Your answer is important. It reveals what you think of God, and the kind of relationship you probably have with God. If baptizing is something that automatically works, like plugging in the toaster, what does that say about faith? Or if baptism is simply obedience to a command what does that say about God’s mercy and grace? Fortunately, what we think about baptism is not up to us to invent. There are many passages about Baptism in the Sacred Scriptures. One wonderful text is Titus 3:3-8. Hear the Word of the Lord:
For we ourselves were once senseless, disobedient, being deceived, slaves to various lusts and pleasures, living in evil and envy, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, not by works we did in righteousness, but according to his mercy he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, in order that being justified by the grace of that one, we might become heirs of eternal life. This word is faithful.
This passage in God’s Word speaks to those who were saved saying, we once were disobedient. When were we senseless, deceived, and enslaved? Is enslavement possible only for adults, only from the age of 12, or all our pre-Christian lives? If newborn babies were even decent human beings, after all they just put mother through, they’d certainly ask, “Mom, are you OK?” Instead they demand attention. As sweet as a little baby is, and despite all the coaching to say her first word, why is what usually comes out, “NO!”? And when it comes to God-stuff they must be taught. It doesn’t come naturally. Children need to be taught not only about God, but taught the very basic rules of civilization. It’s not good to poke your sister’s eyes out. Perhaps if you think sin only happens when you willfully do things you know are bad, then babies aren’t guilty of much crime against God, except for the “NO” word. If we make sin less than what the Bible calls sin, then a toddler’s violent attacks, innate selfishness or moments of senseless rage are not bad. But Scripture holds us accountable from birth for not only willful acts, but our very character of rebellion.
“There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.” Rm. 3:10b, 11 “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ps. 51:5
Even babies need a Saviour. We were once senseless, disobedient, being deceived, slaves to various lusts and pleasures, living in evil and envy, hating one another.
We were. Here’s a message of hope! How did we move from being senseless to “We were senseless?” Did you or I lift up our deceived head one day and say, “now I’ll know the truth!” To be deceived is to be made incapable of knowing the truth. It is commitment to a lie as the truth. Something had to come to us from the outside, something or someone who could break the power of the lie. And if we were, then someone came with t truth perhaps when we were 3 weeks, 40 years or 99 years old. And they not only told us what was true, they showed us it was true. We were helpless when it came to having faith in the true God.
When did someone come? When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, not by works we did in righteousness, but according to his mercy he saved us..
Our goodness did not appear. We did no works of righteousness. Maybe in our own eyes we thought we were pretty good, but that’s evidence of a most damnable arrogance before a perfectly Holy God. The lie of our own righteousness was ruined when God’s goodness appeared. God began to reveal His goodness when he gave His law on tablets of stone. But we didn’t like them or want to obey them. Besides that, they didn’t make us look good. Then God sent messengers telling us the way to have God’s approval. But we didn’t like them either. Finally He came Himself, in the person of His Son. And we killed Him, because his goodness was most disagreeable. He was not like the kind of good we imagine ourselves to be. He was perfect. And the final evidence of his goodness was He gave Himself up to death so that the scum of the earth might become good without even trying.
It was God’s mercy that saved us. The Word of the Lord says mercy. This implies we were guilty of crime. God’s Word says mercy, which means we were unable to save or help ourselves, just like a baby. But how does God give us this mercy? How did God reveal His goodness so that we were no longer senseless, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved?
He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
He saved us. God not only initiated the action, but he completed the action. He saved us. It was mercy experienced as grace, undeserved favor, un-earned favor, unasked for favor, unknown favor, unsuspected favor, unsolicited favor, un-purchased favor, and un-sought favor. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God lest any man should boast.
God did what was impossible for you or I, or for your children to do. He saved us by his mighty mercy in the way in which he chose… through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
That is, through baptism. Baptism is one way God has chosen to give His merciful grace. He has promised to act through Baptism. Through the washing of water in baptism we are given mercy, even if we are not seeking grace. Mercy and grace come to us. Baptism is a means of God’s grace, to create faith and save us through a washing of regeneration.
Some of you were.. unrighteous .. thieves, covetous, drunkards,.. but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11)
It is in this washing that we were unrighteous becomes we are sanctified, justified.
Ye were buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Col. 2:12
In this washing you died to the flesh, and rose to new life by believing what God has done.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up on her behalf, so that he might sanctify her, cleansing (her) by the washing of the water by the word, in order that he might present to himself the church glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that it might be holy and unblemished. Eph. 5: 25b, 26-27
In this water washing by the word, Christ sanctifies and cleanses to bring you to eternal life. Baptism, which corresponds to this (God’s longsuffering for Noah and preserving him in an ark) now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ… (I Pet. 3:21)
In this washing God perceives you as righteous because you are forgiven your sins. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:26, 27) Through this washing you have put on Christ.
For a moment permit me to make a little excursus, to take a side road. What role does faith play in baptism? For we know the benefits of baptism are ours through faith. But how do we come to believe if before God’s grace we are self-deceived? It is God who creates faith, who takes away deception. He does this through our hearing His Word. When God’s Word is preached, the Holy Spirit works to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11).
And we hear God’s Word in baptism also. In fact, baptism is nothing more than hearing God’s word of promise with the Word attached to the visible symbol of water. In this hearing God creates faith. God creates faith not only in adults; God also creates faith in babies. What else can it mean when Jesus said whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me… (Mt. 18:16)
Or, when they were bringing children to Jesus, he said, “let the children (a word meaning infants) come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the
. kingdom of God
God can create faith in all who have been deceived regardless of age. God does create faith where His Word is preached, even in baptism because faith is a gift from God’s merciful grace. Baptism is about grace.
Now here is the uncertain part about baptism. It is the same uncertainty whenever God’s word is preached. Will the hearer abandon faith for unbelief? This is a real possibility. That means we Christians have a real responsibility, especially the parents of children. The responsibility is to not hinder them. That includes, help these little ones live in daily repentance and assurance of forgiveness. Teach them the Scriptures, pray with them daily, bring them to the fellowship of believers that their faith, just like ours, might grow. Without hearing the Word of God faith dies. All Christians need to regularly feed on the gifts God has given that create and sustain faith; namely, the Word, baptism, confession/absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.
God does something real in baptism. He saves us by the washing of water with the Word. Baptism is a gift of merciful grace unto eternal life. As the passage from Paul in Titus chapter 3 concludes, being justified by the grace of that one, we might become heirs of eternal life. This word is faithful.
As Luther’s Small Catechism asks, how can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St Paul says, Titus, chapter third:
Baptism is a means of grace. We do nothing in baptism other than pour a little water and say some words. But these are God’s words speaking God’s promise. They do what they say. So to the one who receives the promise of God given in baptism, welcome to the household of the Living God, who has forgiven you your many sins in Jesus Christ. The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rev. Tim Beck