The following is a useful discussion about Holy Baptism, regeneration and faith that took place in the comments of another post. The sincerity of the questions, and the information being shared merited it being pulled up from the comments to a post of it’s own. Thanks for the discussion so far, and I hope it continues here—ScotK
I too am being drawn by the Lord to seek out a more structured way of worship. I am with Baptism. If I receive forgiveness through infant Baptism…what happens to plain old repentance and being born again.? I am evangelical and I am concerned that people look solely to Baptism and believe they are going to heaven because they were baptized once even though they are not abiding in the Lord and walking with him. I have noticed that many [Lutheran] churches boast a large membership with maybe a quarter of that membership in actual attendance. Could it be that many of these souls believe they are saved from hell when they are actually lost? They have not continued in the faith.
Do Lutherans believe in being “born again”?
Thank you for your response.
We’ll take your question first. Do Lutherans believe in being “born again”? Absolutely, for unless one is born of water and the Spirit he will not enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). This new birth, or birth from above – the original Greek allows for both – is God’s work from start to finish. Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has caused us to be born again (born from above)through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Baptism is the means through which people are connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-4). The baptized have died to sin and their true life is now hidden with God in Christ. When He appears we will appear also with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
On the day of Pentecost Peter’s preaching pierced the hearts of those who heard. They cried out to the apostles wondering what they should do. “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” (Acts 2:38). “Be baptized” is in the passive voice. It is something that happens to you from the outside. The baptized receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the direct promise of Holy Scripture. The life of a Christian, the baptized, is to be one of daily contrition and repentance as it says in Luther’s Small Catechism. We sin daily and much. Repenting, that is confessing our sins, we turn again to Jesus. He takes us back to the font where both died with Him and were raised in the power of His resurrection. The gift of the Holy Spirit works in us to will and to do according to the Lord’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This cycle of repentance and forgiveness is constant for a believer until their last breath. Indeed the very first of Luther’s 95 theses states, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Your final point asks if it is possible for people to fall away from the faith by not continuing in it or by trusting that they are baptized and have no need for repentance and forgiveness any longer. Yes, it is possible to deny the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The parable of the sower indicates that some seed fell among the rocks and thorns. Both grew for a while then died for lack of depth or were choked out by the cares of the world (Matthew 13:3-9). If we say we have not sinned we deceive ourselves. Thinking that we are above or beyond sinning is dangerous. It is the height of self-deception and a denial of clear Biblical teaching (1 John 1:8-10). If we confess our sins God is faithful and just. He forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The thought of cleansing takes us back to the font where we receive the new birth from our gracious Lord. Repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution, mark the life of the baptized this side of heaven.
Timothy J. Scharr, President
Southern Illinois District – LCMS
Thank the Lord that you are being drawn to “a more structured way of worship”! That’s what the church’s liturgy is all about–giving us the structure that draws our attention away from our sinful selves and places it squarely on Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.
You asked: “If I receive forgiveness through infant Baptism…what happens to plain old repentance and being born again.?” All of these things are really parts of the same “package,” if you will, of salvation–different facets of the same diamond of God’s grace. Yes, we receive forgiveness of sins in Baptism. See Acts 2:38-39 and 1 Peter 3:21, for example. And that gift from God in Holy Baptism ushers us into a whole lifetime of living in repentance. Repentance is *not* just a one time event, though; it takes place each and every day throughout the life of the Christian. Martin Luther said it this way in the Small Catechism:
“What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the old Adam in us should by *daily contrition and repentance* be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should *daily emerge and arise* to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (Small Catechism, Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Part Four)
You have a good concern that some people, once they’re baptized, think they’re going to heaven just by virtue of a ritual act of being baptized. However, Baptism is no “get out of Hell free card”! Instead, the Christian learns to live in his/her Baptism throughout all of life. Baptism begins our life of faith (also a gift from God), and we live out that faith by continually hearing the Gospel proclaimed and receiving the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood to nourish us and strengthen us in the faith.
I’m sure you can find many congregations in many different church bodies (Lutherans certainly are not the only ones!) who boast larger numbers on their membership rolls than they have in worship on any given Sunday. That’s true all across the board. But that’s also why we don’t look to the outward measures of “success” or “failure” that seem to make sense to the naked eye. Rather, we look to God’s sure promises in His Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ and His certain forgiveness, life, and salvation given in His Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
I think it is wisest not to try and figure out whether certain individuals are saved or not. That’s up to God to discern, and I’m very thankful that He has not placed that burden on my shoulders. Besides that, I have enough to worry about just keeping my own focus on repenting of my own sins and trusting God’s forgiveness and promises given through His only begotten Son!
You also asked: “Do Lutherans believe in being “born again”?” Most certainly we do! That’s exactly what happens in our Baptism. Check out Titus 3:5-6 along with John 3:3-5. Both St. Paul and Jesus Himself speak of being “born again” (“regeneration”) in connection with the washing of our Baptism. And as the quote above from Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us, that being “born again” also continues each and every day as we confess our sins and receive Jesus’ full and free forgiveness.
Hope that helps!
Pr. Randy Asburry
Thank you for your comments. I am still struggling with infant baptism…shouldn’t you repent and then be baptised? Acts 2:38
Do you believe you can be born again without Baptism? The thief on the cross was not baptised but was repentant and went to Paradise.
I guess I am just concerned that there is too much emphasis on doing outward acts for salvation in stead if trusting in the work of Christ on the cross.
For Pastor Randy….my intent was not to judge people but simply to question…if infant Baptism works why do so many not follow though in the faith? Believe me I am working out my own salvation with fear and tembling. I desire to worship in a way that is pleasing to God.
Thanks for your response and your very thoughtful questions. I’m glad you are eager to learn and grow in God’s Word!
You said: “I am still struggling with infant baptism…shouldn’t you repent and then be baptized? Acts 2:38″
First, the promise of God’s salvation given in Baptism is for all people. In Acts 2:39 Peter says, “The promise is for *you and your children*….” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of *all nations,* baptizing them….” Certainly infants and young children are included in both of these descriptions.
Baptism and repentance certainly do go together, hand in glove, if you will. However, we don’t want to set up a sequential order that the Bible really doesn’t set up. Sure, Peter says in Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized…,” in that word order, but that’s not necessarily saying, “First, repent, and then, second, you can be baptized,” as if repentance is some kind of hoop to go through before being baptized, or as if it’s a matter of Step 1: Repent, then, Step 2: Be baptized. That would undermine the gift that God gives in His Baptism. I think it’s best to take Peter’s words to mean that repentance and baptism go together hand in glove. After all, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, Baptism also ushers us *into* the life of repentance (i.e. repentance also follows Baptism). So, yes, repentance may come before Baptism, but it’s not a condition for Baptism, and repentance certainly also comes after Baptism.
You also said: “Do you believe you can be born again without Baptism? The thief on the cross was not baptized but was repentant and went to Paradise.”
Sure, a person can be born again without Baptism. As Mark 16:16 says, “Whoever *believes* and is baptized will be saved, but whoever *does not believe* will be condemned.” Faith is the key thing here in this verse. But faith will also want to receive God’s gift of Baptism and the gifts of forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation that Baptism delivers. The thief on the cross most certainly did go to Paradise, as Jesus said. However, he may not be the best example for those of us who live for a much longer time than those minutes on a cross next to the Lord Jesus. Also consider the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. It’s pretty clear in his case that when Philip proclaimed “the good news about Jesus” (v. 35), he believed that good news–yes, “born again” (converted, brought to faith), first. Then, when he saw some water along the roadside, he also asked Philip, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (v. 37). Faith will certainly want to receive and rejoice in the gifts that God gives, especially in Baptism.
Martin Luther said something very great and profound: “God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world. This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren….” (Smalcald Articles, III:IV) In other words, God gives many gifts–such as the Gospel, Baptism, and we can add His gifts of repentance, faith, etc.–and faith loves to receive them all. Faith does not want pit one gift against another. After all, have you ever known a young child to turn down a birthday or Christmas present? Of course not!
You also said: “I guess I am just concerned that there is too much emphasis on doing outward acts for salvation in stead if trusting in the work of Christ on the cross.”
It’s not just the outward acts for salvation; it’s the outward acts – such as Baptism, the Lord’s Supper – done in faith. Faith is what grasps and clings to the salvation that God Himself gives in His Sacraments. What you seem to be wrestling with is that God’s grace, His Gospel, can be rejected and is rejected by many. But just because His gift is rejected, that doesn’t mean that the gift is defective in any way. Just because a piece of gold gets carelessly dropped into used, dirty car oil, that doesn’t make it any less a piece of gold.
And, finally, you also said: “For Pastor Randy….my intent was not to judge people but simply to question…if infant Baptism works why do so many not follow though in the faith?”
Please accept my apologies for misreading your earlier statements! Again, infant Baptism does work. Sure, we could focus on the many that do “not follow through in the faith,” but we could also focus on the many who *do* follow through in the faith. Yes, infant Baptism has been a blessing for many and because of it many hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, cling to Him in faith, and end up in eternal life. It’s been this way for centuries through the history of the Church, and will continue to be this way until the Lord returns on the Last Day. What you see in action when some seem to turn away from the gift of their Baptism is what Jesus Himself talks about in the Parable of the Sower (cf. Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23). However, the great comfort comes from other promises that Jesus makes. Check out John 10:27-28 and Matthew 16:18, for example.
Pr. Randy Asburry