What Benefits Does Baptism Give?
You hear about benefits all the time: the benefits of moderate amounts of exercise; the benefits of sitting down with a financial planner; the benefits of a particular job. So what are the benefits of Baptism?
The benefits of Baptism are what it works. Did you catch that? Our Catechism asks the question, "What benefits does Baptism give?" You'd expect the answer to begin, "It gives forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil etc...," but it doesn't. Our catechism says, "It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil" I think we have too passive a view of the benefits of Baptism. Sure it gives eternal salvation as we say later, but its first benefit is that it works something.
The benefits Baptism gives is that it works forgiveness, and rescues from death and the devil. You know how in horror movies holy water burns vampires, witches, and demons? That's a good picture of what Baptism works. So is the picture in the latest Good News magazine of a baby being baptized and the lion-devil jumping out of him. Luther had this active, powerful view of what Baptism works. His Baptismal Order of 1523 begins with the pastor blowing 3 times under the child's eyes saying, "Depart thou unclean spirit and give room to the Holy Spirit." Later the pastor touches his finger to the right ear, left ear, and nose saying, "Be thou openedBut thou, devil, flee, for God's judgment cometh speedily."
Have an active picture of what your Baptism works. See the water of Baptism touching you and washing away your sin as so much dirt. See it as a flood of waters carrying you away from certain death. See Baptism as a foot planted firmly on Satan's head crushing the life out of him.
Whoa! Hold on there. Isn't Jesus the One who did all these things? Yes, as the painting in the latest Good News magazine so wonderfully shows, it is Jesus who stepped on the serpent's head. It's Jesus who gave His body and shed His blood to forgive your sins. It's Jesus who not only tasted death for all men but swallowed death whole. Then how can we say the benefits of Baptism is that it works forgiveness, and rescues from death and the devil?
Let me ask you? Where does the electricity that powers your home come from? Do you generate it in your backyard? No, it's generated in a power plant. That's the source of the power that lights your bulbs and cools your house. But the power generated at the power plant would do you no good without the power lines leading from the plant to your home. For power to do you any good it has to be distributed. The outlet your TV is plugged into is a point of distribution. Without that outlet, you'd have no power right there even though there would be plenty at the power plant. The holy life of Jesus and His innocent suffering and death generated your forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and the devil. One of the ways what Jesus did gets to you is Baptism. Just as an outlet has power in it, though it doesn't generate it, so Baptism has forgiveness and rescue from death and the devil though it doesn't create or generate either.
What Jesus did in life and death is given to you in your Baptism, but these benefits can only be received by faith. That's what we say, "Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this." And as a proof passage we site Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."
How come only faith receive the benefits Baptism works? Because what Baptism works is the promise of forgiveness, the promise of rescue from death, and the devil. Here's how St. Augustine said it, "Sin is forgiven in Baptism, not that it no longer is, but it is not imputed" (AP, II, 36). Here's how Martin Luther saw it: Baptism drowns the sinful old adam, but the bugger can swim. Here's how St. Peter expresses it, "The devil like a roaring lions prowls around for someone to devour."
The forgiveness Jesus won on the cross is given to us in Baptism, yet we see and feel everyday that we are sinners. In Baptism, my sinful old adam was buried with Christ, yet I still see him in the mirror. Jesus, the Seed of the Woman, bruised the head of the devil and Baptism rescues you from him, yet still you see him slithering through your life. We don't actually see sins washed away, anyone being pulled from the jaws of death, or the devil leaping away at a Baptism. But God promises this is what happens. Faith receives what God first promises.
Emphasize that. Faith receives what God promises. Faith doesn't cause, create, or make the promise true, yet you think it does because all America does. America believes Dorothy could've gotten back to Kansas at anytime if she just believed she could. America believes belief in yourself causes you to do great things. America believes what the faith healer promises, "If you believe hard enough, you will be healed." Why? Because this makes faith something you do, a work, a power. What our sinful nature detests above all else is that we can't do anything to save ourselves or help save ourselves. Our sinful nature always wants to know: "What must I do to be saved?" It loves answers like, come to church this many times; give this amount of money; believe this with all your heart.
Sorry, faith doesn't cause God's salvation, God's forgiveness, or God's rescue from death and the devil. Faith receives them. In the same way a radio antenna doesn't cause radio waves but only receives them, so faith doesn't cause salvation but receives it. But a radio antenna can only receive radio waves where they exist. The tallest, widest antenna in the world can't receive a radio wave that isn't there. So, faith only receives salvation where God promises it is. He promises the salvation of Christ is in Baptism. Faith doesn't cause the salvation to be there; faith receives it there.
You know what the problem is? Most of you think the proof text we cite in our Catechism says the direct opposite of what I just said. I just said your Baptism without faith doesn't benefit you at all. Yet most of you believe the proof text says that faith without Baptism does it all. Faith is everything; Baptism is nothing. As proof you go to Mark 16:16 saying, "It doesn't say, Whoever is not baptized will be condemned,' but Whoever does not believe will be condemned.' Therefore, believing is everything and Baptism nothing. This is why you won't say you know you have salvation because you've been baptized but only because you believe. You think this passage makes faith everything when it reality it makes Baptism everything and faith the means of receiving all that is in Baptism. Follow me.
Faith has to have something to hang on to outside it self. Faith in faith is like trying to pick yourself up by your own shirt collar. Saying, "I know I'm saved because I believe," is the same as saying, "I believe I'm saved because I believe." Faith has to have an object. The object of faith is what Christ did and promises. What Christ did and promises - forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil - is attached to Baptism. Jesus says Baptism gives the new birth. Paul says it's a washing of regeneration. Peter says it saves you.
You can say, "I know I'm saved because I've been baptized." You can even say, "I believe I'm saved because I've been baptized." But what about, "Whoever does not believe will be condemned?" How come it doesn't say, "Whoever doesn't believe and isn't baptized will be condemned? Now you're on the right track. When Jesus leaves Baptism out of the second statement, He is emphasizing the benefits of Baptism. Nothing needs to be added to Baptism to get forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil and eternal salvation.
For example, at this time of year with the world's emphasis on doing for others, you can feel you don't do enough so you can't really be that good of a Christian. Your Baptism says you are. Nothing needs to be added to that to improve your Christianity. At this time of year, you don't act as happy as those silly people in Christmas ads and specials so you wonder if maybe you don't really have the Christ of Christmas. Your Baptism says you do. You have all of Him. "By Baptism," says Paul in Galatians 3," You put on Christ." You have all of Christ, all His Person and All His work in Baptism. Nothing needs to be added to that. What about faith? Doesn't it say, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved?"
Gotcha. At last I've exposed the root of your problem. Your problem is not with Baptism but faith. You think of faith as something you do. It's a work to you. That's how come you think of faith as something that needs to be added to Baptism. Faith is really no different to you than doing the good work of giving to the homeless or being peaceful and joyful. But faith isn't something you do. Faith is a gift of God; i.e. something God must give to you. Faith is created by hearing the Word of God Romans 10 says. Faith is created by the Water of God that regenerates you from dead unbelief to living faith.
With the waters of Baptism God gives and generates the faith of Baptism. If God does the generating of faith, if God gives the gift of faith, then no one has an excuse for not believing. Whoever believes and is baptized has all that God gives because all of what God gives: His forgiveness, His rescuing from death and the devil and His eternal salvation are in Baptism and all these benefits are received by faith.
The person who doesn't believe doesn't receive anything. Why? Because nothing is there? No, because he lacks the way to receive it. A radio without an antenna can't receive radio waves no matter how many stations are in the area. You can have power outlets all over your house, but if you don't plug into them the power plant doesn't do you any good. It doesn't mean there's no power being generated there or no power in your outlet, you're just not using it. Likewise, unbelief doesn't mean Jesus didn't forgive sins, crush death and the devil, and give eternal salvation. Unbelief doesn't mean Baptism doesn't work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil or give eternal salvation. Unbelief can't and won't use them. There is condemnation in such unbelief. The benefits are in believing what Baptism works. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Advent III (20061213); Baptism III