Baptism Now Saves, But...Who and When

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Who should we baptize and when? How old does the person have to be? What if we get it wrong? Will something terrible happen to us?

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21).

Who should we baptize and when? How old does the person have to be? What if we get it wrong? Will something terrible happen to us? There is a great fear among Christians that if we don’t do it in just the right way God will get angry. We anxiously seek to know, what are the limitations and restrictions? What is prohibited? Who is excluded and who is included?

The Christian world seems to be obsessed with these questions. In particular, someone said to me that Lutherans are wrong for baptizing infants. So I responded by asking, “What is baptism?” She said that she didn’t know. It is interesting that people can have such strong opinions about things that they are ignorant of, by their own admission.

I would like to point out that what she really meant was that all of Christendom got it wrong since the very beginning, starting with Irenaeus, who was a student of one of the Apostle John’s students.

Are you hearing me?

John heard it from the very mouth of Jesus and he faithfully taught Polycarp everything that he had learned, and Polycarp instructed Irenaeus. This was still within a few decades of the Apostle John’s life. Irenaeus tells us that infants were being "born again to God." In addition to that, the church fathers tell us that infant baptism was normal practice from the very beginning.

It is fine to say that the Lutheran position is wrong, but can you really say that you know more than someone like Irenaeus, who was so closely connected to the teachings of Jesus? Besides that, there are no ancient documents that promote the exclusion of infants. If you are going to oppose infant baptism, you had better have some really good evidence. And it had better come from Scripture.

What is baptism?

Some people say that Baptism is a public declaration of faith. It is when someone tells the world that he has decided to follow Jesus. It is an outward sign of an inward change; a public declaration of his commitment to Christ. These are all reasonable ideas, but we must ask where we find this in Scripture? Does Scripture ever give us examples of this, and does it tell us to do this? The answer is that this is nowhere to be found in God’s word.

Baptism is not about you and your obedience, it is about Jesus and His obedience. If it’s about you, then it’s not about Jesus. If it’s not about Jesus, then it’s not Christian.

Some people say that baptism is a sign. So, who is giving the sign and who is it for? Is it man's sign to other men? Is it man's sign to God? Or is it God’s sign to man? American Christianity teaches that baptism doesn’t do anything for you, yet if you do it wrong you are in serious danger. How can this be?

There are people who believe that baptism is something that you do. But the fact is that you don’t baptize yourself any more than you save yourself. You don’t find yourself when you are lost, you don’t rescue yourself when you’re in trouble, and you certainly don't raise yourself when you're dead. Unless you are Jesus. Baptism is always passive. God uses someone else's human hands to give this gift to you.

The popular definitions of baptism that we have heard sound, on the whole, reasonable, but the problem is that they don’t come from Scripture. There are lots of human ideas about what baptism is, but in order to know the truth, we must consult the Word of God. People use their reason to figure out baptism, rather than going to the Word of God. But reason will always fail. It is not reasonable that Jesus would die for a bunch of God-haters, but He did. So when in doubt follow what the Word of God says. You can’t force Scripture to say what your reason dictates.

Again the question, "What is baptism?". Baptism is a washing with water, pure and simple. And in particular the baptism that Jesus gave was a washing with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Baptism saves you

The apostle Peter knew the Lord. He was instructed by Him for three years. If anyone can tell us about baptism it is this man. What does baptism do? What does St. Peter say? “Baptism, now saves you, it is an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can appeal to God that by virtue of your baptism you are clean before him” (1 Peter 3:21).

Baptism forgives sins

Speaking to adults Peter also says, in Acts 2:38 "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ,” for what? “for the forgiveness of your sins”.

Baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit

Then Peter tells the promise that goes with baptism. Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in His baptism, Peter promises, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” You see, according to Peter, baptism and the Holy Spirit go together. And who is this promise for? We see in Acts 2:39, “the promise is for you and for your children.”

God uses water and His Word to wash us, to make us holy and presentable before Him. In Ephesians 5:25-26 the apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. How did Jesus cleanse the church? What does the text say? By washing with water through the Word. When does Jesus wash His church with water and the Word? In Baptism!

People say that babies can’t have faith. But look at Luke 1:40-42:

“Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb”.

Why did John leap in his mother’s womb? It was a leap of faith. Someone objected to this saying, “But that was the Holy Spirit.” Exactly, that’s my point. The Holy Spirit is the One who enters all of us and gives each one of us faith. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 the apostle Paul tells us, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” We are all dead in sin until the Holy Spirit makes us alive in Christ.

There are many objections to infant baptism. People will use any argument to get out of receiving the gift that Jesus has won for them. Their rebuttal is that Paul wasn’t talking about a water baptism; Paul was talking about a different kind of baptism. But Luke reported that households and whole families were baptized. No one is left out.

The wicked Old Adam that lives within each one of us tries to deny what the Word of God says. We all keep thinking that it can’t be that easy and that God can’t use water and a couple of words to rescue me from death and hell. When we withhold this gift, we are excluding our children from the promises of God and we are disobeying God. This is how unbelief acts. Unbelief does not see the gift right before our eyes. Unbelief wants to qualify it, scrutinize it, put limits and restrictions on it.

Why am I such a fanatic about baptism?

Because it is the work of God coming to you single-handedly, to tell you that all of your sins are washed away, all punishment has been taken away, the anger of God has been quenched, God has declared peace with you. You have been clothed with the garment of Christ’s righteousness.

This salvation is given to you as pure gift in, with and through your baptism. And so now rejoice! For on this day and forever you are declared righteous in Christ and you will stand before the throne of God “Then the King will say 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'”