The Biblical Basis for Regenerative Baptism

My niece is getting baptized this weekend, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to her, and to the awesome power of Baptism. The blog Jesus, I Trust in You has a very good “Catholic Cheat Sheet.”  It’s a quick go-to guide of Scriptural support in favor of given Church teachings.  Here are the verses that they provide for regenerative Baptism:

  • In John 3:5, “Jesus answered, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.‘”  So Baptism saves!  And Jesus even tells us the two ingredients of Baptism: the Holy Spirit invisibly working through the visible waters.

  • John himself viewed Jesus’ discourse in John 3 as about Baptism, which we know from v. 22: “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where He spent some time with them baptizing.
  • Titus 3:4-7 says: “But when the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His Mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”  So justification comes through Baptism of water and the Spirit, the bath of rebirth.
  • Acts 2:37-38 records the aftermath to Peter’s Pentecost homily: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter (said) to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  So repent and be Baptized, and two distinct things happen.  First, you will be forgiven of your sins. Second, the Holy Spirit will come upon you.
  • Immediately after Paul’s conversion, Ananias says to him, “Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name” (Acts 22:16).  This is after Paul believes and already has the Spirit working in him (see Acts 9:17-18), yet he still needs the washing away of sins in Baptism.
  • Paul tells the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that “now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” So Paul sees both sanctification and justification taking their origin in Baptism.
  • To the Romans, he writes of our relationship Christ: “We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  So Baptism unites us with Christ in a saving way, in which we share in both His sufferings and His glory.
  • It’s hard to get clearer than 1 Peter 3:21, but let’s put it in context.  Here’s 1 Peter 3:18-22.  “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured Baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.”  So the Ark saved Noah and his family “through water.”  This physical salvation prefigured the spiritual salvation of Baptism.
  • Finally, Hebrews 10:19-22 refers to Baptism when it says, “Therefore, brothers, since through the Blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the Sanctuary by the new and living way He opened for us through the veil, that is, His Flesh, and since we have ‘a great priest over the house of God,’ let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

In addition to these, I would add Ezekiel 36:24-28. In it, God promises that the Day is coming when He’ll unite Him people through a regenerative washing in pure water by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that after it, we will be His people, and He will be Our God:

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

I can’t think of anything more regenerative than God creating in us “a new heart” with “a new spirit.” This passage outlines all four of the features of Baptism. First, the Holy Spirit is imparted through Baptism (which Acts 2:37-38 also says explicitly).  Second, Baptism cleanses us from sin (as Acts 22:16 says).  Third, not only does it cleanse us from present sins, but it enables us to avoid sinning in the future, with the imparting of a new spirit. That’s how it both justifies and sanctifies us, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Finally, through Baptism, we become the people of God.  Paul says in Colossians 2:11-12, “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This is similar to his message in Romans 6:4, but here, Paul specifically describes it as the New Testament fulfillment of circumcision.  If you don’t recall, it was through circumcision that males were made members of Old Testament Israel.  This was done on the eighth day after birth (Gen. 17:12), and failure to do so meant that the boy wasn’t an Israelite (Gen. 17:14).  When Paul describes Baptism as the new circumcision, he’s calling upon an image central to Jewish identity.  From this, we can say with confidence that Baptism is to be extended even to infants, since those were the primary recipients of circumcision.  And since Baptism determines membership in the Church, as circumcision did in Israel, and we know that small children are part of the Church (Luke 18:16).  Otherwise, we’re saying that babies can be Jews (by circumcision) but not Christians (by Baptism), a bizarre conclusion, since the New Covenant is what opened the doors to the Gentile world.

7 Comments

  1. Hi Joe. I have been doing a wonderful ministry for the last 7 years at my parish; Baptism preparation for the parents and Godparents. Your research and presentation adds to my library of information.
    Thanks,
    Bill

  2. Thanks to all of you. Another good “Catholic Cheat Sheets” can be found here: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0039.html

    Mary, the Baptism was great, although Amara was less than pleased that the priest tried to give her a bath (to the surprise of no one). She really liked it when we extended our hands in the epiclesis, as she understood us to all be waving at her.

    The priest did a good job of tying the anointing with holy chrism to Jesus, since both “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “the Anointed One.” He had a good pastoral touch throughout it all.

  3. I appreciate it. I actually did not put the initial sheet together but stumbled across it while looking for something similar. I have added a couple of items including your passage from Ezekiel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *