Holy Baptism

“O Christian, firmly hold this gift and give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your baptism stands and makes you whole and then in death completes you.”[1] That was the fifth stanza of the hymn, “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized.” They speak pretty highly of Baptism. The hymn paints Baptism as a precious gift of God that is able to cheer us in all situations. Not only that, it makes us whole again. Interesting. We’ve now come to the fourth section of the Catechism, Holy Baptism.

I. The Nature of Baptism

We turn to the first question in the fourth Chief Part: What is Baptism? It’s a simple question, really, but depending on who you ask you’ll get different answers. Some will say that it is a sign of God’s good favor towards us. Some would say that it is a sign of our commitment to God. Both of those definitions would assert that Holy Baptism actually does nothing. If it is just a sign, than it doesn’t really do anything. A sign points to an action that has already happened or will happen. If Baptism is just a sign or something that we do, then it is just plain water. Let us turn to the Catechism. What is Baptism? “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.”[2] We see that Baptism is not just an empty sign, but it is actually a washing of water with the Word for the forgiveness of sins.

The washing of Holy Baptism actually does something, it introduces things to us that were not there before. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, it rescues from death and the devil, it grants eternal salvation and the faith that holds onto all those things. This is all because Baptism finds its institution not in man, but in the Words of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “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.”[3] Our Lord and Savior instituted Baptism to be a life-saving flood. In Baptism He places His own name upon us and marks us as children of God, bringing us into fellowship with the Triune God.

To that end, Jesus says that “all nations” are to be baptized. This includes all people, both young and old. One of the differences between the Scriptural teaching of the Lutheran church and others is that we hold to Jesus’ Word and promise in Baptism, which is why we baptize infants and children. Certainly they are included in Jesus’ instruction to baptize all nations. St. Peter also includes them when he says that the promise of Baptism, “is for you and for your children…everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”[4] Jesus is also especially welcoming of children, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”[5] St. Paul says that we were all by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and therefore children are in need of Baptism as well.

II. The Benefits of Baptism

LSB-Icon_039Jesus desires that all people be baptized. This is because of the miracles that Holy Baptism works. It brings life to the dead. It restores water in the barren wilderness of our souls. In Baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter said that Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is for the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul also exhorts us to, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins.”[6] Because in Baptism we are given forgiveness, we are also rescued from the powers of death and the devil.  We read in Galatians 3 that, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”[7] By Baptism we have been delivered from the realm of darkness and are transferred into Christ’s Kingdom. (Col. 1:13) In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and where He reigns death has no power.

Thus, having been given the forgiveness of sins and being rescued from the power of death and the devil, in Baptism we also receive eternal salvation. In 1 Peter we learn that Baptism has now saved us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21) Jesus also promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”[8]

One question that may come up now is, if we say we are saved by faith – that Jesus won for us full and complete forgiveness by His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection – why do we baptize? We baptize because, though Jesus won our forgiveness on the cross, He doesn’t give it out there. The cross isn’t where He distributes forgiveness; it’s where He suffered to pay for it. In order to give us that forgiveness, He instituted what are called the Means of Grace – the ways by which His grace gets to us. Holy Baptism is one of them. Titus 3 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”[9]

III. The Power of Baptism

Martin Luther asks the next question: How can water do such great things? The answer is that it’s not just the water that does all these things. It’s not the water, but the Word of God in and with the water that does all this, along with the faith that trusts the Word of God. Without the Word of God, it’s nothing but water, but with the Word is a water of life, a washing of renewal and rebirth. In Baptism we are given all these awesome things, including the faith that receives them. We are saved by grace through faith, and faith is given in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

We all probably know the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[10] He says that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless He is born of water and the Spirit. What Jesus is saying is that flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit. The old sinful flesh is bad, but the Spirit is good. One cannot enter heaven unless he has put off the old sinful nature and is reborn in the Spirit. Well, that is exactly what happens in Baptism.

St. Paul writes to the Romans that we were buried with Christ in Holy Baptism. We know that in Baptism our old sinful self was crucified in order that the body of sin be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. We know that, because of Baptism, we must also consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We are reborn through the washing of water and the Word and raised to new life in Jesus.

IV. The Meaning of Baptism

So, what does this all mean? If Baptism is a washing of renewal and rebirth in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, what does that mean for us years after Baptism? Does my baptism still have effect later in life, whether I’m 25 or 105? The explanation of what Baptism indicates says, “[Being baptized] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[11]

That’s why we begin most of our services with the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to remind ourselves that we have been washed and made clean of our sins, that we have been claimed by Christ for His Kingdom. Therefore the Old Adam, the sinful desires and passions within us are daily drowned and die through repentance of our sins and faith in the promise of Jesus Christ. That is what the daily life of a baptized Christian looks like. Daily we walk in repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins. It’s a daily cycle, but one we walk together as redeemed in Christ.

Now we’ve covered 4 of the 6 sections of Luther’s Small Catechism. Next Sunday we’ll be looking a part that is sometimes neglected. We’ll look at these words, “Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself.”[12]


[1] “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized,” in Lutheran Service Book, 596.

[2] “The Small Catechism,” in Lutheran Service Book, pg. 325.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt. 28:19.

[4] Acts 2:39.

[5] Lk. 18:16–17.

[6] Acts 22:16

[7] Gal. 3:27.

[8] Mk. 16:16.

[9] Titus 3:5–7.

[10] Jn. 3:3–4.

[11] Lutheran Service Book, 325.

[12] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 341.

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