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Should You Be Baptized? Should Your Child?

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Bible, New Testament, Theology

By Daniel Baker

On September 7th we are providing an opportunity for water baptisms, so this is a good time to revisit what we believe about baptism. The basic idea is that believers should be baptized by immersion in water as a believer. The two halves of this idea are equally important to get straight in our minds: (1) believers and (2) baptized by immersion in water. Thus, the simple test of whether you (or your child) should be baptized is whether or not you (or your child) believe in Jesus and haven't already been baptized as a believer.

Some of us grew up in traditions where we were sprinkled as babies, what is typically called paedobaptism. There are different views on what the meaning of this sprinkling is, but the basic idea is that you are marked as a member of the people of God. You are, in essence, a child of God. It is assumed that in the future you will also demonstrate saving faith, but until then you are still considered a member of the covenant community.

We believe that the Bible teaches a very different model. While it is true that our children accompany us in virtually all aspects of church life, the test for baptism is not whether someone has Christian parents. The test is faith in Jesus Christ. When Philip preached the gospel to the Ethiopian in Acts 8, the man professed faith in that gospel and then he was baptized (8:29-38). When the Philippian jailer heard the message of Christ, he believed it and then he was baptized (Acts 16:30-34). His "household" joined him in hearing that same message and also being baptized, but that no infants were baptized is evident by Luke's detail that the "entire household" rejoiced in the salvation of the jailer. That shows that those present were old enough to hear Paul's message, respond to Paul's message, and rejoice in that same message.

But to say that someone believes in Jesus is still to swim in muddy waters. What exactly is saving faith? Is it the ability to recite memorized answers to questions? Is it to be a member of a church? Is it to read your Bible often? Is it to have a powerful encounter with God where you go from desperation to hope? Is it to feel the crushing weight of your sin and then to cry out to Jesus? Is it to "say the sinner's prayer"? All of these things are significant (and might even be part of our own unique spiritual journesy), but none of these are saving faith.


Saving faith is to have true faith in the true Jesus, and so it begins with the Jesus of the Bible. That's the "true Jesus" we must believe in. If you don't believe in what the Bible says about Jesus, there is simply no possibility that you have saving faith. Maybe you don't know all that the Bible says about Jesus. That is fine, but to not believe what you do know of what the Bible teaches is a serious problem. Maybe you have questions about what the Bible says about Jesus: How could Jesus be God and yet be tempted to sin? Questions about Jesus are very different from disbelieving the teaching of Scripture.

The key parts of the true Jesus you must believe in include his being God and man, his perfect life, his sacrificial death, his burial, and his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4). If we do not believe these things, then there isn't really enough of the true Jesus in our faith to definitively call it saving faith.


But saving faith is a "true faith in the true Jesus." What does true faith look like? We can start with the factual side of faith. As we said above, there are biblical facts we must believe about Jesus. You must believe that he existed as a man and lived the life and died the death that the Bible describes.

But faith isn't just believing something about someone, it is also to put your trust in someone. At some level saving faith is putting our allegiance and hope in Jesus Christ. One way to say this is that we call him both Savior and Lord.

To call Jesus Savior implies that there is something I need to be saved from, namely my sin and the wrath and judgment that my sin deserves. It also implies that Jesus is that Savior to rescue me from these.

To call Jesus "Lord" is a statement about who Jesus is to you. It is one thing to say that he did such and such at one time or another. But it is a completely different matter to say that he is also your Lord. A lord is a master, an owner, a complete authority, the one whose will we obey. It isn't just a simple title for Jesus, but it is a statement about who Jesus is to you. When you call Jesus your Lord, you are saying that you are setting him in the place in your life to call the shots, to act as King and Owner and Sovereign.


Of course, we do all this knowing that our hearts are still fallen, depraved, selfish, stubborn, rebellious, and wicked. Salvation isn't "sin removal surgery" where all temptation and failure and lust and sin simply get pulled out (like they did to my appendix). Our faith in this life will always call Jesus "Lord" in an imperfect, slowly progressing, developing way. It is when we see Jesus face to face and become like him (1 John 3:2) that his lordship in our life will be perfect and unchallenged for all eternity.


For our children the issue of Christ's lordship is a thorny one. We must wisely navigate between two extremes. On one side, we must avoid saying that because they can recite true things about Jesus then he must be their Lord. If we are faithfully discipling our children they will likely know a lot about him from an early age, but this is different from a profession of faith which is an acknowledgement that Jesus is our child's Savior and Lord.

But on the other side, we must avoid the extreme that equates a profession of faith with adult Christianity. Our children on their best day are children. They are in the midst of years of development at every level. Sometimes they act according to this childishness, but this doesn't mean they aren't Christians—just  that they are also children. This is where looking for specific fruit in their lives before we accept their profession can be a risky proposition. It can be exasperating for a child if his parent rejects his profession of faith because the child gets mad at his siblings, continues to disobey his parents, fails to be as diligent in school as he should—in short, does all the things that all children do whether converted or not.

The danger of accepting too easily our child's profession of faith is that we minimize the reality of Christ's lordship in a Christian's life. The danger on having too high a bar for our child's profession of faith is that we make salvation by faith and by works. Or if not salvation, then at least baptism, which can be just as harmful and is certainly just as unbiblical.

There is simply no guaranteed, fool-proof method of discerning the regeneration of our children, but my own personal view is that I'd rather err on the side of accenting the grace of the gospel than risk exasperating my child in his spiritual development. 


Now, a few things on baptism. First, baptism is for believers. In the New Testament, one of the key markers for a believer is that they are baptized in water by immersion. This does not make someone a believer, it only marks them as such. Jesus said to baptize “disciples” (Matt. 28:19), the clear pattern of Acts is to baptize those who make a profession of faith (8:12; 29-39), and elsewhere the meaning of baptism shows that this is appropriate only for believers (Rom. 6:1-5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Second, baptism is to be by immersion. It is immersion that best fulfills the meaning of the word in the Greek (which means to “dip into”), which mirrors the pattern first shown by Jesus and then by all the apostles and ministers of the gospel in the New Testament, and which captures the symbolism of places like Romans 6:1-4 (it has to do with death, burial and resurrection, not simply cleansing from sin).

You can read more on these issues in our book, Believe and Be Baptized, but hopefully this gives you enough to prayerfully consider whether you or your child should be baptized on September 7th. Contact the office if you would like to participate in that baptism Sunday.

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