Beautifully, it all began with water, water and the Holy Spirit: “Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…” (Gen. 1:2). As with the cosmos, so with mankind: every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve is formed in the womb, a “water sac.” Birth begins when a mother’s “water breaks.” I might have just lost you there, but hang with me.
It all begins with water and the Holy Spirit. We wash our face before a new day. We wash our hands before supper. We dip a finger into the holy-water font and cross ourselves in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. The priest washes his hands in the lavabo bowl before consecrating the Eucharist, praying Psalm 26:6, “I will wash my hands in innocence…”
God made water as a sign of new beginnings. Noah and his family passed through the great flood into a new life and a fresh Covenant. Moses led Israel out of bondage through the waters of the Red Sea into freedom and the Sinai Covenant. God made water burst forth from the Rock. Joshua led Israel from the deserts of disobedience through the Jordan into a land flowing with Milk and Honey. These were the same waters into which Jesus waded to be baptized as the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove.
As babies are born through “water,” Jesus proclaims a Kingdom where we can be “born of water and the Holy Spirit” (John 3:5). So it is that in Christian tradition water is a sign of the Holy Spirit. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). God speaks “like the sound of many waters” (Rev. 1:15). The Holy Spirit’s power is the “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1).
Jesus says to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water….whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10-14).
Jesus reminds us that water is life-giving, a sign of spiritual re-birth, washing, and refreshment.
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In order to be re-born into the Kingdom of God Jesus says we must be “born of water and the Holy Spirit.”
How can someone be “born again”? It sounds crazy. But think about it. Life begins at conception, but cannot proceed without birth. So also, new life—God life!—begins when the Holy Spirit is conceived in us, but cannot proceed without Baptism.
Water and Spirit and new life. Christ’s new life begins at Baptism.
Jesus says that if you are not baptized, you are not in the Kingdom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Christ demands that his disciples baptize: “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” (Matt. 28:19). When new converts ask what they should do, Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you” (Acts 2:38).
Beautifully, richly, the Church teaches that there is only one Baptism, and that this Baptism is for the remission of sins. The Creed says: “We acknowledge on baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
Because children (natural or adopted) must share the same nature as their parents. A dog cannot be someone’s child, because a dog does not have a human nature. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). In other words, no one can become “a partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) until they are “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3). They must share Christ’s nature. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
In order to have Christ’s nature we must be “born again,” and Jesus is very clear that we are born again in Baptism. We are baptized into Jesus so that in him we may live and move and have our being.
To be a “Christ-ian” is to have Christ’s nature. In order to have Christ’s nature, you must be re-born of water and Spirit.
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Re-birth in Baptism is not something we do; it’s something God does.
Baptism is not when we get to “vote for God;” it’s when God votes for us, baptizing us into the death and new life of the Son (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). To be baptized is not to give God a gift, but to receive a gift from God. To be born of water and Spirit is not our “Yes” to God; it is God’s “Yes” to us, “in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Baptism is not conversion. We may be converted to Christ before or after our Baptism, and we must convert daily. A deeper conversion every day: that is Christian conversion. Conversion does not stop.
What circumcision was to the Old Covenant, Baptism is to the New Covenant. Paul is super clear about this: “you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism” (Col. 2:11-12).
In the Old Testament, not only adults but also babies were circumcised. This means babies were participants in the Old Covenant. What we see, then, is a profoundly biblical fact: the circumcision of infants prefigured the Baptism of those re-born into Christ. The old sign marked the baby’s “birth” as a son of Abraham. The new sign marks the “birth” of a child of God.
Why would we deny our children the supernatural gift of regeneration? Are they to be excluded from God’s New Covenant? Is God’s Kingdom childless? Are infants to be denied living “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1)? Not at all. Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).
Baptism is not waving a flag or putting on your favorite T-shirt. Baptism is not a demonstration of human will or a hymn to intellectual ascent. Baptism is of water and Spirit. It is entrance into the family of God—a new life, a new creation, a New Covenant. We are not brains operating machines. We are born sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, and we must be re-born—all of us, men and women—as sons of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, our Captain and Head, our Savior and New Humanity.
Baptism is a Christian’s birthday.
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Irenaeus (a disciple of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John) says: “Christ came to save all through himself: all born anew through him—infants, little ones, boy and youths, and aged persons.”
Origen (who lived only a few years later) says: “The Church received the tradition from the Apostles, to give baptism to infants.” And Cyprian—and, in fact, all the Fathers—agree. Even St. Augustine agrees. Even the Reformers agree (Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, etc.).
“But what if they do not live out their Baptism?” someone might ask.
Sadly, many people who are baptized into the Covenant are not faithful to the Covenant. It is true. Jesus foresaw that there would be tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30). But this does not give us license to deny children Christ. To do so on grounds of “What if…” would be to play God.
Read it in MONKROCK.