by Leonard Vander Zee
The story is told that Martin Luther, who seemed to have suffered with bouts of depression, when fighting off doubts and fears was heard to shout, “I have been baptized!” Few of us think of our baptism in that way, yet Luther was exactly right.
Baptism is the sacrament of Christian identity. In baptism, as the water was poured or dribbled over your head, someone said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The words, “in the name of” are crucial. Baptized people have a new identity, a new name. Your identity is no longer merely your family, ethnic identity, or culture. Your most fundamental identity is the name of the Triune God.
That begins with Christ. Paul says we are baptized into his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11). Baptism is the sign and seal that we have been united with Christ, and because we are united with Christ, we are adopted into the covenant family of the Triune God. In Christ we are God’s adopted children and heirs, and the Holy Spirit inspires us to pray “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8: ) What an identity!
Baptism is a both the sign and seal of our new identity in Christ. The sign is water, the seal is the promise of God that accompanies the water of baptism—you belong to me. Does baptism alone then save us? No, sacraments call for faith. It’s not that we believe in the sacrament, we believe through it. Like Luther, we grab hold of it in times of doubt and temptation. Every day we can remind ourselves who we really are and to whom we really belong: I have been baptized!
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
Q. How does holy baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?
A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.