Saturday, March 12, 2005

How to become a Christian

I recently read the following question and answer on the WELS Q&A site. I thought the responder did an excellent job of explaining how one comes to faith in Christ Jesus. The person writing in with a question does not explain how she was "raised WELS", but was not a believer. As a newcomer to confessional Lutheranism, I can't imagine how someone could receive faith at baptism, hear God's Word presented in church and at home, study for three years in a rigorous catechism program and proclaim to the congregation on your confirmation day your faith in Christ Jesus. That is what it would mean to me to be "raised WELS". Her question illustrates Chris Jones' post on the importance of catechising the parents along with baptizing the baby.

I have been studying the biblical reasons to baptize/not baptize infants. Being raised in the WELS, I was not a believer. Later in life after many trials, God touched my heart, and I gave my life to Jesus. I was babtized as an infant, but when I truly came to know Jesus as my savior, I wanted to be obedient and publicly repent and confess Christ, and I was baptized. As an infant I didn't get to do that.
In many verses, the word "repent" comes before "baptize". The two always seem to go together. In fact it seems that if one has not repented one should not be baptized. I am now married to a man who loves the Lord too, and we are studying to know what the Word says. Yes, it says to baptize all nations, and yes we are sinful from conception, but how can an infant be repentant until it is more mature and understands? Is a baptism really valid without being repentant? And wouldn't repentance indicate that the Holy Spirit has already done a work in the person's heart. Can a baby really be saved by a work of the parents, though the Word is clear that we are not saved by works? Has God in Scripture given babies any other provision?

The emphasis is not on what parents or others are doing in Baptism. The emphasis is on what God is doing, on what he has promised, and on what we receive by his grace in Baptism. People are not saved by my work when I tell them that Jesus died to save them from their sins. Rather the Holy Spirit uses that message to work faith in their hearts. In the same way babies are not saved by some law work of their parents when their parents have them baptized. Rather the parents are simply using the means of grace given to them, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work through baptism as Scripture promises.

You are making a couple of assumptions that are not warranted. First of all, “repent” and “baptize” do not always appear together. In fact, in the Great Commission the command to baptize even comes before the command to teach. Jesus says, “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” (Matthew 18:19-20).

Secondly, repentance is not a decision we make on our own. Repentance is something that God works in our hearts through his law and gospel. Both adults and infants are by nature spiritually dead in their transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1-5) and have no ability to please God in any way (Romans 8:7-8). The Holy Spirit must work repentance in the heart of both adults and babies. Since coming to faith is not a decision on our part but something that the Holy Spirit works in us, it is no greater miracle for him to bring a baby to faith than to bring an adult to faith.

You are looking at baptism as a legal requirement by which you show your love and obedience to God. In baptism, however, we do not do something for God, rather he does something for us and in us. He works to either create or to strengthen faith. It is true that neither baptism nor the proclamation of the gospel will benefit anyone apart from faith. However, through the proclamation of the gospel and through baptism the Holy Spirit works faith. The means of grace have the power to create the faith they require.

Do you doubt that babies can believe? St. Paul writes to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Luke records, “People were also bring babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child will never enter it’” (Luke 18:15-17).

The only way anyone can enter the kingdom of heaven is through faith. Jesus not only is indicating that little children can believe, he is telling us that adults need to become like children, approaching him in child-like faith. Both Paul and Luke use a Greek word that means infant, a baby that must be carried. They are not speaking about children who have reached some sort of age of accountability (a concept that has no scriptural warrant). I might not understand exactly how babies can believe but that does not mean that they cannot believe, particularly when Scripture teaches that they can. If people fail to bring children to baptism and the means of grace, they are in fact hindering the children from coming to Jesus.

Let me summarize:The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are received by faith alone (John 3:16-18, Ephesians 2:8-9). The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament (Romans 10:11-17, Titus 3:4-7, Acts 2:38-39). The forgiveness of sins is therefore always received by faith and faith is created and strengthened only by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. The gospel promise of forgiveness offered and proclaimed in Word and Sacrament has the Holy Spirit's power to create or strengthen the very faith that receives the forgiveness that is promised (Romans 1:16-17).

Through baptism the Holy Spirit works to create faith or to strengthen faith. As Paul writes to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 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 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 3:4-7). St. Peter explains baptism in this way, “In it (Noah's ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Baptism saves because through baptism the Holy Spirit works faith and brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. As Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:38-39). Please note that children are included in the command and promise Peter speaks about.

The Great Commission is a general command-– “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; see also Mark 16:15-16). General commands must be taking generally unless Scripture limits the command in some way. Babies are also included in this general command. If someone would say that infants are not specifically mentioned in the Great Commission, I would answer that no particular group is mentioned whether women or teenagers or old men or young ladies or Americans, Germans, Chinese, Africans, or the British. The Great Commission includes all of these groups.

Scripture, however, not only does not exclude infants from baptism but also indicates that they need to be baptized because they are conceived and born in sin. They need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God (Psalm 51:5, John 3:5-6). Through baptism the Holy Spirit works to create or strengthen faith and brings the gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Titus, 3:4-7, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38-39).

For more information on infant baptism you might want to read Baptized into God's Family: The Doctrine of Infant Baptism for Today by A. Andrew Das and Baptism: My Adoption into God's Family by Prof. Gaylin R. Schmeling. You might also want to look at Conversion: Not by My Own Choosing by Prof. John M. Brenner. The latter two books are part of the People's Bible Teachings Series. All three books are available from Northwestern Publishing House -

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