Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 4 2013 - John 3:22-4:6 – The seal of approval

There was a time when the Roman Catholic Church sought to provide guidance for its members on what they should read. A bishop of the church would grant an imprimatur, a licence certifying the Church's approval of a book and granting permission for it to be published and read. The imprimatur would be printed along with the book to certify that it was sound and helpful for readers.

John writes that whoever accepts the testimony of Jesus, "has certified that God is truthful" (John 3:33). It's an odd phrase, and not easy to translate. It means literally that the one who believes in Jesus has "set their seal" to Jesus' testimony, certifying it as truth from God. I think that the old practice of the imprimatur is a helpful analogy. Those who believe in Jesus – those who hear his words and follow him – have set their imprimatur on his testimony. We have recognised that Jesus is the one who speaks truth from God. We continue to read and follow his teaching and we commend it – and him – to others.

Baptism is the preeminent means by which we assent to the truth of God revealed in Jesus. In baptism we declare that God is in the right – he is righteous – and we are in the wrong – we are unrighteous and in need of cleansing. In Christian baptism we acknowledge that Jesus is God’s provision for our need; in his death we die to all that is opposed to God and through his resurrection we receive the power to live a new life. In baptism we declare our faith, our trust, in him; we declare that Jesus is the promised Saviour of the world and that we will follow him. In baptism we set our seal to this, that God is true and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

But we have to confess that, all too often, we are inconsistent disciples. Having set our seal to affirm what God has done in Christ we all too often fail to follow him. All too often our thoughts, words and deeds do not follow closely his thoughts words and deeds. In the words of the General Confession from the Order for Daily Morning Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

We have need of such daily prayer of confession. But we also need daily confidence that God forgives and cleanses us afresh for Jesus’ sake; that our once-for-all baptism is a symbol of what God in Christ does for us again and again – does for us continually. Our confidence lies not in the fact that we have set our seal on him but that he has set his seal on us. He has declared that he will have us to be his own and that nothing in life or in death can separate us from his love. And it is this confidence that provides strength for renewed discipleship.

Lord Jesus, may my imprimatur on your testimony be more than mere show. Help me always to hear your voice and follow you. Help me always to commend you and your word to others that they too may know the truth of God.

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Peter Misselbrook