Heidelcast Special: Chad Vegas On Covenant And Baptism (1)

This is a special episode of the Heidelcast and special series featuring my dear friend and colleague in ministry, Chad Vegas, pastor of Sovereign Grace Bakersfield. He’s been walking his congregation from a Baptist to a Reformed understanding of covenant theology and baptism. He’s focusing on shepherding his congregation but he’s allowed us to share these six messages on baptism and covenant theology with you. He will he writing on this on the Heidelblog in the coming months but for now, here’s Chad working though the issues. As you can tell, these are timely since I’m losing my voice.

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  1. Dear Lucas:
    This is a day you won’t remember down the road… but remembering the day is not what’s important. Remembering what happened today, and why, for the rest of your life absolutely is. And, you’re in good company… when Isaac received the covenant sign, he didn’t remember the event itself either. Yet every infant boy born to Abraham’s posterity was commanded to receive that sign for at least a couple thousand years. So, there must be something to it! Further, be glad that the sign changed from circumcision to baptism – they mean the same, but baptism is better – bloodless, more expansive, and universal – painless, includes girls and the element of water is pre-disposed to worldwide application.
    Like any sign post… a sign is important in itself, but only insofar at to what it is pointing. To what does the sign of baptism point? Several things that will grow in importance to you:
    In Abraham’s day – and so in ours – it marked out a particular family/people for covenant inclusion. God’s Covenant of grace became specific to Abraham and his offspring as God said: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” God separated Abraham and his offspring out from the rest of the population for special attention and blessing. And immediately God established a sign to point to that relationship as an everlasting covenant. And so began the Old Testament church. Baptism does the same thing. It brings you, as a child of believing parents, into the New Testament visible church. Thereby, God commits to making Himself known to you – by the preaching of the Word in church and by example and training at home. And, He makes that promise to you before you are even able to understand or actively participate. That’s grace!
    Secondly, as an infant, you are helpless in every way. You need your parents to physically look after you or you can’t survive. So, God coming to you in your infancy is symbolic of your spiritual helplessness. Unless God takes the initiative in your spiritual life, you cannot survive – or even begin to live. That’s grace!
    Thirdly, baptism uses water to symbolize the necessary ‘washing away’ of sin. We are all born stained by sin and, to be right with a holy God, that needs to be taken away. And God is the only one who can do that. When sin is removed, the heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh – alive and vibrant. This sign is showing you, even as an infant, of that necessity. That’s grace!
    Fourthly, (and this may well be the most important) the sign points to something (or someone) outside of yourself. It is not necessarily a sign of anything you have experienced in a subjective way. No, again, it points to something we cannot do and which we cannot claim by our own merits. When we look back to Abraham, we read: “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11) What do we understand from this? The sign pointed to the righteousness that Abraham had by faith… and not to his faith itself. Who is our righteousness? Jesus Christ of course. The sign post points to the object of our faith – Jesus, who we are to receive by faith. Not to us. We pray, of course, that the object of the sign will be received in your life for the forgiveness of sin! That’s grace!
    Fifthly, circumcision and baptism both point to the believer’s union with God. Or, in biblical language: Lev. 26:12 And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. God says the same thing to the NT church. II Cor 6:16. “…I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” To be brought into that union – belonging to him as a covenant child – That’s grace!

    Ah, but I hear your objection… I am too young to know anything about faith, or sin, or about Jesus. You see, Lucas, you are included in the Covenant of grace by virtue of the grace of God, and not by anything you have done or said – just like children in Old Testament days. It could be added here that nowhere in scripture do we read of God reducing covenant blessing by removing the children of believers from it in the New Covenant age. The New Covenant is all about improvement and expansion. But, you might say… my parents faith can’t save me! That is true! How can I be in the covenant of grace if I don’t have faith? To that we say… the sign points to and calls you to faith in the righteousness of Christ. I repeat – the sign points to the object of faith (Jesus), and not to your own faith.
    Your mom and dad will remind you of the permanent water mark on your head. Teaching you that you are to be sorry for your sin and to trust in Jesus. Teaching you to turn to Christ for forgiveness and life. That is, teaching you to repent and believe. You see, your mom and dad have covenant obligations as well. And as you repent and believe, God honours His covenant promise by washing away your sin. That’s grace! Listen to His voice, follow His instruction, embrace Jesus by faith.
    But, you might say… I might not do that. It gets very serious here, Lucas. That’s what God calls a covenant breaker. And unless there is repentance over that, God will remove you from the covenant even though you carry the sign. We know that to be so because Jesus taught that unfruitful branches are cut off of the vine. And that vine is Jesus. (John 15:5,6) And Romans 11 teaches that Israel, Gods covenant people, were cut off when they rejected the Christ. God’s covenant faithfulness includes that discipline as well. There is such a thing as ‘covenant breaker’… but logically, one needs to be in the covenant first. Wonderfully, it also says in the same chapter that He can graft them in again, when there is repentance! That’s grace!
    Lucas, far better if you trust in Jesus from very early. Look to the gospel that is preached in your baptism – a baptism that you don’t even remember – and see God working grace in and for you as you submit to the teaching you receive. Be the person who is ‘washed’. Be the person who is ‘circumcised of heart’. Live out in real life the baptism that was given as a sign when you weren’t even aware of it. God works graciously with His people!

    With so much love – Opa and Oma
    (By extension, your whole believing family)

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