Chapter 30: Baptism
Few of the readers of this book are not baptized, but there are not very many who know what it means to be baptized. "Well, a person has to have a name," and that is what one gets in baptism! Aren't warships "christened" when they get their names? No. You received a name when a county official entered you in the Birth Register; no baptism was necessary for such a purpose.
In former times slaves were branded on the back with their master's name. In your baptism God laid hold upon you, called you by your name and stamped you as ever after -- His own. Through the word and act of man in your baptism, the brand, "property of God" was stamped upon you. The words "God's own" were spoken over you by the Church, the Church of Jesus Christ; God has laid claim upon you through the act of the Church.
Do we not belong to God without Baptism, by virtue of being His creatures? To be sure. We should not know this if God had not said so in His Word; without God's Word we know neither Him nor ourselves. With- out God's Word we do not know we are His property and all that this ownership means for our lives. In His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, God has shown us what it means to be His property and how He is disposed toward us. God does not make us His property in Jesus Christ to show that He can do with us what He wills, as the slaveholder stamps His name upon His slaves. He can to be sure, do with us what He wills; He is the Creator and we are His creatures. He does not want us to have to be afraid of Him as slaves before their master, but rather to love Him as the one who first loved us. "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." That is the Gospel, in this way God claims us, in this way He means to proclaim to us by the Church the words, "Thou art mine."
Baptism is the prevenient love of God antecedent to any human effort. What did we know when our sponsors held us, crying infants, up to the Pastor for Baptism! He "received us in love before we ever thought of Him." He gave us a name that is written in no Civil Register -- child of God! He has been before-hand with His gift; He loved us even before we were as yet conscious of our identity.
Are we then children of God by virtue of Baptism? Is it so simple and so cheap? Yes -- if you believe. "Whosoever believeth in Him...." Indeed faith is not so simple and cheap. Baptism wants to point out just that. Baptize comes from "baptize" to dip. Children formerly were not simply sprinkled with water, but immersed, and so, too, were the first Christian adults baptized. Why was this done? As a sign that we must die really to belong to God. We are baptized into the death of our Lord. We must share in his death if we desire to share in his life. We are by nature men who do not at all desire to belong to God, but to them- selves. The "Lord" of our life says first, I am the Lord my God! This self-willed, self-seeking, self-glorifying I must be drowned. And that is not so "cheap and easy." It costs much. It cost the Lord Jesus his life. "To believe" that we belong to God, means no less than to be crucified with Jesus Christ, knowing that he had to die for us, trusting that he really died for us -- really for you -- and therewith setting aside all that separates us from God. "The old Adam in us should, by daily sorrow and repentance be drowned and die," says Luther. Every day we must be immersed anew in the divine forgiveness, and repent, put off what separates us from God. Baptism itself happens just once. But we must believe constantly anew, for only through faith does Baptism save us. "That whosoever believeth in Him. ...." Hence we are not baptized merely in the name of the Father and of the Son, but also of the Holy Ghost. "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."