Thus far, we know what Baptism is and what makes it effective, but what benefits does Baptism give? Why be baptised at all? “It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promise of God declare” (SC, Baptism, Second).
In the next column on Baptism as we reflect on the Small Catechism, we’ll look at where this is written in God’s Word, so for now let’s simply focus on those gracious benefits of Baptism: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We might wonder how such simple water can do something so amazing, and for that we return to the first part of the explanation in the previous column, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” The water delivers such awesome benefits because of the powerful efficacy of God’s Word—the same Word of God that said, “Let there be light” and there was light is the same Word that promises forgiveness, etc. in Baptism, and so it does. Using Jeremiah, Luther has a beautiful way of understanding what God does to us in Baptism:
To correct this wickedness, God has devised the plan of making our flesh altogether new, even as Jeremiah [18:4-6] shows. For the potter, when the vessel “was spoiled in his hand,” thrust it again into the lump of clay and kneaded it, and afterward made another vessel, as seemed good to him. “So,” says God, “are you in My hands.” In the first birth we are spoiled; therefore, He thrusts us into the earth again by death, and makes us over at the Last Day [Romans 6:3-5], that we may be perfect and without sin. This plan, as has been said, begins in baptism, which signifies death and the resurrection at the Last Day.”LW 35:32; second bracket mine
Hence the “born again” language Jesus uses in John 3:1-15. Having been born into sin, we must be born anew to enter the kingdom of God, for sin has no place there (1 Corinthians 15:50-56). Conceived in sin in the waters of our mother’s womb (Psalm 51:5), God creates us anew in the waters of Baptism—the womb of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Like the potter who puts the spoiled vessel into the clay again to remake it so that it’s perfect, so God puts us—spoiled as we are in sin—into the waters again to remake us so that we’re perfect in the image of Christ. For this is why Christ Himself was baptised, who needed no repentance, “to fulfil all righteousness,” in His words (Matthew 3:15). Thus, as the Church Fathers understood this, through Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, He cosmically made all baptismal waters His Baptism in the Jordan, having deposited His righteousness into the waters for us to withdraw in our own Baptism, as He then took upon our sinful nature that we deposit in our Baptism, which He carried all the way to the cross.
Therefore, since we have been baptised into Christ (Romans 6:3 ff.)—that is, His righteousness (Romans 6:15-23)—Paul writes elsewhere, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just like that spoiled potter’s vessel. Having been thrust back into the clay, it comes forth not as the vessel it was before, but something new and perfect. Thus, having been thrust back into the waters, the Word of God has brought us forth not as we were before, but something new and perfect, thus walking “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
If you want to be “a better you,” therefore, simply look to your Baptism. You were already made a better you when you were baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all those years ago (or days/weeks/months if you are a newborn Christian). Every day, you get to walk in newness of life because Christ has given you His righteousness. Depend not on your own righteousness, therefore, but solely on that of Christ, who has won eternal life for you and given it to you as a gift in your Baptism.