To understand baptism, we must understand:
- that the whole Bible is the Word of God, even the Old Testament.
- that Salvation comes from God, it is His free gift.
- that God gives this free gift of salvation through the Covenant of Grace, which finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ.
- that the Covenant of Grace declares to us the good news that we are justified by faith in Christ plus nothing. In order to be saved we must believe this covenantal promise, the good news, the gospel.
that pursuing godliness is a required delight in the Christian life. Without
holiness, no man shall see the Lord. Christians, disciples of Christ, must pursue godliness.
that godliness and baptism are profitable for all of life. Just as the pursuit of godliness does not end, the effect of baptism does not end.
Let’s listen in on a Covenant Keeping Father tucking his 10-year-old son in for the night.
Father: Come on, sport, it’s time for bed. Mom will be home late from Bible study.
Son: Aw, Dad, can’t I watch the rest of the game? I want to see the Yankees lose, again.
Father: It is only the seventh inning and you have school tomorrow. Get ready for bed and I will tuck you in in five minutes.
Son: Yes, Dad. (I just love it when they say that. Five minutes later in Junior’s bedroom…)
Son: What’s the score, Dad?
Father: Yankees are still down by three, but they are rallying. So I am going to pray with you quickly and then watch the rest of the game.
Son: But, Dad, Mom always lets me ask one question before prayer and before bedtime.
Father: Okay, sport, one question.
Son: Daddy, why did you baptize me?
Father: Wow! That is a big question. Why don’t you ask Mom tomorrow night? Do you have another, easier, shorter question?
Son: You don’t know, do you?
Father: Sure I know! How’s this: God told us to in the Bible.
Son: You really don’t know, do you?
Father: Yes, I know, but it is a long and difficult answer and I would rather watch the game. Plus, you may not understand.
Son: Try me, Dad; I am smarter than you think.
Father: Okay, we baptized you because you are a member of the Covenant of Grace.
Son: What is a covenant?
Father: It is a relationship that God sets up with His people. In the covenant God requires faith and promises blessings.
Son: Why am I a part of this covenant?
Father: Do you remember when Spot had puppies?
Father: Spot is your dog, right?
Father: So, when Spot had puppies, to whom did the puppies belong?
Father: Right. Now, Mommy and Daddy belong to God and are in covenant with God, and when we had puppies, they belonged to God.
Son: But Dad, you and Mommy have faith. I didn’t have faith when I was a baby, did I?
Father: Maybe not, but you did not have to. You still belong to God and you are in covenant with Him. You see, we baptized you not because you had something to say to God (“See God, I have faith”), but because God had something to say to you (“Remember Junior, I am faithful”).
Son: What did God say to me at baptism?
Father: God was saying, “Junior, you belong to Me, you are My child, and I promise to save you through faith and to give you all the blessings of being united to Jesus Christ.”
Son: What are the blessings of being united to Christ?
Father: God promises to give new life to those who believe, that is, regeneration, and forgive all their sins, and adopt them into the family of God and to raise them up at the last day.
Son: Wow, God promises all of that in baptism?
Father: Yes. And we receive every one of them by faith.
Son: Dad, you know Jim Bob Billy Bob from school?
Father: Yes, the bully?
Son: Yeah, he is so mean. He even swears. But he is baptized. Does he get all that united to Christ stuff for free? Will I have to spend eternity in heaven with Jim Bob Billy Bob?
Father: I don’t know, son; does he believe the gospel?
Son: I don’t know.
Father: Why don’t you ask him?
Son: It’s kind of hard to talk when you are chewing on a knuckle sandwich, Dad. But he is baptized; doesn’t that mean that he is saved?
Father: No, son, not everyone who is baptized is saved. Only those who believe the gospel are saved.
Son: So baptism doesn’t really mean anything then, does it?
Father: Now, son, this is where many people get confused. Baptism means exactly what God intended. It is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace. Some people think that if it does not mean everything, that you are saved, that it can only mean nothing. It means a great deal. It means that we belong to God, that we are in a covenantal relationship with Him, and that God has promised to save us through faith. It means that we are under obligation to be children of God and walk by faith.
Son: So, there is a catch, isn’t there? You have to believe in order for all this stuff to work.
Father: Yes, faith is required to know the blessings of the Covenant. God demands that we believe in Him. God promises blessings in the covenant, but
He also places demands on us. In fact, my baptism still places me under obligation to walk with God in faith.
Son: You said that baptism is a sign and seal. What is a sign?
Father: A sign is a picture of something. Like a Burger King sign. You don’t stop at a Burger King sign and expect it to give you a Whopper, but you follow the sign to the Burger King, and order there. The sign points to where the real thing can be found. Baptism is a sign that points to Jesus; He is where salvation is found.
Son: Dad, I know that there is water in baptism, but is there enough for a seal?
Father: It is not that kind of seal, son. A seal is a guarantee, or an assurance. God is guaranteeing that He will give Christ and all His benefits to those who believe in Him. I remember when I was courting your mother…
Son: Oh, yuck, you are not going to talk about kissing and where babies come from, are you, Dad?
Father: No, but you can ask your Mother tomorrow night where babies come from. When I was courting your mother, I knew that I wanted to marry her. So, I went to the jewelry store and bought an engagement ring. I asked her to marry me that night and gave her the ring as a seal, a guarantee, that I would marry her if she said yes. That is kind of what God says to us in baptism. He will unite us to Christ and forgive us our sins as we believe.
Son: Daddy, will I go to heaven when I die?
Father: I hope so, son. You are in covenant with God, He has made promises to you, you belong to Him. He has separated you from the world. We have prayed for you, we have taught you about God and the gospel and tried to live a Christian life before you. It would be strange and disappointing for you not to be in heaven. You are baptized. But the real question is, do you believe the promise that God gave you at baptism that He will save those who believe in His Son?
Son: Yes, I do, I believe that Jesus died for my sins; that He is my Savior.
Father: Then you will be in heaven one day.
Son: But Dad, sometimes I do really bad things.
Father: I know, son. So do I.
Son: So, we can go to heaven even if we do bad things?
Father: That is an awkward way of putting it, but yes. No one is perfect. We all still sin. That is why we still need to look back on our baptism. It reminds us of God’s promise that He will forgive all who trust in Him for forgiveness. It is our assurance, our engagement ring from God. We know that we will be forgiven, because we believe and because God promised.
Son: So your baptism is still working, right, Dad?
Father: Yes, son. I am still walking in the grace offered in my baptism. I still remember that God set me apart at birth to be His very own child. I remember the promise that He made to me even before I could understand. I remember that I am under obligation to walk by faith as a child of God. I remember that my sins are forgiven by Christ through faith just as surely as water washes me bodily. I remember that I am saved through faith alone.
Son: So, when I am tempted to mess up and do bad things, I need to remember that I am baptized, that God is with me and will forgive me and help me?
Father: That’s right, son. You do not belong to the world, and not even to yourself. You belong to God.
Son: Dad, I am going to have my kids baptized.
Father: Why is that?
Son: God told us to in the Bible.
Father: That’s great, son.
Father: Yes, son?
Son: Do I have to kiss my wife when I am married?
Father: When the time comes, Junior, I think that you will probably want to. Good night, son.
Son: Who won the game, Dad?
Father: It doesn’t really matter. Goodnight, son.