Usually discussion about infant baptism revolves around whether the Bible teaches it or not. In this essay I want to move beyond this question to some of the ways infant baptism functions in the Christian life. What does it teach us? How can it be an encouragement to our faith? This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but a place to start the conversation.
God Loves Us Before We Love Him. After watching an infant baptism, a dear Baptist sister said to me, “That was meaningless. That baby did not know what was going on.” But that is the whole point of infant baptism. When the baby was not making any moves toward God, God was moving toward him or her. The Scriptures teach that in our relationship with God, God makes the first move. “We love because he first loves us.” (1 John 4:19) “This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us.” (1 John 4:10) Infant baptism images this divine first move. Before the baby knows God, before the baby cries out to God, God is reaching out to the baby. God is giving the baby his covenant promises of salvation. He is pursuing that child before the child makes any moves towards him. Infant baptism shows that our salvation is rooted first and foremost in the grace of God.
God Saves Us in Our Helplessness. Human Infants by their very nature are helpless. They are absolutely dependent on others to feed, shelter and care for them. Without the actions of others, they would perish. In the same way, the Scriptures teach we are absolutely helpless to save ourselves spiritually. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We were slaves to our sinful nature. God had to intervene and rescue us when we could not help ourselves. Infant baptism displays this saving work of God. When the baby (representing us in our sinful state) is absolutely helpless, God moves to the rescue. He is mighty to save in our deepest need. As we watch infant baptism, we are reminded our salvation is dependent on God’s grace, not our efforts. As we struggle with our sin in this life, we are given the greatest hope.
God’s Saving Grace Extends to Infants and Children. David confessed that he was conceived in sin. (Psalm 51) Sin is a part of our humanity from the womb. This explains how children can come under God’s judgement in Old Testament holy war. If children were not sinful and guilty of sin, then God’s judgment on them would be unjust. There is nothing in Scripture about children being innocent until they reach “the age of accountability.” Children do not automatically go to heaven because they are innocent. They need a saviour from the moment of conception. This is one reason Jesus came as a child in the womb of Mary. His saving grace was to cover humans in all stages of human development. Jesus testified to this when He took infants in his arms and blessed them. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, even to infants and children. For those that perish in infancy or childhood, we are given hope of their salvation in God’s mercy that has been extended to children in Christ. Infant baptism is God’s public proclaimation that his saving grace includes children.
The Family As A Means of Grace, Not Judgment. God created human sexuality and told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Human procreation was to be a blessing for humanity. But when Adam and Eve sinned, procreation became the means of spreading God’s curse and judgment as their guilt and sinful nature were communicated to their descendants. God’s plan of salvation involved the redeeming of individuals, of course, but he also wanted to reclaim other aspects of his broken creation. He was determined to redeem the family and procreation which he had once declared to be good. This is seen when God promised to send a savior into the world through a human family, the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. The growth and spread of the nation of Israel through procreation provided the platform through which God would give us the savior of the world. The family would not just spread the curse. By God’s grace it would bring forth the savior.
This is further seen in that God’s saving promises were given not just to Abraham but his descendants, and the outward sign of that salvation, circumcision, was given not just to Abraham but to his children. This was to remind parents that though their children were conceived in sin, God would use the family as a means of his saving grace. If this were not true, why should we bring children into the world at all? Why should we be the instruments of creating another human being for destruction? But infant baptism assures us that the family is part of God’s plan of salvation. It redeems the family and procreation from being mere slaves of wickedness and transforms them into means of grace. This blessing is not automatic. The children must respond to God’s gospel promises by exercising their own personal faith in Christ. But children of believers have the advantage of growing up in the context of the gospel with the two most influential people in their lives (their parents) dedicated to their salvation from the very beginning. Infant baptism installs the parents into this role of evangelist, testifying that through their gospel parenting, the family has become a means of grace.