Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I don’t remember my baptism. I’m told that it happened at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Gore on the South Island of New Zealand sometime a few decades ago, but I don’t remember a moment of it. So what good does it do me?
The very fact that children don’t remember their own baptisms is one reason why some Christian people object to baptising infants at all. What good does it do to go through this ritual if you have no possibility of looking back on it?
But many events I don’t remember have changed the world in which I live. I have no memory at all of the Berlin Wall coming down or ‘the recession we had to have’, and yet they profoundly influenced the world in which I grew up.
As for my baptism, it has influenced me in ways I cannot imagine. The act of being baptized doesn’t change anyone (1 Peter 3:21) but God’s promises always have their effect.
And more crucially, the very fact that God commands that infants be baptized shows that it isn’t about what you or I can do or remember anyway (Genesis 17:7-9; Galatians 3:9, 14; Colossians 2:11-12; Acts 2:38-39; Romans 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:14; Matthew 28:19; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15). Before God saves us, we are all dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-7). And despite that (in fact, because of that) He makes a promise to us that if we repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved (Acts 2:38-39).
That’s why we should take the opportunity to remember our baptism whenever we can. Paul repeatedly reminded believers of their baptism (Romans 6:1-6; 1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 12:13, 25; Galatians 3:26-27). He tells us about the righteousness we receive from Jesus Christ by being counted a part of Him; that we should no longer live as we once did, because we have been baptized; that our allegiance must be to Jesus Christ, not to any other significant Christian in our lives or in history; that we are called to live as a single body, having been made part of it by Jesus; and that we are empowered to live as God’s children, growing up into the likeness of Christ. Baptism illustrates many of the intensely practical parts of the Christian life.
Witnessing a baptism should make us think of so much more than how cute the baby is. It should remind us of our own baptism, what it means and the reason God has given it to us The fact that you or I were baptized once is something to remember when we are tempted: God has promised to save sinners like us and to make us His children, so we need not give in to sin because Jesus has conquered it in His death and He gives us His new life because of His resurrection. Baptism pictures for us the reason we need to be saved and the effect of the salvation God gives. Seeing someone baptized should spur us on to live the life Christ has promised to us and to encourage one another to live lives of holiness and righteousness because we belong to Christ and to one another (Westminster Larger Catechism Q167).
Baptism isn’t about experiencing a life-changing ritual. It isn’t even about the promises which we make (whether as new believers or as the parents of covenant children). It’s about the promise God holds out, that if we repent and believe, He will wash away our sins, and that just as Christ has gone down to the dead and been raised again, so those who are united to Him share in His death to sin and His resurrection to new life. And if we know the reality that God promises to those who believe, then it changes how we live (whether we remember receiving the promise or not). That’s something we should want to be reminded about!
Yours in Christ’s service,
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that I was baptized at Knox Presbyterian Church in Gore. Obviously my recollections are pretty fuzzy!