Heidelberg Catechism Q73

Q.73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

A. God has good reasons for these words.  He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies.  But more important, he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.


If you want to teach your kids that a washing machine really cleans clothes, you could take a bucket with soup and water and maybe some bleach and hand wash a single garment so that they can see what happens to the garment.  Then you could appeal to the image of what they witnessed in order to assure them that inside the washing machine the same thing was happening even though they couldn’t see it.  In the same way, God refers to baptism as a washing, to illustrate to us the same truth inwardly that we witness outwardly.  The blood of Christ is what cleanses us, while the water gives a picture of what has happened.  Read Revelation 7:14.


The blood of Christ frees us from sin, not water. Water is external but sin is internal and must be atoned for on heaven’s altar. Therefore, Christ died to offer his blood for our sin and to cover us in his redemption. Read Revelation 1:5.


So why do Christians insist upon water baptism?  Because the images contained in the action are images, which every believer needs to recall.  Not only are we washed, but we are also buried in our sin and raised to a new life.   Without the images, it is difficult, though not impossible, to understand the transformation that occurs in one’s life upon believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Read Romans 6:3-4.


The act of baptism is like the reception of a rain check in a store.  The owner of the certificate knows that they have the right to collect a certain object of merchandise at a later date.  Likewise, the recipient of baptism who has a believing heart is assured that they are cleansed from sin, but they are also promised the right to eternal life and to be transformed from death and put on the clothes of righteousness when they enter heavenly glory.  While all of those are true now, they are not fully realized, just as the owner of the rain check has all the promises of the goods, but until the appointed date, they are not in full possession of the product.  Read Galatians 3:27.


There is an assurance in the sacrament of baptism that a real thing has happened. Just as water is placed upon the body and removes the dirt, so also does the blood of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit cleanse us from the inside out.  Read 1 Corinthians 6:11.


Renewal.  Renewal is the act of making something new again.  The term can mean a reissuing of a license giving one the right to do such and such an action.  But, it can also mean an experience of rest to such a degree that new found energy drives a person to greater accomplishments than were previously attainable. It is this second sense that is ascribed to spiritual baptism.  When the Spirit comes into our lives we find a new power, which propels us to things we never thought possible.  We gain a love for others, a hatred of sin and an ability to refrain from acts of death.  All of this is like jumping into a cold pool on a hot day; the experience rejuvenates the soul.  Read Titus 3:5-6.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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