Good morning! Welcome to worship! Our focus today is baptism. What is baptism and why is it important? This was an issue 500 years ago for the Martin Luther and the reformers. It still is today!
What’s the connection between baptism, conversion, and faith? Remember the Reformation was about the re-discovery of the Gospel, that salvation is a gift of God won through the work of Jesus on the cross. The Bible says we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. So where does baptism fit in?
The Roman church at the time said baptism was one of the things we needed to do in order to be saved. But this didn’t square with what Luther and the other leaders were learning about the Gospel. They opened their Bibles and went to work. Here’s what they found. Baptism, like the rest of our salvation, is primarily God’s work!
Christian baptism involves two things – water and God’s Word. Luther wrote, “Baptism is not water only, but water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” Water without God’s word is just water. The word “baptize” means to wash or put in the water - like when you wash your hands, or take a shower, or dive in the lake, or wash the dishes.
Without God’s promise, baptism is simply a bath, but with God’s Word it becomes something very sacred and holy. In Mt 28, Jesus commands us to be baptized. Let’s read his words together, “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.” Mt 28:19
Notice Jesus said we are to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This makes baptism a big deal! We may not fully understand what’s going on. The person baptizing us may not fully know what’s going on. But God knows what’s going on and he’s attached the authority of his name to it! Baptism is a big deal!
There’s a God thing that happens in baptism. Jesus said. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mk 16:16 This is not magic - magic is something we do to control God, but it is God’s promise. It is also a mystery, a holy mystery which is why we call it a sacrament and a means of grace.
The next question they struggled with is what does Baptism do? Some said, “It’s a sign that we’ve left our sins behind and decided to follow Jesus.” That might be what we do, but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is what does God does!
Remember baptism is not just a bath, it’s water connected to God’s word and God’s word does things – big things - like create the universe, call sinners to life, save people, the list goes on and on. So what does God’s word do in baptism? They found part of the answer in Titus 3. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. 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…” Titus 3:5-8
In baptism, God washes away our sin and gives us rebirth through the Holy Spirit. But I thought we were saved by grace through faith. That’s true, we could call baptism, wet grace. Grace we can feel and experience. Baptism is not a work we do, but a gift through which God’s grace creates and nourishes our faith. Not magic, mystery!
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus asked “How can an old man be born again?” Jesus answers, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again of water and the Spirit.” Jesus is connected the spiritual birth that happens in baptism to our physical birth. It involves water and the Holy Spirit. Once again, not magic, but mystery of God’s grace, a gift we receive by faith that involves real water and the promise of God.
Paul writes - “We were buried therefore with (Jesus) by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Rom 6:4
When we are baptized, God joins us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This isn’t some kind of hocus pocus or religious magic, this is a gift, a miracle of God’s grace for us!
But how can water do such great things? Luther wrote, “It’s not the water! It’s God’s Word connected to the water and our faith in his promise.” We don’t have to understand to believe it. When we first start our walk of faith we are focused on what we do, but the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we realize, the real truth in what he has done for me!
There’s more. Baptism is an on-going event! Day by day, morning by morning, our old sinful nature is drowned by daily repentance and a new person is raised to life to live by faith and obedience before God.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit calls a person to faith and then they are baptized. Sometimes a person is baptized and later comes to faith. In both cases, it’s God who is at work in our lives and our response to his love and grace. Which way did it work for you?
The reformers asked the question “Is it better to be baptized and then come to faith or to come to faith and then be baptized?” That prompted a second question. “When does a person have enough faith to be baptized?” When they are 4 or 14 or 44 or 84? Over the centuries some Christians have baptized babies as soon as they were born. They wanted God’s name to protect them. Others waited until a person’s dying breath to baptize them. They didn’t want to risk falling away. Both had reasons why they did this, but their reasons were often mistakenly rooted in baptism being something that we do rather than something God does for us.
Jesus said the Spirit blows where it wills. You can’t control it. Infant baptism began in the New Testament when whole households were baptized and the infant mortality rate was very high. The reformers realized that many of the great Christian leaders of the previous centuries had been baptized as infants, yet many others had been baptized as adult converts yet the same Holy Spirit filled them all. Which was better? It was impossible to tell.
Another question was “How much water should we use?” The early church leaders concluded that more water may make a better sign, but it it’s not the amount of water that matters. It’s God’s word connected to the water and our trust in God’s promise! Not every place had enough water for immersion. If all God gives us is a thimble full and his word is there, then it’s baptism.
In baptism, we are grafted into Jesus like the branches to the vine. This means that baptism is about more than just me and Jesus. In our baptism we are united, connected to other believers, we become a part of the one Body of Christ.
Paul writes in 1 Cor. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor 12:13
How does water do all these things? Let me say again, it’s not just water, its water connected to God’s Word and our faith in that Word. Baptism is far more than just something we do to show the world we believe in Jesus. Baptism is what God does for us.
There’s another picture of baptism in the Bible. 1 Peter says Noah’s flood is a picture of baptism in that Noah and his family were saved through the water. In Noah’s flood and in baptism God’s judgment is present along with his grace, washing away sin and saving those who believe.
Luther was asked, “But how about people who were baptized as infants by unbelieving priests into unbelieving homes and then were converted to faith in Jesus as adults. Did they need to be re-baptized?” Luther said “No”. Why not!? Because when God’s name is used in baptism, God remains true to his promise even when we don’t.
What was necessary was that these people lay hold of the promise God made to them regardless of when or how their baptism took place. “Yeah, but what about people who said they believed, were baptized, but then fell away. Did they need to be re-baptized? If baptism was like Noah’s ark, hadn’t they shipwrecked their baptism on the rocks of sin?”
Luther said, “You can’t shipwreck God’s ark. But you can jump overboard. What you need to do is climb back aboard again. God’s promise to you remains in effect even if you walked away from it. You don’t need to be saved again, you need to repent and lay hold of God’s promise, the gift that’s been given to you.”
How do we do that? Good question! Whether or not we have walked away from the gifts God gave us in our baptism, this is something every believer needs to do every day. “Lord, I repent of the ways I have resisted you or sinned against you today. I ask that you would forgive me, cleanse me, and once again drown that old sinful person in me and raise me up to live for you.”
Every time you take a shower remember what the Lord is doing for you as part of his promise to you in your baptism. Thank him for continuing to wash you, drown you, raise you to life. If you want, you can be immersed in Flathead Lake during our annual campout, not as re-baptism, but to remember and recommit yourself to what the Lord first did for you.
Baptism is God’s gift to you. It is a concrete way to feel, hear, see God’s gift to connect himself to you. Your baptism is a sign from God of his promise to you. It’s a physical guarantee of Christ in you! Christ for you! Christ with you! Forever!