The Movement of Baptism: From God to Us
The divine movement of baptism—from God to us—matters, a lot! Our risen Lord instituted baptism for our benefit. By this means of grace, the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirits that we belong to the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Spirit assures us of the LORD’s promise to Abraham, “I will be your God and you shall be My people” (Gen. 17:7).
Baptism, like circumcision, is God’s sign and pledge of faithfulness to us as opposed to our sign and pledge of faithfulness to Him. It is true that our baptism serves as our confession before men. However, the emphasis must never be placed on our action, our pledge of faithfulness, our commitment. Baptism, as a sign of the gospel, is God’s movement to us rather than our movement to Him.
D. Marion Clark offers constructive and encouraging insight on the divine movement (initiative) of God in baptism. He explains,
“This aspect of baptism is more important than ministers often realize. Many in our flocks are beset with worry that they do not really belong in God’s family, or that if they do, they are let in begrudgingly. Many live as though God might at any time kick them out of the house. They have got to keep up their good works or their feelings of faith. For many, baptism haunts them rather than comforts them. They feel that they have let God down. They publicly signified that they were committed to Christ or would raise their children to be committed, but they have failed time and again. God must really be angry now.
If the emphasis of baptism is on our professed commitment to God, then we do have much to worry about. But baptism is not so much about our profession for God as it is God’s acknowledgment of us. God is not thanking us at baptism for accepting him. He is not grateful for our profession of faith, as though he is thankful to have such committed followers as we. He is no more impressed with our vows of unwavering faith than Jesus was with Peter’s avowal to die with him.
When we declare our allegiance to God and determination to follow him, picture him smiling indulgently on us, patting us on our heads, and saying, ‘That is a nice sentiment, but you are going to blow it, just like Peter did. What I want you to know by this sign is that I have made a commitment to you, and I will not blow it. Every time you fall, I will pick you up. Every time you sin, I will remain as ever faithful to my covenant as before. I will not give up on you or let you be snatched away’” (D. Marion Clark, "Baptism: Joyful Sign of the Gospel," 179).