“We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
Joel D. Otto
Throughout the history of the church, there were many false teachings about Baptism. In the early centuries, some thought that the validity of a baptism hinged on the person administering the baptism. If the pastor had fallen away during a time of persecution or lived an immoral life, any baptism he performed was invalid. Everyone he baptized had to be baptized again.
During the time of the Reformation, some denied the need for infant baptisms. In their view, anyone who was baptized as an infant wasn’t really baptized. You had to be old enough to make a conscious decision to be baptized.
One of the most popular false teachings about Baptism today is that it is simply a ceremony to show that you are a Christian. Baptism doesn’t really give you the forgiveness of sins. It is just something you do to demonstrate your commitment to Christ—a picture or sign that you became a Christian. In fact, that’s one reason why some insist that the only right way to baptize is to dunk someone completely under the water—immerse them.
All of these false teachings miss the point. Baptism has nothing to do with the commitment level of the person being baptized or the moral character of the one doing the baptizing. Rather, Baptism has everything to do with the activity of the triune God.
Jesus commanded his believers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is one of the tools God uses to make people disciples of Jesus. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit works faith and new life in the heart of a spiritually dead, sinful, unbelieving enemy of God (John 3:5,6; Acts 2:38,39; Galatians 3:26,27; Titus 3:5-7). Through Baptism, our sins are washed away and forgiven (Acts 2:38,39; Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11). Through Baptism, God rescues us from the terrors of a guilty conscience and the power of death and hell by connecting us to the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3,4; Colossians 2:13,14).
It seems like such a simple act. A handful of water and a few words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But God’s saving power and limitless grace were directed at you in your baptism. The Father claimed you as his beloved and forgiven child. The Son cleansed you with his blood and clothed you in his righteousness. The Spirit miraculously worked a simple, childlike trust in Jesus in your heart, a trust that has grown as you have been taught the truths of God’s Word (Matthew 28:19).
So we join believers, past and present, in acknowledging “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-6) for the forgiveness of sins. And we continue to do what believers have always done: We baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, trusting the promises of God that the water and the Word bring amazing blessings.
EXPLORING THE WORD
1. Give scriptural answers to the following objections to infant baptism.
a. Babies don’t need to be baptized. They are not accountable for sin.
Babies don’t need to be baptized. They are not accountable for sin. David clearly confesses that he was “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Jesus also says that “flesh gives birth to flesh” and that everyone must be born again by water and the Spirit if they are to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3-6). Jesus is clearly implying that everyone born into this world in the natural way has a spiritual problem. They need a spiritual rebirth. One way this spiritual rebirth is given is through water and the Spirit (see also Titus 3:5,6). Paul also brings this out in Ephesians 2:1-3. He says that we were dead in our sins. This is our natural spiritual condition, a condition that is evident in sinful desires and actions. This dead condition and these sinful actions make all of us “by nature deserving of wrath.”
b. Babies can’t believe in Jesus because they can’t confess their faith.
Babies can’t believe in Jesus because they can’t confess their faith. First of all, Jesus warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 ESV). Jesus clearly says that little ones can believe in him. In Luke’s account of Jesus blessing the children, Luke uses the Greek word for “infants” (Luke 18:15). We would not want to say that Jesus’ blessing and words would not have an effect. Second, the problem with this objection is that it equates believing with a verbal expression of faith or a mental comprehension of the content of faith. Faith is simple trust in Jesus. Infants learn very quickly to trust their parents. Who are we to say that an infant can’t trust in Jesus, a trust that is, in all of us, a miracle of the Spirit’s work through the Word and sacraments?
2. Describe how your baptism can continue to help you in your Christian life.
When I fall into sin, my baptism reminds me that I need to drown my old sinful nature and that my sins have been washed away because I’m connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection through Baptism (Romans 6:3-6; Fourth of Baptism in Luther’s Catechism). When I face temptation, my baptism reminds me that I’m a child of God (Galatians 3:26,27). That is my identity. That is what God has made me through Baptism. Therefore, I can battle and resist temptation; I can strive to live as the child of God he has made me to be (Romans 6:1-14). When I face doubts about my salvation (perhaps because temptation gets the best of me and I fall into sin), I can return to my baptism and see again all of the blessings God has given me. I am forgiven (Acts 2:38,39). I have been rescued from the punishment my sins deserve (1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16). I have been given a new life of faith by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5,6); therefore, I am declared not guilty and an heir of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7). I am God’s dearly loved child through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). And when I face death, I find security that I am a baptized child of God who has already been rescued from death and hell. I have the promise of the resurrection because I’m connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism (Romans 6:4,5). For an excellent treatment of these thoughts in poetic form, see the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” (Christian Worship: Supplement 737).
Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015
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