Heidelberg Catechism Q.71 and 72

Q.71. Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

A. In the institution of baptism where he says:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins.


When Peter preached his first sermon to the Jews in Jerusalem he concluded by urging them to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  At this time in the history, baptism was a mark of conversion to the faith.  When a person was baptized, they were proclaiming their agreement with the apostolic teaching that Jesus is the Christ and humans are in need of the forgiveness he brings.  It is because of this that Peter can tie baptism to forgiveness.  Read Acts 2:36-41.


Where did Peter get this understanding of baptism?  From Jesus of course.  Read Mark 16:15-16. When Jesus sent his followers out to minister he specifically commanded them to preach and baptize.  The external sign of water baptism must be united with the act of faith so that it always displayed the truth to which it testified.


In the great commission Jesus left no doubt about the working of the spirit in the act of baptism.  It is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who all work in conjunction to save the people of God.  Baptism without reference to the working of the Triune God in the life of a person is nothing more than a bath, which does absolutely nothing to the heart, but when accompanied by the work of the Spirit, forgiveness and life eternal are gained.  Read Matthew 28:18-20.

Q.72. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

A. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.


What exactly purifies us from sin?  It isn’t the water of baptism, rather it is the blood of Christ, to which the water points.  Read 1John 1:7.


The blood of Christ is applied to the believer by the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart.  It is the Spirit who blows hither and yon according to Jesus and it is the same spirit, which must produce the new birth.  Paul refers to this new birth when he writes to Titus.  Read Titus 3:5. When Paul speaks of the washing of rebirth and ties that to the renewal by the Holy Spirit, he is making an allusion to water baptism in order to help Titus understand the relation between the things signified and the reality to which it points.


Let us never forget the words of John the Baptist.  Read Matthew 3:11.  When John spoke these words he was seeking to ensure the reality of the human need stuck deep into our psyche.  He wanted us to remember that outward signs are no better than painting over a dirty fence.  The stains ultimately show through and display the workmanship involved, but when true spiritual baptism occurs and is accompanied by the water, then purification is assured.



About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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