This series offers an overview of the chief teachings of the Christian church.
You can carefully read every word of Scripture from “In the beginning” (Genesis 1) to “Amen” (Revelation 22) and never read the word sacrament. Found nowhere in the Bible, sacrament is a term used to identify sacred acts commanded by God through which He brings the Means of Grace to us, namely, the Gospel.
There are several criteria that determine a sacrament by our definition, and Baptism fulfills each one.
A Sacrament is a sacred act
Instituted by Christ: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . .” (Matthew 28:19)
Connected with God’s Word: “. . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
That has earthly element(s): water
That offers, gives, and seals to us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.” (Acts 22:16) “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)
Baptism is literally “a washing.” Neither the word itself nor any command from God’s Word prescribes how the water of washing is to be applied. Whether pouring, sprinkling, or even immersing, the application of water upon a sinner used together with God’s Word makes Baptism a spiritual washing — “a gracious water of life and washing of rebirth through the Holy Spirit.” (Baptism, Part Three, Luther’s Small Catechism ).
Scripture teaches us that everyone is conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5); therefore, everyone from the very beginning of life is in need of Baptism’s blessings. Jesus’ commission to “make disciples . . . baptizing them” comes with no age restriction.
If a young child is baptized, the Gospel is the power of God in Baptism to create faith in that young heart. If someone older was brought to faith first through the Word and then baptized, the blessing of Baptism is a strengthening of the already-existing faith, thereby granting greater confidence and assurance.
An important question to consider concerning Baptism is, “In which direction does the purpose of Baptism flow?” Is it earth-to-heaven, namely something we do for God? Or is it heaven-to-earth, something which God graciously gives to sinners who desperately need what it offers?
As seen above, Scripture reveals that Baptism is a tremendous gift from God for our souls. However, consider if someone was taught that Baptism is an earth-to-heaven act. Then instead of a sacrament through which God graciously gives blessings, it becomes a church rite that Christians are to observe. If Baptism is something we do for God, then it follows that infants are too young. It follows logically that Baptism would be delayed until the individual understands and personally confesses faith in Jesus. Such theology ignores clear words of Scripture, robs God of glory which is His through the gift of Baptism, can easily lead to indifference concerning Baptism, and keeps many from receiving the blessings of Baptism.
Baptism is not repeated throughout a Christian’s life; however, its blessings remain and continue. Each and every morning, we can wake up and declare to ourselves, mentally or out loud: “I am a baptized child of God!” This declaration is a reminder that informs our day—how we will approach its challenges and needs and obligations, how we will speak, how we will prioritize, and what we will do. It is also a declaration that enables us to go out into the world confidently knowing that we are in Christ, He is in us, and we are secure as children of God.