, “our sin has been atoned for, our guilt has been removed.” We stand before God clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. Justified. In forever (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our job (horizontal consequences). We can make the mistake of driving 100 MPH on I-95 without losing a bit of God’s love for us because “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (no vertical condemnation). But we might still lose our license (horizontal consequences). When we confuse consequences with condemnation and vice versa, we don’t know how to make sense of things when tragedies like what happened to Bob (or us) take place.
The truth is that when we are in the throes of consequences for foolish things we do, our only hope is to remember that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In fact, the kind of suffering that comes from the consequences of sin is like a brush-fire that burns away every thread of hope we have in ourselves and leaves only the thread of divine grace.
I reminded Bob of this the morning after I found out what had happened. He thanked me. I told him I loved him. But more importantly, I told him that God loved him. And that for those who are in Christ, it is impossible to out-sin the coverage of God’s forgiveness because the sins we cannot forget, God cannot remember. The consequences Bob has faced and will continue to face are real because his sin was real. But the beauty of Jesus’ work on his behalf will enable him to weather the storm because “While the Accuser may roar of sins that I have done, I know them all and thousands more, My God he knoweth none.”

God Pursues Us

Reissig Courtney post: How a Dad Loves a Prodigal 

My dad and I are really close. In fact, we're so close that I worked for him doing all of his bookkeeping for the year before my twins were born. I loved talking to him nearly every day, especially since he lives so far away from me now. But we weren't always so close.
I was once a prodigal daughter.
For nearly two years I ran from my parents, family, and the Lord. I liked sin and liked living in sin. Talking to my dad (and mom) meant conviction, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If you peered through the window of my past you would have seen that I perfectly fit the profile of the son in Luke 15:11-32. I was wild, impulsive, and opposed to authority on every level.
A quick survey of the families in your church would probably reveal that many have or had children who in some way have strayed from the faith of their upbringing. Parenting is hard work with no real guarantee of the outcome. While every situation is unique and has its own challenges, one thing is certain—prodigal children need to know they are loved. And my parents made sure of that.
In the years I lived away from them, they never abandoned contact with me. While our interactions looked different, they made sure to take advantage of moments where they felt I needed exhortation, encouragement, or just the acknowledgment that I was loved by them. My mom bought me Christmas and birthday presents every year, even though I never once tried to see them for holidays or family gatherings. The presents waited for an opportune time, revealing to my brothers and ultimately me that I was never once forgotten from their grieving memory. I have a box full of letters from them that serves as a painful yet necessary reminder that while my sin was (and still is) grievous, the grace I have received is extravagant.

Love, No Matter the Cost

We often talk about memories from our childhood. For me, my childhood was pretty good. We made wonderful memories together as a family of six. But the memory that captures the most formative event in my life is the one that I rarely think about anymore.
The entire time I was living in rebellion, my parents prayed for me every day. So when I told them I wanted to move home one cold December morning, and was tired of my life of sin, they were overjoyed. This rock-bottom-moment was exactly what they were praying to see. Immediately they began helping me prepare for the move. They arranged flights for me to come home, paid for a moving truck, and began helping me think through where to finish college.
And then I got mono.
I suddenly found myself uninsured and in the emergency room. At this point I was too sick to do anything besides barely plug along to finish my school semester. There was no way I was going to be able to pack up and get myself to Dallas (three hours away) to the airport. My dad had already intended to come help me move home by picking up my car and driving it to Michigan. At this point, I needed him. I had no energy, no real friends, and no ability to think through a move. I was helpless.
My dad flew to Dallas and picked up a car from a friend to drive down to where I was living. Less than an hour outside of the city, the car he was driving broke down. But nothing was going to stop my dad from getting to me. I will never forget the words he said to me as he sat in the Greyhound station waiting on his bus to drive him to San Marcos.
I will get to you, Court. If I have to walk there, I will get to you.

Rescue Mission

When I picked him up at the Greyhound station he embraced me with tears streaming down his face. It was exactly what I needed. The softening of my heart had begun with the mono and continued with the love and care of a dad who didn't hold my past hatred of him against me. In those moments, he didn't hound me about how I scorned him and my mom all those years. He was on a rescue mission. I needed help physically and spiritually, and he was there to give it.
For more than a week my dad stayed with me in my dorm, packing up all my boxes, getting reacquainted with me, and showing me what it means to live like Christ. His example humbled me on so many levels. For two years I had spurned his and my mom's love, care, and fellowship. And here he was forgiving all of it and welcoming me back in. I was floored and a little self-conscious. In my heart, I was ready to come home, but I couldn't shake this nagging guilt that told me my parents deserved better than how I had treated them. I was unable to help myself in any tangible way, and I was further placing myself in their debt by their selfless care for me.
There are so many more pieces to this story, like the fact that my dad stayed in the dorms with me for a week to make sure I was eating and getting rest. Or the fact that he went to the cafeteria with me every day to watch me fix my plate and send me back for more nutritious fare. Or the fact that my parents paid all of my medical bills despite the fact that I was the one who abandoned them. This is what makes it all memorable. They didn't abandon me. Ever.
You don't always appreciate and understand your parents when you are younger. At 31 now I see my dad (and mom) as instruments used by God to help me understand the gospel. God is relentless in his pursuit of us. So were my parents. They never stopped pursuing me until they had me safely home. Sometimes they pursued through prayer, begging God to open my eyes to my sin. Other times they pursued through letters, e-mails, and occasional phone calls. Even though I didn't always see it as love, every form of contact was laced with love and care for the outcome of my life.
By God's grace, he answered those prayers.

Deep Spiritual Need

Prodigal children do a number on the hearts of their parents. And no one understands that agony more than God does. By understanding my sin against my earthly parents, I grew to understand how my sin against my heavenly Father was far worse and deserved a much stricter punishment. In caring for my physical needs through the love of my parents, God revealed to me my deep spiritual need that could only be remedied by Christ.
This is how a parent loves a prodigal. In the same way that God never abandons his children but lovingly pursues us even to the depths of our sin, so parents model (to a lesser and more imperfect degree) the abundant grace of God poured out through them.
God was kind to restore my relationship with my family ten thousand fold. And while I still mourn the loss of those rebellious years, I praise God that he gave me parents who loved me enough to pursue me to the end of myself and point me to the only one who could save me.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Means of Grace

David Mathis post:  Wash in the Waters Again

Visible words. That was the Reformers’ term for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In complement to the spoken words of gospel preaching, these twin rhythms of the gathered church are dramatizations of the grace of God. These “visible words” rehearse for us the center of our faith through images and actions in the God-given pictures of washing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Alongside preaching, they reveal to us again and again the very heart of the gospel we profess and aim to echo. They are enacted “signs,” pointing to realities beyond themselves.
But these ordinances are not just signs, but “seals.” They confirm to us not just that God has done something salvific for mankind, but that it applies to me in particular. The gospel is not only true in general, but specifically for me. And when a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing church applies the seal to me, it can be a great grounds of assurance that I myself am included in the rescued people of Christ.
In this way, baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve to mark us out as the church, distinct from the world, and are part of what it means for the new covenant to be a covenant — with acts of both initiation and ongoing fellowship, both inauguration and renewal.

The Sacraments As Means of Grace

And, as theologian John Frame notes, the ordinances are not just signs and seals, but serve to bring God’s presence near. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16 that the bread and the cup are “a participation” in the body and blood of Jesus. They renew and strengthen our sense of being united by faith to the risen Christ. They are not automatic, but operate through the power of the Holy Spirit by faith. Those who participate in faith, grow in grace — as we do under the preaching of God’s word — while those who engage without faith, ask for judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27–30). (Which is cause for keeping those without a credible profession of faith from participating in the sacraments.)
These practices are not, as some have taught since the Reformation, just signs, or mere symbols. Nor do they work apart from faith, as some wings of the church have maintained. Rather, the two ordinances are means of God’s grace, Christ-instituted channels of God’s power, delivered by God’s Spirit, dependent on Christian faith in the participants, given in the corporate context of the gathered church.
For many, the Lord’s Supper is more manifestly an ongoing means of grace, but what about baptism?

Grace in the Water

Baptism marks new-covenant initiation. It is applied just once, to a believer deemed by a local congregation to have a credible profession of faith, as entrance into the fellowship of the visible church. The gospel drama experienced, and on display, in baptism corresponds to the graces of conversion in the Christian life in first embracing the gospel — initial cleansing from sin, repentance, new life, and union with Christ (Romans 6:3–5).
Baptism is not only obedience to Christ’s command, and a living testimony of the candidate’s faith in Jesus to all witnesses, but it also serves as a means of joy to the one being baptized. Not only is it a valuable confirmation from the visible church that we are born again, but it’s a unique, one-time experience of the grace of the gospel dramatized for the one in the waters, as we’re symbolically buried with Jesus in death and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Improve Your Baptism

But baptism isn’t only a means of grace to the one-time candidate, but also to all believers looking on with faith. This is important to the Christian, but something we often miss. The Westminster Larger Catechism calls it “improving our baptism.” This dense statement rewards a slow reading:
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.
That’s one long, complicated sentence, but the short of it is this: Baptism is not only a blessing to us on that one memorable occasion when we were the new believer in the waters. It also is a rehearsing of the gospel for the observer and a means of grace throughout our Christian lives as we watch, with faith, the baptisms of others and renew in our minds the riches of the reality of our identity in Christ pictured in our baptism (Romans 6:3–4Galatians 3:27Colossians 2:12). Wayne Grudem writes,
Where there is genuine faith on the part of the person being baptized, and where the faith of the church that watches the baptism is stirred up and encouraged by this ceremony, then the Holy Spirit certainly does work through baptism, and it becomes a “means of grace” through which the Holy Spirit brings blessing to the person being baptized and to the church as well. (Systematic Theology, 954)

Watch in Faith, Wash Your Soul

So, next time your church stirs the waters, don’t twiddle your thumbs waiting out this inconvenience for the singing and preaching that follow. You need not be re-baptized to experience again the grace of this drama.
Rather, with the eyes of faith, see the gospel on display in the waters. See the preaching of Christ’s sacrifice pictured for you, and hear the music of your own new life in the burying of the believer and their resurrection in Jesus. Keep your eye on the waters, and the witness. Watch in faith, and wash your soul again in the good news of being joined to Jesus.