I love performing Baptisms at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Baptism of babies, young children, and adults are all priceless moments in the life of our congregation. When I speak the Word of God and I generously pour water over the head of the person, I trust God to be at work delivering the gift of the forgiveness of sins. I fondly recall looking into the eyes of babies as the water hits their foreheads and witnessing their surprise. Some babies have cried, some have smiled, some have tried to wiggle out of my hands, some have looked steadily over to mom and dad, and others have tried to stay asleep. For all of these babies, the Holy Spirit is at work delivering the good news of Jesus Christ through the water and the Word. Our Lord Jesus Christ commands Baptism, and these priceless moments are not just moments of tradition or family reunion in our congregation.
Water and the Word
Baptism is founded upon the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not an empty human ritual. Baptism cannot be ignored as the invention of the church. These words from Jesus demonstrate that Baptism is divine. To be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is to be baptized by God. As a pastor I speak the words of Jesus’ command and I pour the water of Baptism, but it is truly the work of God. The water of Baptism is water full of the commands and promises of God’s Word.
A person may wonder how a handful of water and some words spoken by a pastor help a person. Water is just water. Water can clean dirty hands, but how does water clean the stain of sin that weighs down the soul of a person? When the water is joined with the Word of God, at the command of Jesus, it becomes a work of God. We respect the power of Baptism because we respect the power of God to work through His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Forgiveness of Sins
Christ instituted Baptism to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). God is at work in Baptism delivering to us His promises. St. Peter writes, “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). When we talk about being saved in the church we are talking about being delivered from sin, death, and the devil. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
Faith Grasps the Work of God
The great benefit and power of Baptism is received through faith in these promises. Without faith, Baptism is of no benefit. We do not gain or merit or receive salvation through our works or activity, faith receives the promises of Baptism. In the book of Hebrews we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Also St. Paul writes in Romans, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some may question if infants can confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord, but in Psalm 8:2 we are reminded, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” This psalm demonstrates that God has established that young children can praise God with their lips, even if it is in the broken babble of a child that we cannot understand.
Baptists and Lutherans agree that a person that believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. Lutherans and Baptists disagree on how a person comes to believe. We cannot come to Christ or make a decision for Jesus. As sinners we are spiritually dead and we cannot move to Christ on our own. The Holy Spirit delivers us to saving faith through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit gives this saving faith to a person as the person hears the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Whether a person believes in Jesus Christ because of a sermon that he heard or by the power of the Word combined with water at Baptism, it is always God and the power of His Word that creates saving faith. Baptism is a treasured means by which God promises to deliver to us the good news of Jesus.
Sadly, there are churches and individuals that deny Baptism to young children and infants. We perform Baptism for infants and children for the same reason adults are baptized. We are all conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We all are in need of the mercy of God that is promised in Baptism. When Baptism is rejected or ignored for young children and infants, then a person is ignoring the command of God. In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus invites the children to come to him. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus states that Baptism is for “all nations.” On the day of Pentecost, Peter said about Baptism, “The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). When John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb when he heard the word of God (Luke 1:41-44), we find the gift of faith present in a baby.
How can a baby have saving faith in Jesus Christ? In the same way that any person believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives to us a heart that trusts the promises of God. We baptize babies because we baptize people in agreement with Christ’s command to baptize “all nations.” We trust the power and promise of Baptism is the work of Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to remember your own Baptism, and so remember the work of Jesus to deliver you from the domain of darkness into the eternal victory of Jesus’ resurrection. Martin Luther sums up well the joy and promise of Baptism when he writes, “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”