We made clear last week that water baptism doesn’t save anyone - child or adult. Baptism with water is a God-ordained sign and seal that marks people out in the name of the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and specifically marks them out to be followers of Jesus Christ - in whom, alone, there is forgiveness of sins. Baptism is a mark, not magic!
The next part of your very full question is something we all ask: “If water baptism doesn’t save a child, then what purpose does it serve?”
It’s important to keep in mind that baptism is a sign of God’s covenant with believers and their children, cf. Gen. 17:1-7. It’s a sign of His promise to be - in the fullest sense of the word - God to us and to our families.
But God’s covenants with us always have two parts:
1. God’s promises of grace to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2. Our promises to live out of that covenant by doing what God has told us to do.
You see this in Genesis 17:9ff. After God made his promise to Abraham and his offspring, God calls Abraham to “keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you.” God makes promises and warnings on His side. We promise to live out of those promises and warnings. And God brings the blessings of His covenant grace to us in that way.
So what does that mean for parents who have baptized their children - and for their children?
1. Identification: Baptized children (we often call them “covenant children”) are part of the Kingdom of God, cf. Matt. 19:44, Mk. 10:14, Lk. 18:16f. God’s word identifies children of believers as part of the church, e.g. Eph. 1:1. 6:1-3; Col. 1:1:2, 3:20. We don’t raise our children as pagans, we raise them as Christians and make their lives fully a part of the church. In short, we teach our children to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” And we show that love to our children as part of their covenant heritage.
2. Transformation: God gives means of grace, especially the preaching and teaching of the Word of God to show us Jesus Christ, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and fellowship. We make these a part of our lives and the lives of our children (who begin to partake of the Lord’s Supper after they have publicly professed their faith in Christ.) We don’t presume upon God’s grace; we assume our responsibilities for discipline and nurture in the home; and the church does the same in its corporate life.
3. Expectation. God gives promises to us an to our children - especially the promise of the Holy Spirit who makes us new creatures in Christ, cf. Is. 44:3-5, Acts 2:38,39. We don’t know when or how the Lord does and will do that work in our children, but we always pray to that end and believe God’s promises “to us and to our children.”
But what about covenant children who turn away from the Lord? We’ll consider that painful question next week.