The following information is taken from the Holy Bible (NIV) 1989, Luther’s Catechism 3rd edition, and from Christian Worship – a Lutheran Hymnal.
Washed in the blood of Jesus
Our Savior Jesus Christ commanded baptism when he said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ All of us are born into this world with a deep need for baptism. From our parents we inherit a sinful nature; we are without true fear of God and true faith in God and are condemned to eternal death. But Jesus took away our sin by giving his life on the cross. At our baptism he clothes us with the robe of his righteousness and gives us a new life. Our sinful nature need not control us any longer. (Christian Worship pg. 12)
People have questions about Baptism; what is it, what does it do for us, why do we need it? Many denominations have different beliefs about baptism. Some feel it is something that should be done when a child is old enough to make his/her own determination and decision to be baptized. Some believe that infants should be baptized as newborns or as soon as possible after birth. There are some churches who think of it merely as an official naming ceremony and some that don’t believe in it at all.
I am a member of the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). The WELS does not deviate from Scripture in any way. We take God at His Word and to the best of our ability and understanding do not alter it in any way. What God says goes – end of story! We know (from God’s Word) that Baptism is an important blessing and gift from God and is beneficial to all people of all ages.
JESUS INSTITUTED BAPTISM
What is Baptism? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 9)
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word which tells us; therefore go and 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).
In the scripture above from Matthew Jesus refers to all nations in His command to baptize. He does not differentiate between babies, children or adults. The words all nations, include all people, young and old alike. This statement of Jesus eliminates the idea that only those old enough to understand and make his/her own choice should be baptized.
THE BLESSINGS OF BAPTISM
What does Baptism do for us? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 9)
Baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Jesus himself promises; whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
These words of Jesus do not stipulate any specific age for Baptism. By this statement we also have the reassurance that it is possible to be saved without baptism as long as there is faith. Jesus states; whoever does not believe will be condemned. He does not add to that statement; whoever is not baptized will be condemned. His words make it clear that the person who comes to faith in the last moments of life with no time for baptism will be saved. An example of this would be the thief who died on the cross beside Jesus. His request to Jesus: remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus replied; I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
THE POWER OF BAPTISM
How can water do such great things? (Luther’s Catechism pg.9,10)
It is certainly not the water that does such things, but God’s Word which is in and with the water and faith which trusts this Word used with the water. For without God’s Word the water is just plain water and not Baptism. But with this Word it is Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit.
[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying (Titus 3: 5-8).
We wash our bodies with water to become physically clean. The water of Baptism symbolizes a cleansing, and when not connected with the word of God it means nothing. It is simply water. We wash with it, we play in it, we cook with it, we drink it etc. When it is connected to God’s Word by the faith of those administering it (for an infant), and/or by the person himself, (an adult who has previously come to faith) it becomes a cleansing by the Holy Spirit.
THE MEANING OF BAPTISM FOR OUR DAILY LIFE
What does baptizing with water mean? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 10)
Baptism means that the ‘Old Adam’ (the sinful nature) in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
We were…buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4).
In baptism we become forgiven children of God. Jesus’ suffering becomes our suffering. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Jesus paid the debt we owe to God for our sin. We have been adopted into God’s family. The Holy Spirit lives in us and we are heirs of eternal life. Jesus says; because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).
In summary then – Baptism is a gift from God. It is a spiritual cleansing which offers forgiveness of sins, grants faith by the Holy Spirit, and makes us children of God and heirs of eternal life.
It is for all people, young and old. All Christians should take advantage of this gift and blessing from God as opportunity allows. It is possible to come to faith without Baptism, but this should be the exception not the rule. We are saved by faith in Jesus and faith comes to us also through hearing and studying God’s word. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Those who die without having had the opportunity for baptism, but who have faith in Jesus, will also be heirs of eternal life.
As Christians, it is our God given responsibility to baptize our children. We should do it joyfully and without hesitation. Parents who have lost children to death before baptism can take comfort, in the knowledge that our God is a just God, but He is also a merciful, fair and loving God. All life is precious to Him. We can rest assured that in His almighty wisdom He takes special care for the souls of helpless infants.
He does command baptism however, and entrusts these little lives to us as parents, to be cared for and nurtured. It is our responsibility to make sure they have all that they need, not only for their bodies (their physical good), but especially for their souls (their eternal good). Eternity is forever. Therefore why would we not, when it is within our power to do so, want to afford ourselves the comfort of the sure knowledge that their souls are safe in His loving arms?
Baptism is not to be taken lightly. Our Baptism does not insure that we can never fall from faith and lose our eternal inheritance. We must read and study God’s word in order to stay connected to Jesus. We should go to Him in prayer at the end of each day with a repentant heart. We need the fellowship and support we find in a church home where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity. Those who have a true heart of faith will find studying and listening to the word, talking with God in prayer, and attending worship services to be a joy rather than a duty. If we neglect these things we are in danger of losing our faith. If we lose our faith our Baptism will do us no good.
Always keep in mind that Baptism is a gift from God to us. It is not something we do for God. It is not our commitment to Him, but rather it is His commitment to us. It is His promise that we belong to Him, we are forgiven, and heirs of His eternal Kingdom.
Merciful Father in heaven, we thank you for the blessing of baptism by which you offer and grant the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Help us to regard our baptism as the robe of righteousness we are to wear all the days of our life. Grant us a rich measure of your Spirit that we may grow in faith and Godly living. Help us to carry out our responsibilities to others who have been baptized, so that all of us may finally come to the blessed joys of heaven, through Jesus our Lord. Amen. (Christian Worship pg. 14)