Beckett: Holy Baptism – The Efficacy of God’s Word

“Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” Which is that Word of God? As we saw previously, “Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew, ‘Therefore, go 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)” (SC, Baptism, First).

Whenever we say, with the all-noble Peter, Baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21), evangelicals get offended and retort, “No, only Jesus saves!” This is not the “Gotcha!” moment they think it is. Yes, Jesus saves, and as we’ve seen numerous times already, Jesus—being God—likes to work through means to save His people (the cross itself was the means), and He uses Baptism as a means to deliver what He accomplished on the cross to His people just as He used water to save Noah from the wicked generation (1 Peter 3:18-21) and the Hebrew slaves at the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). When we and Peter say Baptism saves, we do not mean the act itself (ex opere operato), but rather God, through His holy and efficacious Word, uses simple means like water to save His people, just as He has done many other times in the past (see again Exodus 15:25 and 2 Kings 2:22).

As Luther says, “For it is not the priest or minister but He who makes Baptism who says, ‘Go and baptize,’ that is, ‘Here you have My command and order. This is My will and bidding: that you baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If anyone receives the Word and water together, it is a Baptism'” (LW 57:150). Baptism’s effect depends not on the holiness of the minister performing the act (we are not Donatists), but the simple words of Christ, “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Even Jesus says Baptism saves!

Christ’s Word is sufficient; His Word does what He sends it out to do, O ye of little faith (Isaiah 55:10-11). We like to take verses out of context and put them on memes or hang them up in our homes, such as, “With God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37), yet we don’t believe those words when Jesus says those who are baptised will be saved, and “This is My body, this is My blood” makes the bread and wine His actual body and blood. One cannot believe nothing is impossible with God while believing God cannot use water and His Word as His means to save. Strengthen our weak faith, O Christ!

Moreover, when you see the baptismal font front and centre in your church’s sanctuary, what do you see? You see the womb of the Church, the Bride of Christ. You see the means by which you were born again (John 3:1-8), whence you underwent holy adoption and became a child of God (Romans 8:14-15; 9:26; Ephesians 1:3-5; Galatians 4:4-5). You see where the Word of God has cleansed you from your sins—past, present, and future. This does not mean we get to sin all the more, since by Baptism we have died to sin and live to Christ and shall experience a resurrection like His, and that we now get to walk in newness of life from now unto life everlasting (Romans 6:1-5).


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