September 01, 2023

Named in Baptism

Sinclair Ferguson
Named in Baptism

God places His name on us in our baptism, marking us out as those called to trust in the Father, believe in the Son, and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, Sinclair Ferguson singles out the central truth of baptism.


It’s Friday again on Things Unseen, and we’ve been talking all week about baptism—our own baptism—not to stir up controversy, but as we saw yesterday, to improve it, to make the very best day-to-day use of baptism so that it’s not just something that happened to us once in the past. It’s more like an engagement ring or a wedding band that provides a constant reminder to us of who we are now in Christ.

I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one who tends to think that when we engage in controversy over baptism, we are very rarely improving our own. Nonetheless, sometimes those controversies actually divert us from what’s really most significant about our baptism. I want to bring our week-long reflections to a close by saying something that has often puzzled me. In the sermons I’ve heard on baptism I’ve sometimes heard infant baptism defended or believers’ baptism argued for, immersion emphasized or pouring justified. But you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sermon on what is actually central to baptism. Really?

Well, maybe your experience is different, but before you respond that it is, maybe it’s wise to ask the question, What actually is most important about baptism? The answer? Well, let’s ask Jesus. Here’s His answer: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18–19).

So, what’s central and most important to your baptism? It’s the name into which we’ve been baptized, isn’t it? The name that reveals the One into whom we’ve been baptized, the name of God the Trinity, the single name of the three-person God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure there must be many ministers and pastors who have preached at baptismal services on the Trinity and our fellowship with each person in the Trinity. All I’m saying is that I don’t think I’ve ever heard one. I suppose, sadly, it’s an indication that we preachers tend to have a particular view of baptism, and we feel we need to defend it, or maybe even think there’s another view we need to attack. And it’s possible to do all that and yet fail to focus on what is central—to miss the baptism wood for the controversy trees as it were. At the heart of the visible sign, the Christ-given interpretation of the sign is that the reality to which it points is nothing less than our fellowship with the Father who loved us, the Son who died for us, and the Spirit who transforms us. And this means something very important, and it’s helpful for us to reflect on it in terms of an Old Testament passage.

Do you remember the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24–26? That’s the blessing we often use in church:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you . . .
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

You notice it has a kind of Trinitarian ring, but I wonder if you remember the words that follow it that we rarely hear. God says, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel” (Num. 6:27). That benediction is pointing forwards to our baptism. That’s what baptism is. It’s the Lord, the Lord, the Lord—the Lord who is Father, the Lord who is Son, the Lord who is Holy Spirit putting His name on us. And that doesn’t do anything within us, but in fact, it does do something to us.

When my parents said to the city registrar’s question, “Who is this child?” they said, “We are putting this name on him: Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson.” That did absolutely nothing within me, but it did do something to me. It meant that this was the name to which I would respond for the rest of my life. Yes, I could repudiate it, just as the Israelites could repudiate that Aaronic blessing, just as people do repudiate their baptism. But nevertheless, that name marks us for the rest of our lives because it summons us to believe in the Trinity, to trust in the Savior, to live in fellowship with God.

In other words, as we’ve seen, baptism preaches the whole gospel of God to us, and it calls us to respond to Him. We’ve been named for the Trinity, and our baptism calls us to respond to the Trinity. It points us to the way in which the entire Trinity—all three persons equally and together—have conspired to work for our salvation. And that’s a daily call to us to live moment by moment, hour by hour, trusting in the Father, believing in the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit, living a new life devoted to God.

And that’s why we can daily be strengthened by saying with Martin Luther, baptizatus sum, or if we’re a woman, baptizata sum. So, let your baptism remind you of what the Lord has done for you of the name that you’ve been given. And let it remind you not only then of who you are, but what you are called to be.