Who Needs to Be Re-Baptized?
Sometimes the best solution to a problem is to “re” it. You’ve gone through a rough spell in your marriage, so you decide to reaffirm your wedding vows. The doctor tells you that if you don’t drop some pounds, severe health problems are on the horizon, so you renew the gym membership you let slip years ago. We’re always re-ing something: rewriting essays that are not up to par; reroofing houses with old shingles; getting reacquainted with long lost friends. Do-overs are a necessary, and oftentimes a blessed, part of our lives. We get a chance to do it right the second time.
It’s not unusual for people to feel the same about baptism.
Carol was baptized as an infant, but in later years she began attending a church where only older children and adults are baptized. She’s told, “It’s good that your parents were concerned about your spiritual welfare, but that was not a real baptism. It was more like your dedication to the Lord. But now that you have your own personal relationship with Jesus, you need to show that commitment in the assembly of believers by obeying our Lord’s command to be baptized.”
David was baptized when he was seven years old. He remembers that day in church, but he’s not sure if he was really a believer when it was done to him. He’s wondering, now that he is older and is more certain of his faith, if he needs to be re-baptized as a way of affirming that he is a follower of Jesus.
I get where Carol and David are coming from. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to re-do something in my life. Maybe I’ve messed something up that needs to be fixed, forgotten something that needs to be remembered, or just simply yearn for the confidence that comes from doing something afresh. I’ve been that lost sheep who wandered from the flock of Christ and returned covered in the mud of my wanderings; don’t I need to be rewashed? I’ve gotten angry with God, stomped off to live in the “freedom” of a rebellious life, and eventually returned with a soiled conscience in dire need of a bath. I’ve wanted to strip off my filthy clothes, ease myself into a deep pool of baptism, and simply soak for hours on end until all the dirt and grime of my iniquity has disappeared and I’m clean again.
And here’s the good news for Carol and David and all of us who desire this cleansing: God is ready and willing to give it to you. And here’s some even better news: you don’t need to be re-baptized to experience it.
The most important thing about baptism is this:
God is the baptizer, you are the baptized.
He is the giver, you are the receiver;
He is the bather, you are the bathed.
Yes, when we do things, we have a tendency to do them wrongly, imperfectly, insufficiently. We mess them up in one way or another. But when God does things, he does them right. He does them well. He does nothing halfway. If we baptized ourselves, I would be all in favor of rebaptism, but because I’m sure we would do something wrong. To err is human, right? But since we don’t baptize ourselves, but are baptized by God, our washing in the word is 100% right, 100% gift, now and forever. Every baptism is a perfect baptism. Like the crucifixion of Jesus for you, the baptism by Jesus of you, is non-repeatable. It can’t be done again because it was done just right the first time.
When we’ve gone astray from God and need those cleansing waters; when we’ve gone through a period of doubting and desire to have our faith strengthened; when we can’t even remember our baptism and need to experience its blessings anew; we don’t need a do-over. We don’t need to have the water poured over us again. Instead, God does something better for us: he shows us that the cleansing, saving waters of baptism never dry up. In fact, those waters keep us wet with grace every day of our lives.
When I got hurt as a child, I ran into the arms of my mother, into the arms of the woman in whose womb I was conceived. I didn’t look for another mother, another womb, another comfort. So when I hurt myself through my sin, I run back into the arms of the baptismal womb in which I was conceived and born again. I don’t look for another baptism, another washing, another comfort. I return to the source of my life.
Christ doesn’t re-baptize; he returns sinners to their baptism. He carries us lost sheep home to the pool in which we were originally washed. He strengthens the faith we were originally given in our baptism. He sends us pastors to speak the words of his forgiveness into us; and those absolving words are wet with baptism’s waters. Jesus tells us, “I baptized you. Through my crucifixion wounds you entered my body to become part of me. My body is your body; my blood is your blood. We are one. I can no more lose you than I can lose a limb. You are baptized. You are mine. When I look at you, I see a clean, forgiven, beloved brother and sister.”
Yes, sometimes the best solution to a problem is to “re” it. But that’s only when we’re the one solving the problem. Christ has already solved the problem of sin. He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. He has baptized us into that crucifixion and justified us in those same resurrection waters. It is finished. He has accomplished it all for you, given it all to you in baptism, and will forever keep you in those gifts by his grace and mercy.
For those baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—for those who have this divine name placed upon them—there is never a need for rebaptism. Jesus did it right, for you, the first time. And that is very good news, indeed.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!