Calvin on Titus 3:5

“The efficacy and use of the sacraments will be properly understood by him who shall connect the sign and the thing signified, in such a manner as not to make the sign unmeaning and inefficacious, and who nevertheless shall not, for the sake of adorning the sign, take away from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, so far as it relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here [in Titus 3:5] Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious and in whom, therefore it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy. But by this mode of expression we are reminded that, if we do not wish to annihilate holy baptism we must prove its efficacy by newness of life.” (John Calvin on Titus 3:5)

Here is a classic statement of the reformed view of the Sacraments, even if current reformed people do not know it. Let me make a couple of points about what Calvin says.

1. All efficacy in the sign is to be assigned to the Spirit, but this does not mean we substitute Spirit baptism for water baptism. The Spirit works through the sign. The Spirit doesn’t work outside of the sign. Thus we cannot disconnect baptism with water and baptism by the Spirit.

2. Baptism is always efficacious for the believer. Here is quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism saying the same thing as Calvin:

“Q88: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A88: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”

3. Baptism, like the preaching of the Gospel, is an offer of the grace of God.

4. Baptism, like the preaching of the Gospel, can be rejected by the hardness of men’s hearts.

5. The proof that someone has accepted their baptism is newness of life.