10 Lessons on the Lutheran Faith

Lesson 9:  Holy Baptism

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Getting Started
 

Why is baptism so important?
 
 
 


The Bible Teaches

What is Baptism?

Baptism is the rite of applying water in the name of the Triune God to a person to bestow forgiveness of sins and to incorporate them into Godís family.

The Churchís practice of baptism stems from Christís command in Matthew Chapter 28. Jesus had risen from the dead and was speaking to His disciples. His command to them was to go and make more disciples. He told them how He wanted them to do it. To baptize and to teach.

  • NAB Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Baptism is not a human rite it is commanded by God. It is not first something we do but rather something God is doing. IN baptism God is at work washing away our sins. It is not something we do to merit salvation, but rather is Godís free gift to us to carry out salvation. Baptism is a means of grace. Baptism is not the means of salvation. Salvation was created on the cross. Baptism carries to us the full benefit of the cross. It is the package in which the gift of grace is carried to us.

  • NAB Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The Method of Baptism

The word for baptism comes from the Greek work "baptizdo". Its root meaning is to apply water for the purpose of cleansing. The word does not necessarily mean to immerse. We have an example of this in Mark 7:4

  • NAB Mark 7:4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)

This word "baptism" does not specifically indicate a method of cleansing with water. This may be done with immersion, rubbing, sprinkling, or pouring. Nor does the word specify how much water is to be used. Those who insist that baptism must be by immersion add something to the command which is not included in the words of God.

But water must be included along with Godís command to baptize. Baptism is the washing of water by the Word. And the waters of baptism are compared to the waters of the flood which saved Noah. So two factors make a valid baptism. Water and in the name of the Trinity. Where the Trinity is denied or some other substance is used, there is no valid baptism.

  • NAB Ephesians 5:26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
  • NAB 1 Peter 3:20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

The administration of baptism is part of the office of the keys of the church. Thus the authority to baptize belongs to the whole church, but is normally administered on its behalf through the one who holds the office of the ministry. However, in an emergency anyone can baptize.

  • NAB 1 Corinthians 4:1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
  • NAB 1 Corinthians 14:40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

Why do we baptize infants?

Jesus told us to go make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. All nations are therefore to be baptized. This would not exclude children for little ones are indeed a part of all nations. We are told the promise is for all, even children. Through baptism, God creates faith and washes away sins even in little children. Even a small child can trust in God, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.

  • NAB Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

 
 
 

Jesus Himself taught us the mystery of why all people, including children need baptism.

  • NAB John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
  • NAB Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
  • NAB Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned --
  • NAB Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

Being born sinful, even children need the rebirth that is granted through baptism by the Holy Spirit.

Children are born into sin through their sinful parents. The Bible does not teach that children are not accountable for their sins or under the terrible curse of sin that causes us to be separated from God. There is no "age of accountability". Instead the solution is that the grace of God created by the cross is extended to little children even through baptism. God did not say for the little ones to wait until later. Rather He wants them in His kingdom even now.

  • NAB Luke 18:15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."

Further evidence of Godís desire that children are baptized comes in its comparison to circumcision. Circumcision was performed on infants to place them within the first covenant of grace that looked forward to the coming of Christ. Baptism now replaces circumcision, placing these children into the fulfillment of the covenant, the grace of God that is ours in Christ.

  • NAB Genesis 17:10 "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 "And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.
  • NAB Colossians 2:11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Other passages strongly suggest the practice that children were baptized in that whole households were baptized. Notice here no exclusion of the children in the household.

  • NAB Acts 16:15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
  • NAB Acts 16:33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
  • NAB Acts 18:8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

The Bible is silent about what happens to infants who die without baptism. While God binds His church to use the means of grace, we know God may do as He pleases. WE do know that our God is a gracious God. Because it is out of our hands and we do not know, does not mean these children are out of the hands of a gracious God. But we do have a sure and certain promise connected with baptism, so we should in ever case make use of it as soon as possible.
 
 

The Custom of Sponsors

During the baptism rite you will often see those who are called "sponsors". This custom is not commanded by Scripture and hence is not necessary. But it does serve an important function when utilized. They testify to the child of what they have seen so that the child can know that he or she was properly baptized. They remind the child of the importance of baptism. They pray for the child. And they assist the parents in the spiritual upbringing of the child. Hence is desirable that these sponsors be members of the Lutheran Church Ė Missouri Synod and be active in their confession of faith. For we want the children to be brought up in an active and faithful relationship to Jesus Christ which is expounded through the truth of His Word.
 
 

The Blessings of Baptism:

Baptism grants us forgiveness of sin:

  • NAB Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism rescues us from death and the devil.
 
 

  • NAB Romans 6:3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?. . .:5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,

Baptism gives us eternal salvation:

  • NAB 1 Peter 3:20 . . . the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Baptism is not magic. It is a means through which the Holy Spirit delivers the grace of Christ and works to create faith in Christ. But without faith, baptism does not save. For faith is a refusal to accept the gifts of God in Christ. It would be like a person trying to give you a gift, but refusing to take that gift or sending it back. The gift would have been real but we ourselves acted to refuse it. It is only through unbelief that we can undo the work of God.

Hence one can be saved without baptism. For it is faith in Christ, however the Holy Spirit has created it {rather just through the Word or through the Word and the Water of baptism} that saves. It is only unbelief that condemns.

  • NAB Mark 16:16 "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

Faith is required in baptism. Those who reject the one who it connects us to, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, cannot expect to be saved because they have been baptized.
 

What about the baptism in the Holy Spirit I here about?

There is no other baptism than this water baptism.

  • NAB Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,

Baptism is not a water only baptism. It gives us the Holy Spirit in full. It gives us all the treasures of heaven, not just part of them. It is complete. We do not need another baptism of the Spirit to complete Godís gifts to us. Notice the past tense of the verbs in the next passage.

  • NAB Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

Why do we instruct adults before we baptize?

Faith or trust in Godís promises are necessary. Adults are brought to a desire for baptism by having already had faith created in their hearts through the Word. We further strengthen that faith by strengthening their understanding about what Christ has done and will do through baptism before we administer the rite to them. We see an example of this in Acts 8:

  • NAB Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 {And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."} 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

Baptism is powerful and effective to accomplish what God desires.

Baptism is not just a human action. It seems strange to us that common water could have such power. But when this water is connected to Godís Word of promise it is powerful. It becomes what God wants it to be. It is a means of grace because it is His desire to bestow the gifts of salvation upon people through it. Baptism bring a sinner, lost and separated from God, into fellowship with God by granting that person forgiveness of their sins and cleansing away that sin. It is the application to the individual of the gift of salvation earned by Christ upon the cross.

  • NAB Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

What Difference Does Baptism Make for Me Today?

For many of us our baptism was long ago. Yet it is still powerful and at work in our lives. Luther explains it this way:

      What does such baptizing with water signify? Answer: It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God's presence. Where is this written? Answer: In Romans 6:4, St. Paul wrote, "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
       

Even if we become faithless, God is still faithful. He keeps His promises. IF we stray we do not need to be rebaptized. Godís promise is still real and effective. As Luther describes it, if we fall from a ship we can climb back on, we do not have to wait for another ship to come along. If we sin God will forgive. By clinging to the promise of grace that is ours in baptism, we can remember we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.

  • NAB Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

 
  copyright Rev. David D. Reedy, 1999-2005