Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Baptism-How Can Water Do Such Great Things?

We hear at the end of Matthew's gospel, Christ say “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20. Given that this is a prominent institution given by Christ, who is the source of life, it is probably a good idea to look into the gift of baptism and what its benefits are for a Christian.

We should start by looking at the purpose of our baptism, because understanding the purpose is crucial to answering the other question pertaining baptism. We know from scripture that the state of mankind is sinful and this sin is expressed in two different ways, original sin and sins of omission(things we fail to do) and sins of commission(things we do that we aren't supposed to do). Original sin is our inherited infection, passed down from Adam. You may wonder how this is different from committing sin in our day to day lives. In Psalm 51:5 we hear David confessing his sin and in doing so says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”, this shows us that even in conception we are sinful. But how can that be? Surely a baby can't knowingly commit a sin right? That is where original sin is seen. If a baby can be sinful without knowingly committing the sin then there must be another explanation, which is inherited sin. Moses writes for us in Genesis 8: 21 “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil, even from his youth.” Here is another case where we see that man's evilness (which stems from sin) is present even in his youth.

So why is our baptism concerned with this sin? If we are looking at it from a modern understanding, our baptism would have nothing to do with our sin because it is merely a profession of our faith toward God in the presence of believers. This “pledge”, for modern Christians, is a fixed point in time that carries no significance throughout their life. But is this belief biblical or human construct? Do we find evidence anywhere that baptism is an act, which is fixed in time, and never thought about again? From looking at what the scripture has to say about it I would conclude this belief is of human origin, having no place in Scripture. Taking a verse out of the epistle to the Romans we see strong language from Paul, he says:

Romans 6:1-4

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him 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.”

The picture that Paul paints here in Romans is very comforting for the Christian who has been baptized because he addresses the issue of sin and how its dealt with. We should focus on two important words/phrases that Paul uses in these verses to uplift baptism. He shows us a parallel between what happens in our baptism and the death and resurrection of Christ, which was vitally important for Christians. In the context of these verses Paul is addressing the issue of sin. We see that our death to sin was produced by the death and resurrection of Christ, which is brought to us by the Holy Spirit, in a new way which we hadn't received before, that being baptism. The two things that are important in this verse is the word “through” and the phrase “in order that”. The word “through” is telling us how we were buried, which was baptism, and the “in order that” is telling us what the purpose of that baptism is, which is “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to may live a new life.” So our baptism connects us, not symbolically but truly, to Christ's death and resurrection.

Obviously this doesn't fit with our reason. “How can we be connected to Christ's death and resurrection that took place two thousand years ago?” Although our reason has been given to us by God we must let it be subservient to the Scripture in order to prevent human constructs.

Baptismal water regenerates the Christian from sin, putting to death his sinful nature and raising him to walk in the newness of life. Some might argue that “Faith in Christ alone is what saves, not baptism” and I would agree. Baptism and faith work together, because faith in Christ clings to the comforts and promises of baptism. There is no suggestion here nor biblical evidence that baptism alone saves a person, without faith in Christ.
Galatians 3:26-27

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

In Paul's epistle to the church in Galatia we see faith and baptism working together to make us “sons of God.” First Paul tells us we were made 'sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus..' but a reality is revealed when Paul uses the word 'for' because this gives significance to our baptism and connects it with our son-ship in God through faith. This verse in Galatians is a comfort to Christians and should be embraced not rejected. You have 'clothed yourselves with Christ' who above all is perfect in every way and died for the sins of the world! We should not take away the comfort of this verse by suggesting that it is merely symbolic, rather we should live in this reality daily and comfort ourselves with this promise.

In the verses following Romans 6:1-4 Paul says:

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

This is incredible comfort for the baptized Christian! We hear that through this baptism into Christ its as though we have already died to sin and it is no longer counted against us! This of course can take place with faith in Christ without baptism, but if there is another means of grace that exists, a visible assurance out there that God wants to bless us with, then I think its smart to make use of that gift. Furthermore Paul says that if we are united to Christ's death how much more will we be united to His resurrection and that in itself gives strong validity and reason for baptism.

Who then should be baptized? Everyone, as Christ gives the command to his disciples. All nations should be baptized! Again not for the purpose of proclaiming our faith publicly, although that can be a function, it is not the reason to be baptized. God doesn't need us to do anything for Him, He does it all for us. If being baptized is a work we do for God what would be the significance of that? The New Testament is no longer about law but grace and mercy. Law is certainly still applicable but God doesn't want us to do things for Him, that is law! He wants to do things to/for us, baptism included.

Now when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Infants and the old alike are all in need of faith in Christ and baptism, which the Holy Spirit is present in to create faith in an infant and continues to strengthen faith. Currently the mainstream idea is that infant baptism is nothing more than a traditional practice made popular by Rome, or some other early Church, that people don't want to associate with so as a result they created their own tradition and human construct (not that the first was created by men or a human construct). Since the popular belief of today is Decision Theology (See To Choose or Not To Choose) then of course infants should not be baptized because they have not yet made “the decision to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior” (which is only done by faith, that is a Gift of God, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the Word) so how can they be baptized into something they don't understand? But Christ says 'make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' and what is a disciple? It is a follower of some doctrine, in this case of Christ, so we see that the way the of discipleship is being baptized and following the teachings of Christ.

Before I said that baptism and faith go together so the question rises “How can a baby have faith?” But I say, how can you have faith? Romans 5:6-8 says:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Here we see that Christ died for us while we were still powerless! Other places in Scripture talk about being “dead in your transgressions”, so our faith is a result of God.

And a baby can have faith, although its hard for “decionists” to imagine, in Luke 1:41-44 we hear:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was fill with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But who am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.'”

John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth's womb! This was a response in faith because he was in the presence of the unborn Christ! So John's faith existed there even in the womb. Psalm 22:9 says: "Yet You brought me out of the womb, You made me trust in You even at my mother's breast" and Psalm 8:2 says: "From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise....". So anyone who says an infant can't receive faith is lacking the faith to trust those words of God. If he can create from nothing what we see today then he can create faith, in Christ, in an infant. Because we know from Romans 10:17 that God's word is the means by which faith is created, and this word is attached to the visible means of water where the Holy Spirit is present to create that faith in an infant and sustain them there. The child, when grown to understand these things, can and should look on his baptism knowing that he has been washed and renewed by the Spirit.

Furthermore we see two verses that raise a certain question the first one is Romans 2:29:

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.”

This verse in Romans may seem confusing in a way, because the question is “How does the heart become circumcised by the Spirit?” Colossians 2:11 helps us to figure that out:

“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Now why is this important? We know that in the Old Testament, Abraham was given the covenant of circumcision. Its purpose was to set the people of Israel apart from the world and was their seal as the people of God. Along with setting Israel apart it was a visible means which God used to create faith in the promise of the Christ. If this covenant wasn't kept then the breaker of the covenant was thrown out of Israel. We also know that Israelite infants were circumcised on the eighth day, now you have to ask yourselves. How would an eight day old infant know he was entering into a covenant with God? Shouldn't he be able to make that 'decision' for himself? The answer is no. God's blessing of sealing His people and creating faith in them in the Old Testament was circumcision and its greater reality is fulfilled in baptism as we see in Colossians. Is God's grace more abundant in the Old Testament that He would give this blessing to a baby of the Israelites and not bestow a seal on a New Testament Christian infant? Another point to note is the fact that baptism is an objective truth. Again the modern understanding of baptism is a fixed point in time where a person confesses their faith in front of believers, but the Scriptural position shows baptism as an action done by God which remains with us all our lives. It is something we can reflect on and say “Yes I have been baptized, although I don't remember the action I know that God's promises and His preserving presence is with me through this Sacrament.”

There is significance in baptism and it is for all to receive. It isn't up to sinful man to redefine the purpose of baptism and in effect hold it from infants, who are in need of it. There sin is as prevalent as ours so the question is, how do we deal with it? We can invent human constructs such as, the age of accountability, (a false idea that a person isn't accountable to God until they reach a certain age, an idea which only stems from our human reason of dealing with God's judgement as oppose to the Scripture) , but the fact is God gave us a way to deal with an infant's sin and you should not keep it from them for fear of following a man made tradition and as a result creating one for yourselves.

The question still remains “How Can Water Do Such Great Things?”:

“Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:

“He 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.”

-Martin Luther
Small Catechism
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

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