What does God work through Baptism?


Christian Baptism was instituted and commanded by Jesus when He told His disciples: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach [disciple] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus’ disciples also taught that all people should be baptized. Peter said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39). And Jesus’ disciples baptized those who came to faith in Jesus, at times baptizing whole households (Acts 2:41; 8:12,38; 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:16).

Children (including infants and young children) are to be baptized since they are included in Jesus’ words “all nations” and “every one of you” and “your children.” The Bible also calls baptism a “circumcision made without hands” (Colossians 2:11-12), and circumcision under the Old Covenant was performed on the eighth day. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that children should not be baptized until they reach a certain age or that children are innocent and without the need of having their sins washed away.

Nor does the Bible ever specify the mode in which baptism is to be performed. The Greek word for baptize simply means to wash with water, and New Testament usage of the word “baptize” bears this out. Thus, whether one is fully immersed or has water poured or sprinkled upon him is not an issue.

The true and important issues which the Scriptures teach regarding Baptism are the following:

1. Baptism – or applying or washing with water – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is not man’s work but God’s work – water is applied in God’s name and He works through it. Jesus said, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19); and “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:10-12).

2. Baptism conveys and assures to us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life which Christ Jesus won for all by His holy life and innocent sufferings and death upon the cross. Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38); and Saul (the apostle Paul) was told by Ananias, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

3. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism to bring us to faith in Christ Jesus, wash away our sins in Jesus’ blood and regenerate us with a birth from above. Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). The apostle Paul wrote to Titus: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

4. Through Baptism, God brings us into a New Covenant relationship with Him whereby we are children of God and have the promises of the covenant; namely, forgiveness of sins and the eternal blessings of heaven. Paul writes to the churches in Galatia: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). Quoting from the prophet Jeremiah, the writer to the Hebrews states: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:8-12). Later, he writes: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised…)” (Hebrews 10:19-23). As circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant, so Christian Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant in which we are joined to Christ in His death and resurrection and receive the benefits of His atoning sacrifice; namely, the forgiveness of all our sins and a place in God’s eternal kingdom (cf. Colossians 2:8-15).

Therefore, the Scriptures teach that Baptism has been instituted by God to be a means whereby He offers, gives and assures to an individual the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation which Christ won for all by His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross (Colossians 2:11-15; 1 Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:26-29). In Christian Baptism, water is applied (by sprinkling, pouring or immersing) in the name of the Triune God (Matthew 28:19); and through Baptism, the Holy Spirit works to create and preserve saving faith, thus washing away sins and giving eternal salvation to all who believe (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16; Mark 16:16).

The Scriptures teach that all people are to be baptized – including infants and children, for they too can believe – and that those who reject Baptism forfeit the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation which God would give them through it (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38-39; Luke 18:15-17; John 3:5-6; Matthew 18:6; Luke 7:30).

Why baptize infants and young children?

Since so many in our day do not bring their children to Christ Jesus in Baptism and speak against those who do, I include this special chapter regarding their false arguments and the true teaching of the Scriptures.

God’s Word says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).

Even though this passage of Scripture commands “every one” to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and says the promise is also “to your children,” there are many who believe and teach that infants and small children should not be brought to Christ through Holy Baptism. We look at their arguments against infant baptism and the answer of God’s Word. And, we look at the reasons why, according to the Word of God, infants and small children indeed should be baptized. Please take the time to look up and study the Bible references below.

I. Arguments against Infant Baptism answered by God’s Word

A. False Argument: Babies are not sinful or are not accountable for their sins.
Romans 3:23 says: “All have sinned.” This includes infants and children.
Romans 5:12 says that sin and death are passed on to all because of Adam’s sin.
Ephesians 2:1-3 teaches that we were all dead in sin by our natural birth.
Psalm 51:5 teaches that we were sinful (without true fear, love and trust in God) from the time of our conception and formation in the womb. As a result, acts of sin soon followed.
Genesis 8:21 says: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Nowhere does Scripture teach that a person is not accountable for his sins until he reaches a certain age. Rather, the Scriptures do say: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).

B. False Argument: Infants and small children cannot believe on Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Matthew 18:6 – Jesus says: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me….”
Luke 18:15-17 says that when “infants” were brought to Jesus, He said, “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”
Jesus wants infants and children brought to Him. Through faith in Jesus, they too become a part of God’s kingdom. If one will not, like a little child, humbly trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin and eternal death, he will not enter God’s kingdom or be saved.
John 1:12-13 teaches that no one – not even an adult – can come to faith in Christ of his own will or decision. One must be born of God.
John 3:5-6 teaches that one must be born again of water and the Spirit (Holy Baptism) to enter the kingdom of God. Natural birth leaves one dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). Being born of the Holy Spirit through “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5), which is Holy Baptism, makes one alive to God. Children too need this spiritual rebirth to enter God’s kingdom.

C. False Argument: Baptism is only an outward profession of what has already taken place inwardly and is simply done in obedience to Matthew 28:19.
Acts 2:38-39 teaches that Baptism is for “the remission of sins,” and that the Holy Ghost is given in Christian Baptism.
Acts 22:16 teaches that one’s sins are washed away in Baptism. The Scriptures say, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Titus 3:5 teaches that regeneration (new spiritual life) and salvation are given in Baptism (Cf. 1 Peter 3:21).
Matthew 28:19 teaches that God works through Baptism, for it is done in His name. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost….”
Baptism is a means whereby God offers and gives the forgiveness of sins and eternal life which Christ won on the cross to people. Baptism is God’s work, not man’s.

D. False Argument: Jesus doesn’t want infants and small children brought to Him in Baptism.
Luke 18:15-17 teaches that Jesus wants infants and small children brought to Him and into His kingdom.
John 3:5 teaches that being born of water and the Spirit in Baptism is God’s means to bring a person into His kingdom.

E. False Argument: Scripture never says that infants and small children are to be baptized or that they were baptized.
Acts 2:38-39 commands “every one” to be baptized and says the promise is also to your children.
Matthew 28:19 says “all nations” are to be baptized.
Infants and Small Children are nowhere excluded from these commands.
Colossians 2:11-12 says that Baptism is the circumcision made without hands, and, according to Genesis 17:9-14, circumcision was performed at eight days old.
Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:16 tell of whole households (very likely including infants and young children) being baptized.

F. False Argument: Matthew 28:19-20 says to “teach” first and then “baptize.”
The Word translated “teach” in verse 19 literally means “to disciple,” and is different from the word “teach” in verse 20. The Greek indicates that we are to teach (or disciple) all nations by going out, baptizing and teaching. Baptizing is mentioned before the teaching and thorough indoctrination.

G. False Argument: Infant Baptism was not practiced in the days of the apostles, but was later introduced into the church.
This too is false. Tertullian (b. 150 A.D.) opposed infant Baptism but acknowledged its universal practice; Origen (b. 185 A.D.) says that infant Baptism was an “apostolic tradition”; and Augustine (b. 354 A.D.) wrote books against heretics who disapproved of the Baptism of children. History makes it clear that infant Baptism was practiced from the apostles onward (cf. Eph. 2:20).

The following is intended not as irrefutable evidence, nor as the first line of an apologetic in defense of infant Baptism. The Scriptures themselves, especially the Scriptural teaching regarding sin, grace and faith, as well as the command to baptize all nations and every one, form the clear basis for the practice of infant Baptism. However, these passages do present the clear practice of infant Baptism in the ancient church from the time of the apostles up through the fourth century.

Polycarp (about 69-155 A.D.), a disciple of the Apostle John, was baptized as an infant. This enabled him to say at his martyrdom. “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Christ” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:3). Justin Martyr (100-166) of the next generation states about the year 150, “Many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years” (Apology 1:15). Further, in his Dialog with Trypho the Jew, Justin Martyr states that Baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament.

Irenaeus (About 125-202 A.D. – student of Polycarp who was a student of the Apostle John): “For he came to save all by means of himself – all, I say, who by him are born again to God – infants, children, adolescents, young men, and old men” (Against Heresies II.22.4).

Hippolytus (about 170-236 A.D.): “And they shall baptize the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family. And next they shall baptize the grown men; and last the women” (Apostolic Tradition 21.3-5).

Origen (about 185–254 A.D.): “I take this occasion to discuss something which our brothers often inquire about. Infants are baptized for the remission of sins. Of what kinds? Or when did they sin? But since ‘No one is exempt from stain,’ one removes the stain by the mystery of Baptism. For this reason infants are baptized. For ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Homily on Luke 14:5).

[After quoting Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:4] “These verses may be adduced when it is asked why, since the Baptism of the church is given for the remission of sins, Baptism according to the practice of the church is given even to infants; since indeed if there is in infants nothing which ought to pertain to forgiveness and mercy, the grace of Baptism would be superfluous” (Homily on Leviticus 8:3).

[After quoting Leviticus 12:8 and Psalm 51:5] “For this also the church had a tradition from the apostles, to give Baptism even to infants. For they to whom the secrets of the divine mysteries were given knew that there is in all persons the natural stains of sin which must be washed away by the water and the Spirit. On account of these stains the body itself is called the body of sin” (Commentary on Romans 5:9).

Cyprian (died 258 A.D. in Carthage, North Africa): “In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man … Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision … we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins – that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another” (Letter 58 to Fidus).

Augustine (354-430 A.D.): “For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from Baptism, so there is none who in Baptism does not die to sin” (Enchiridion; ch. 43).

H. False Argument: The rejection of infant Baptism is not a serious matter.
While one cannot be saved – even if baptized – apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16), to reject infant Baptism is serious. Luke 7:30 tells us that the Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s counsel when they rejected John’s Baptism.
John 3:5 teaches that one who rejects Baptism cannot enter God’s kingdom.
Matthew 18:6 says: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
It is no small matter if one brings about the eternal ruin of a child by preventing him from being baptized. Only in Christ is there forgiveness! (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).

II. Why, according to God’s Word, Infants and Small Children should be Baptized

A. They are sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation (Romans 3:23; Psalm 51:5).

B. Scripture commands that they too be baptized (Acts 2:38-39; Matthew 28:19; Luke 18:15-17).

C. Fathers are commanded to bring up their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and this includes bringing them to Christ in Baptism.

D. In Holy Baptism, the Holy Ghost works to create saving faith in Jesus Christ and to regenerate (Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5; John 3:5-6). Baptism is the means which God has appointed to do this saving work in infants and small children.

E. In Holy Baptism, they are offered and given forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus’ innocent sufferings and death on the cross (Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; Colossians 2:11-14).

F. In Holy Baptism, they are given new life and are empowered to live for Jesus Christ, their Savior (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12-14; 3:1).

G. In Holy Baptism, eternal salvation is given to all who believe (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5; Galatians 3:26-29).

This then is why we baptize infants and small children as is commanded in Acts 2:38-39 and Matthew 28:18-20. This is also why our Baptism is valid and we are blessed through it today – even if we were baptized many years ago as infants or small children. For Christ’s sake – because of His innocent sufferings and death for the sins of all people – God, in our Baptism, has given us forgiveness for all our sins, His Holy Spirit, and eternal salvation. God grant that we treasure our Baptism and what God has worked in us through it. Amen.