One of the biggest pitfalls in understanding Holy Baptism is to view it as a one-time event, as a kind of fire insurance policy. There have actually been requests made of Pastors in these words, “Will you do my kid?”
It is healthier to view Baptism in terms of a journey, one that starts with the rite itself and ends with our physical death and burial. At death we can say that the person has completed their baptismal journey.
Luther poses the question in his Small Catechism, “What does Baptism mean for daily living?” He then answers, “It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.”
And for Scriptural confirmation of this understanding Luther points to Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Baptism has been called the Rite of Initiation. One of the reasons for preferring that the rite take place during the worship gathering is so others in the Body of Christ can be on hand to welcome the new member. And as this reception takes place the assembled congregation pledges its support in the ongoing nurture of the new life in Christ!
It isn’t the case that God does his thing in Baptism then the rest is up to us. No, our salvation from beginning to end is his divine work. And as Paul says in Philippians, “he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.” It isn’t our work, but it is a process, indeed a journey. And the journey involves ongoing repentance. That is, confessing our sins and asking and believing in our Lord’s promise to forgive. I like the expression, “walking wet!” And we are to walk wet the rest of our lives!
Since You Asked…
What is the Christian’s Hope?
In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.