The Holy Calling of Baptism: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 26


  1. How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water1 and joined to it this promise,2 that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.3

[1] Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 2:38. [2] Matt. 3:11; Mk. 16:16; Rom. 6:3–4. [3] Mk. 1:4.

  1. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross;1 and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, so that we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and blameless lives.2

[1] Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:5; Zech. 13:1; Ezek. 36:25–27. [2] Jn. 1:33; 3:3; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; *Heb. 9:14.

  1. Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?

In the institution of Baptism, which says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”1 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”2 Th is promise is also repeated where Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration3 and the washing away of sins.4

[1] Matt. 28:19 [2] Mk. 16:16. [3] Tit. 3:5. [4] Acts 22:16.


The Holy Calling of Baptism

Both of the sacraments which our Lord instituted have a relationship between the ceremony which is performed and the thing which the ceremony teaches.  The ceremony itself is not chosen arbitrarily.  Baptism is a symbolic washing.  What it symbolizes is the washing away of my sin by the blood of Christ.

The place that the ritual of baptism holds in the life of the Christian says a lot about how fundamental the doctrine of justification by faith alone is to Christian doctrine and life.  It is the initiatory rite; a person is made a member of the Christian community by baptism.  He begins his life in the covenant people of God with a symbol of being washed of his sin, and that symbol is a promise to him, that God will certainly forgive his sins if he believes the promise contained in baptism.  Since that promise, and the call to faith in it, is the way one enters and becomes a part of the Christian community, the Christian is constantly reminded throughout his life that God’s forgiveness of his sins because of Christ’s shed blood is the foundation of his whole identity as a Christian.  Everything about our lives as Christians must start with that truth.

People have often accused the doctrine of justification by faith alone as antinomian; this was a common accusation against the Reformed by their Roman Catholic opponents.  There is of course real antinomianism, and all Christians should reject it.  The Catechism deals with that more in the third section.  In Romans 6, when defending this doctrine against this very charge or misunderstanding, Paul uses baptism to show the believer that his identity is now in Christ, and that therefore his behavior must more and more come to reflect that identity.  The doctrine of forgiveness of sins is only antinomian if fear of punishment is the only reason you can think of to repent and do good works, while the Bible and the Catechism gives us many more.

As question 70 says, being washed with the blood and spirit of Christ means forgiveness of sins, but more.  Being forgiven means being united with Christ and infused with the power of the Spirit of God, so that the life of Christ works in me.  The washing of baptism symbolizes, in addition to forgiveness, the idea of being “set apart” to God’s service, like a pot or vessel was washed ritually before being taken out of common use and dedicated to the service of God in the Old Testament temple.  A priest, likewise, when he was to begin his service, was sprinkled with water to symbolize being set apart for holy service.  But these two ideas, being forgiven and being dedicated to service, aren’t really two separate things, because the service of God is what we are created for, and our sin is what prevents us from fulfilling this service.  So if we are forgiven of our sins, it is so that we can return to that service for which we were created.

Whenever we struggle with our sin, we should always remember our baptism, for both of these intimately connected messages.  We are forgiven of sin, and thus there is no condemnation for us, as Paul says in Romans 8, for all those who believe the promise of the gospel.  Guilt and terror of the wrath of God only drives us away from God, so the believer must put it away.  But God forgave us for the purpose of consecrating us to His service, so we should repent of sin and struggle against it every day of our lives, with all the tools that God gives us to do so.  Whenever we see someone brought into the church through baptism, it should likewise remind us of our own holy calling, and re-commit ourselves to that calling with all our strength and faith.