Baptism matters to Christians because it mattered to Jesus and his early followers. Among the few specific instructions Jesus left his followers is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Along with the command to baptize Jesus also gave a life-changing promise: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
When we are doused with God’s welcome water in baptism, God immediately begins keeping that promise, and we are never the same. Forevermore the God we meet in Jesus will share every adventure, every disaster, and every joy that comes our way. Never will we be abandoned or forsaken.
Christians all over the world practice baptism as a sign of the new life that God gives us in Jesus and as a symbol of unity between all who bear the name Christian. Regardless of age, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation,ethnicity, or religious background, the church welcomes all people to be washed in God’s water of life.
Baptism for Lutherans, is a sacrament. Sacraments have sometimes been described as God’s “visible words,” physical and tangible expressions of the mysterious presence of God’s unconditional love in our common, ordinary lives. Just as the Christian faith believes that Jesus is God-made-flesh, we also understand sacraments to be God’s Word-made-touchable.
Lutheran Christians have described sacraments as being the unity of God’s “word, sign, and promise.” That is why two sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion – have long been recognized both as those things that:
Promise one: Forgiveness of Sins – Most adults will readily acknowledge, at least in private, that they have sinned. But a baby? What possible offense can a newborn have committed? Common sense tells us that a baby hasn’t done anything – yet! The claim that people are sinners from birth is impossible to understand or accept if sin is understood simply as something a person does. Christians see sin as something far more insidious: a fatal flaw in our being, not just in our doing. To be “in sin” means to be separated from God and, as a result, to behave badly toward those with whom we share the planet. In baptism we are not suddenly changed into saintly do-gooders, but rather we are marked by God as a person being drawn toward God-likeness. We become children of God growing toward spiritual strength and maturity.
Promise two: Deliverance from Death – Baptism does not deliver us from death, but through it. Death becomes the next-to-last stop on our life’s journey, not the end of the line. We need not fear death because in baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked with the cross of Christ, and wrapped in the arms of God forever. We are ushered through and beyond death.
Promise three: Everlasting Salvation – Life, more life than we ever thought possible, is the purpose of baptism. Through Jesus Christ God has succeeded in overcoming the terrible trio of sin, death, and the devil, the obstacles that prevent people from living in intimate, joyous relationship with God and all God’s children. Christ has triumphed! Life is yours for the living!