Is My Child Ready for Baptism?
Is my child ready for baptism? I hear this question quite a bit from families. Many are skeptical and want me to talk with their child to see why he/she is interested in baptism. Other families are certain that their child has been born-again and that baptism is simply the next step for her. Because children can be manipulated easily regarding spiritual things, parents need to make sure that the child doesn’t feel any pressure from them concerning baptism. Parents must also remind their children that just because one of their friends or siblings was baptized, it doesn’t mean that it is time for them as well. This article is by no means exhaustive, but I do have a few pointers below on some conversation steering regarding baptism with children.
First: make sure…..
to the best of your ability that your child has been born-again. Baptism is for converted disciples of Jesus. In the Great Commission, Jesus lays out the order of baptism in the disciple making process. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The process is to “make disciples”, “baptize” and “teach” them in that order. We see that in the book of Acts it is after the heralding of the gospel that disciples are made and then baptized (Acts 2:41, 8:36-39, 9:18, 10:47, 16:33, 18:8, 19:5). So, make sure first that you are carefully explaining the gospel. When doing so, I would be careful about using simple formulaic acrostics like the A=admit, B=believe, C=confess. Many children can quickly make assent to those propositions without having been born-again. Anyone who comes to faith in the gospel must have a spiritual awakening (I Cor. 2:14, Jn. 3:3). They must understand that their sin has offended God and that their relationship with God is thus fractured (Rom. 6:23). In order to have peace with God, they must turn to Jesus as their only hope (Rom. 8:1). His death on the cross for their sins must be trusted in wholeheartedly (Eph. 1:7). His resurrection that demonstrates His conquering both sin and death must be embraced (Rom. 6:9). A life of repentance from sin and following Jesus is required (Mk. 1:15). Parse these things out clearly. Talking about these truths over and over again. R.C. Sproul once said, “The word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart, but it cannot be in the heart without first being in the mind.”1 If after several conversations you are confident that they have embraced the gospel, they are probably ready.
Second: Pitch the gospel right…
Scaring children into make a decision about Jesus from fear of the Lake of Fire is not the same as teaching them the gospel. Likewise, wooing children by talking about the glory of heaven is not the gospel. No doubt, both Hell and heaven are real and very important in the scriptures. However, the gospel is the offer of reconciliation with God. John 3:16 gives a clear picture of the mission of Jesus. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
In his great work, The Doctrine of Repentance, Thomas Watson tells the story of a pastor who asked three different men why they chose to leave sin and follow Jesus. One says, “I think of the joys of heaven”. Another says, “I think of the torments of hell”, but the third replied, “I think of the love of God, and that makes me forsake it (sin). How shall I offend the God of love?”2 The first two persons approached God with their own interests in mind. The third approached God with relationship in mind. It was the love of Christ that drew him. The gospel restores the relationship that was lost by our first parents.
Third: Slow Down!
Sometimes parents or grandparents will want to quickly get their child or grandchild baptized. In I Corinthians chapter 1:17 Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” Notice that Paul clearly delineates between the gospel and baptism. Christ didn’t send Paul to preach baptism. In fact, in the context of this passage, Paul can’t even remember some who he had baptized (I Cor. 1:16). Paul was sent to preach the gospel. That is also what we are commissioned to preach (Mt. 28:18-20). Baptism follows clear understanding and belief in the gospel. I have met many adults during my ministry that have told me that they think they weren’t actually born-again when they walked an aisle and were baptized as a young child. For some, it even led to a crisis of conscience. Others were baptized again as an adult. For parents who aren’t sure if their child is born-again, remember that baptism does not save your child. We, like Paul are sent to preach the gospel, not baptism. Make sure that they are ready so that as an adult they aren’t left with lingering questions about their “conversion” as a child. An early church document called the Didache (teaching of the twelve) that dates to around 96 A.D. recommended fasting from food for a couple of days prior to baptism. Not a bad idea for heart preparation for teens and adults.
Fourth: Talk about what it means
Maybe you’ve heard baptism explained similar to a wedding ring. It isn’t my marriage, but it symbolizes my marriage. It’s in a circle to demonstrate that it never ends, etc.” In other words, it’s a symbol. There is a great illustration of going under the water representing death (being buried with Christ) and then coming up representing resurrection (new life). Water also represents spiritual cleanliness from sin because of water’s actual physical cleaning ability. All of these are true statements about baptism. Most importantly, it is a public way of identifying as a follower of Jesus. Baptism in the New Testament is a public event. It is a way for a new Christian to show outwardly what has happened inwardly. Whether in a pool, river, or baptistery, baptism is a powerful outward statement about an inward change.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says, “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”3
Fifth: Rejoice and Pray!
Having the conversation with your child is a great thing! Read stories from the book of Acts about baptism. Peter preaching at Pentecost in chapter 2 is a great story. Read the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. These stories demonstrate the obedience of baptism after belief in the gospel. You should also share your story with your children. How did you come to faith in the gospel? What changed in you? What was your baptism like? Who was there? What did it mean to you?
As your child has questions about baptism, make sure that you are spending time in prayer with him/her. Pray that God would reveal Himself in a special way and confirm in their hearts the truth of the gospel.
- Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance. (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA. 1987), 18.
All Scriptures taken from the NASB Bible