This is my theological reflection on baptism. It do not believe it has any major gaps or holes in it, but it is an work-in-progress. However, a rather finished work-in-progress.
We are all sinful people in need of God’s saving grace. We are unable to save ourselves, not matter how much we try. The sacrament of baptism is a means for us of receiving that grace, a way of showing that God is actively working in our lives. It is not a prerequisite for salvation, but rather a sign of the new life within us and our death to our old selves. It is a gift from God available to all who accept it. It is not a testimony to our own profession of faith in Jesus Christ but rather a witness to God’s claim upon us as God’s people.
For infants, they obviously cannot speak for themselves and recognize their need for God. So the parents make that decision for the child, intending to raise the child so that he or she will eventually come to faith in Christ. Infant baptism shows the utter dependence on God and demonstrates God’s grace working in our lives before we are even aware of it – God’s prevenient grace.
Adults, however, are aware of the choice they are making to accept God’s grace and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over their lives. They recognize their need for God and desire to receive the gift of new life available to them in this sacrament.
In either case, baptism requires repentance from and the rejection of sin in all its forms. Through water, we are cleansed from our sins by the power of the Holy Spirit and we accept God’s forgiveness by professing our faith in Christ.
An important component of this sacrament is community. It is a covenant made between the individual, God, and the larger church community. It is an initiation and welcome into God’s larger family. The congregation promises to nurture and support the individual baptized in their walk with Christ, committing to pray for the person and support them in a loving and forgiving community of faith. It is through the sacrament of baptism that we are made one with each other and one with Christ as we open ourselves to God. Thus the community is an important aspect of baptism, and needs to be able to fulfill its end of the covenant after the baptism of an individual.
Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his ministry on earth. Jesus did not need to be baptized in order to repent of his sins, but needed to be baptized in order to show God’s approval of him. After his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon him demonstrating this. In a similar way, when we are baptized and united with Christ we are also commissioned for ministry – to go and make disciples.
There is a lot of disagreement among denominations as to how this sacrament should be carried out. There are arguments about how much water is to be used, or whether sprinkling or immersion is the proper means of administering baptism, to name a few. The important thing is that God is actor and initiator in the sacrament and everything else is merely a symbol of God’s action in the life of the individual.