Saturday, January 15, 2011

We are Baptized into Christ

When Lutherans have a spiritual discussion, many times the subject of baptism arises. It is not surprising. For Lutherans, our life in Christ begins in and with baptism. It is at that time that we commit our lives to God. It is at the time of our baptism that we recognize, just as Paul said, “It is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives within us.” It is at the time of our baptism that we are made members of the body of Christ. It is at the time of our baptism that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. It is at the time of baptism that we are buried with Jesus into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

However, baptism is not just an event. It is not something that is done, or needs to be done, more than once. As Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” One might say that before we are baptized, we are human beings on a spiritual journey. After we are baptized, we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Our lives now can become channels of God’s grace, mercy, and love. In our baptismal process, we commit ourselves to the following five actions: 1) to live among God’s faithful people, 2) to hear God’s word and share in God’s supper, 3) to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, 4) to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5) and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Our baptismal life becomes a challenging life, a selfless life, a life of commitment, a life of change, and a life of service.

Lutherans also believe that there is no specific time for the baptism of an individual. A person might be baptized soon after birth, as a young child, when a person reaches the age of reason, or as a mature adult. Baptism is an act of God, not an act of humans. Yes, humans perform the rite with water and, sometimes, oil, which is used to symbolize being sealed by the Holy Spirit. Baptism occurs on God’s time, not on our time.

Infant baptism is encouraged by Lutherans for two basic reasons. First, we are justified by faith through grace. It is God’s grace, and God’s grace is totally in God’s power. There is nothing we need to do nor is there anything we need to be as recipients of God’s grace. Furthermore, in the scripture, whole households were baptized, such as cited in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16, verse 33, when Paul remained in prison after an earthquake, and he baptized the jailer’s whole family. The author says, “At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Entire families would include small children and babies.

There is a question that is asked quite often. “If a person is not baptized, will that person go to hell?” First of all, it is not baptism that saves. It is God’s grace, mercy, and love that save, through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and was raised from death. Remember the thief on the cross, as reported in the Gospel of Luke? Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Certainly the thief on the cross was not baptized. In scripture there is no citation that indicates a person will not be saved if the person is not baptized. However, Jesus does say that we are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the answer to the question is one of the mysteries of our life in Christ.

We are to live a baptismal life as children who have been adopted by God and who are inheritors of God’s kingdom.

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