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Baptism: Sign and Seal - What God Has Done
The sacrament of baptism is both a sign and a seal. As a sign, baptism signifies what God has done in Christ. Baptism is all about the “good news” (which is the meaning of the word “gospel”): that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, and the true king of all the nations, and that in Christ God offers us forgiveness and new life.
Baptism is also a seal. As wax was often used in the ancient world to claim, “this letter is owned by me and given to you,” baptism is a mark of God’s ownership (much like a tattoo or brand is a mark of ownership) upon us. In baptism, God has written his Name-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-on us. As when we write our names in a book to show that it belongs to us, baptism is a constant reminder that (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism) we “belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
Baptism is the seal that God has entered into covenant with us and it is the mark that we belong to Jesus in his death and resurrection. In baptism, the emphasis is on what God has done for us; it is God’s action toward us.
As we journey, baptism serves as a reminder of our true identity when we develop amnesia about ourselves. Through baptism we remember that “I am a baptized Christian, marked by God, belonging to him” and that I am called to live out the implications of this baptism for the rest of my life.
For adults who have been baptized after trusting in Christ, this means developing and growing your faith over the course of your lifetime. For infants and children, whose parents have brought them to baptism, claiming covenant promises on their behalf, this means more and more owning this baptism for yourself, placing your faith in Christ, and then developing and growing your faith over the course of your lifetime. We want our children to look back to their baptism and say, "From my earliest days, I’ve been marked, set apart as belonging to God, and I respond to this in faith and repentance.”
As we are nourished and fed in the sacrament of Holy Communion, so in baptism we are grafted not only into Christ but also received into a community. In baptism, we are made a part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Baptism is not a private act, but rather it is an act of making covenant promises and answering God’s call to identify with a local church community.