Reflections on Baptism Part 3

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‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’  (Acts 2:38, 39)


As the old self decreases, the new life of Christ in us increases. Again we have the pattern of death leading to life, the death of the old self and the emergence of the new; this is the essential reality of baptism, this is the pattern that is worked out day by day in our lives as believers, baptized into Christ. It is baptism that saves us because it is baptism that places us in Christ who is our salvation.

It is interesting to note just how often, in Scripture, we come across expressions such as ‘in Jesus’, ‘in Christ’, ‘in Christ Jesus’. Baptism unites us to him, places us ‘in’ him. All we need to do is remain united to him and he shall remain ‘in’ us and the Holy Spirit will empower us to reap the fruit of that union.

So in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive a new life, a new start we actually share in the divine life of God (1 Peter 1:4).

Wherever he is, there are we, whatever he has, we have and we shall be gradually transformed into his very likeness as we progress from glory to glory:
all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The only limit is our willingness to surrender to the Holy Spirit to effect this transformation. Hence the final destination and final stage in this journey comes only after death when we are free from our mortal limitations. However, this is the journey we are on from the moment of our baptism and as we begin this journey and travel along the way we grow from one degree of glory to another. This is the Kingdom of God to which we have access here and now having been born of water and the Spirit.

Living this reality and growing in it to maturity is learned as we journey on. This is called discipleship, following Christ, in other words, being a Christian, living out our baptism, living, enjoying and perfecting what has already been given to us in baptism.

The whole pattern of life from baptism till death is a journey from death to life, concluding in the victory over physical death itself:
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Christ has overcome death through the resurrection and so do we but only ‘in him’. And if we live our life in him we also can overcome despair, hatred, unforgiveness, hopelessness, unhappiness, fear and any other form of negativity which is the consequence of being separated from him. In him we shall also eventually overcome death itself in the final stage of transfiguration begun from the time of our baptism, from the time of our union with Christ, the overcomer.

Given all of this it is surprising to say the least that certain Christian communities should exclude infants from this new life in Christ, obtained through baptism. Nowhere in Scripture are children excluded from coming to Christ. On the contrary Jesus said:
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Luke 18:15, 16)
The reformers Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, Martin Bucer and John Calvin were all very careful not to deny infant baptism. Fortunately only a very small minority deny infant baptism today. The vast majority have remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles and continuous practice of the people of God from the Old Covenant (Genesis 17:10-14) and New Covenant times up to the present day. This is especially so in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which date back to the time of Christ and therefore have what is known as 'Apostolic succession', a continuous, uninterrupted history from the time of Christ to this day.

Union with Jesus and relating to him transcends all limitations of our human condition - time, space, age race or any other. Just see how the child, John the Baptist, leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary came to visit her with Jesus (Luke 1:41). When ‘deep calls out to deep’ (Psalm 42:7), there are no limitations. This is possible because everything is a gift and everything begins with God, not with the person. It is Jesus who draws, it is the Holy Spirit who enables and it is the person who responds according to his own limits of growth. A spiritual relationship is not dependent on the intellect. If anyone should doubt whether a young child is capable of faith let him serious consider what, in fact, that word means for him. Let him take a close look at how a child interacts with his mother and father when it is in an unfamiliar situation. The child will cling to them, he will hold their hand and he will let himself be guided. This is faith. Faith, belief, trust, loving dependence go well beyond the intellect. To reduce it to an intellectual assent is to misunderstand the very meaning of the word. A child, from the very moment of conception is dependent and trusting and grows in relation to his parents. This is true also in a child’s relation to God who knows the child even before his conception and has a plan for him. God finds no obstacle in the infant to his drawing power, no obstacle to spiritual experience, no obstacle to the relationship God has already established with the infant by his own unique and sovereign initiative.

Baptism replaces the sign of the Old Covenant, circumcision. Belonging to the people of God was by circumcision which was done by the eighth day of birth. Belonging to the people of God today, is by baptism.

Baptism was also foreshadowed by the crossing of the Red Sea, which marked the transition or passage from slavery to freedom and the beginning of the journey towards the Promised Land. The same in baptism which, by incorporating us into Christ, marks freedom from the power of sin and from the kingdom of the evil one to the Kingdom of God and the beginning of our journey to the Promised Land. The Israelites came out of the land of Egypt with their families, adults and children alike towards salvation, without distinction of age. Everything, in both the Old and the New Covenants supports the practice of the baptism of infants. This is why in the Acts of the Apostles Peter, the leader of the Church of Christ, could say:
‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’  (Acts 2:38, 39)
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