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The writers of the Westminster Standards maintained that the duty of “improving our baptism” is needful yet often neglected (Westminster Larger Catechism 167). This might strike us as a bit strange for a couple of reasons. First, we might get caught up on the verb improve. In modern parlance, to improve upon something implies that the thing is lacking in some way, that it needs to be made better. That’s not entirely what the writers had in mind. Rather, the point is “to make good use of” our water baptism, to tap into its implications, reminding ourselves of the promises that it signifies and of the obligations that it imposes on us.

The second reason that this might seem strange is the way that we ordinarily understand baptism. Many Protestants are accustomed to understanding baptism as something that is done as a public declaration of faith. In this view, it has no abiding significance. But the Reformed tradition has historically viewed baptism quite differently. There is a perpetual purpose for which baptism was appointed. Christ didn’t institute an empty formality. Therefore, although baptism is to be administered but once (Eph. 4:5), its efficacy is not tied to one moment, and we are to avail ourselves regularly of its benefits and live out its implications.

We do this especially (1) during temptation and (2) during the administration of baptism. At those times, we are to recall and appropriate the privileges and obligations of baptism seriously and gratefully. To illustrate this, consider a marriage. You might know that I ’m married by my ring. The sign (ring) points to the reality that I have taken vows and entered into a covenant. But in a sense, my vows become more visible and I “improve upon my wedding ring” by living as becomes a married man. Similarly, a Christian improves his baptism when his conduct aligns with and testifies to what is signified and sealed in baptism.

In a marriage, there are certain occasions when such remembrance is particularly important. When a couple is observing a wedding ceremony, it’s a lovely time to “improve their wedding ring.” If the husband is tempted to forsake his vows and run into the arms of another woman, it’s necessary for him to remember his vows. Throughout the marriage, but especially during these times, we do well to make good use of the sign of the covenant and live out its implications.

Whatever temptation befalls us, our baptism has something to say to us. Our baptism reminds us that we are cut off and washed clean from the domain of sin and darkness (Rom. 6). We have been united to Christ (Col. 2:12), cleansed by His blood (Rev. 1:5), and regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We are bound to our triune God (Matt. 28:19) and assured of His love and care for His children (Gal. 3:26–27).

Christian, improve your baptism all your days, until the Lord brings you into the full enjoyment of those privileges that have been declared and sealed to you in baptism.

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From the July 2023 Issue
Jul 2023 Issue