The other day, a person from the neighborhood was in my office to use the phone. After making his call, he stayed to visit for a while.
“I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life,” he said. “I think I’m going to go to hell.”
“Are you baptized?” I asked.
“Well, yes…” he replied.
“Then you’re saved,” I said. “You’re going to heaven.”
“But, don’t you have to do something good?” he asked.
“No,” I answered, “it’s the other way around. You do something good because you’re saved.”
I was talking with a friend of another faith, and mentioned that the previous Sunday, we had baptized a baby.
“Why?” he asked. “What has a little baby done that the baby would need to be baptized?”
Somebody was talking with an atheist and trying to convince her to have her baby baptized. “It says in the Bible that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t will be condemned,” she said.
“Why would God condemn an innocent baby?” asked the atheist. That’s one of the reasons I don’t believe in God.”
Let’s take the last one first The passage being cited to the atheist was Mark 16:16, and it reads, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Notice that the passage does not say anything at all about what will happen to someone who is not baptized. The Bible is silent about this.
This means that we do not know what happens to someone who is not baptized. Let’s see if we can figure it out by falling back on what we know to be the nature of God.
In Exodus 34:5-7a, the Lord Himself proclaims to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
This does not sound to me like a God who would condemn good people who just happen to not be baptized.
So, why do we Lutherans baptize, and what does it mean to us?
Baptism is one of the two Lutheran sacraments, the other being Eucharist or Holy Communion. A sacrament is an act instituted by Christ that has an earthly element (water for baptism) and an element of grace. We baptize because our Lord commanded us to do so in the Great Commission in Matthew 18:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
To Lutherans, baptism is an event where God is active. God makes the person His own as we administer the water and say the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is an adoption ceremony, and once it is done, nothing can undo it. That person is God’s forever. We even say it: “_____, child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.”
We typically baptize babies not because they have done something bad, but to show that the baptism is God’s doing, and not the result of a choice made by the person being baptized. But we baptize those of any age as well, because not everyone gets baptized as a baby.
So, if someone asks me if I am born again, I answer, “Well, yes. When I was baptized on May 13, 1945.”
And, why do I do good things, or at least try to? It is because I do not have to spend my time working through my own salvation, so I am free to do good works in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ.
Note: This blog also appeared in “The Scribe,” the newsletter of Elim Lutheran Church, Volume 64, Issue 2, February 2014, p.9.
For further reading:
“A welcome at the end of the day” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/09/~/~/link.aspx?_id=6DB57E4660BF4C768FDB90E4128D5CB3&_z=z
“Does Christening =baptism?” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/12/131209
“Am I baptized?” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/09/130902
“The challenge (and promise) of baptism” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/09/~/~/link.aspx?_id=ED9CE4B7FBB34F8CA47547B58EA19C48&_z=z
“Faith practices have changed!” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Seeds/2013/12/131226-Faith-practices-have-changed