Blog 211: 4.15.1 - 4.15.8
Having discussed the nature of the sacraments generally, Calvin moves to unpack the sacrament of baptism. He defines baptism as "the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God's children" (4.15.1).
As a result, baptism is given first to serve our faith before God and then to serve as our confession before men. Baptism is not merely a means by which "we confess our religion before men, as soldiers bear the insignia of their commander as a mark of their profession" (as our Baptist friends believe). Rather, it actually is God's testimony to us--confirming for us that his promises to cleanse those who trust in him are trustworthy and sure (4.15.1).
But baptism does not effect what it promises without and apart from faith in the Word of God. This is not magic nor does the water of baptism have power in and of itself. Rather, as we pass through the waters of baptism, we have our eyes drawn from the water to Christ that we might "fasten our minds upon Christ alone" (4.15.2).
What baptism signs and seals for us--the cleansing from sin, assurance of pardon, the reality of repentance, mortification and renewal in Christ, union with Christ--is not just for our past sins. Rather, we can return to our baptism again and again trust that its testimony is true for our entire lives: "we must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purchased for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins" (4.15.3; see also 4.15.4).