An Overview of Baptism

How does a Catholic respond to the question, "Are you born "again"? 
By responding  "Yes, through Baptism!" 

This article is roughly divided into the following sections.  Keep in mind that all of God’s Truths are interconnected and part of the one whole Truth.






Baptism applies to the soul the saving grace that Christ won for us by His life, death and resurrection.  We receive Jesus’ gift of the holy Spirit and are adopted into God’s family through baptism.

Matthew 28:18-19   And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,   RSV

Acts 2:38-39   And 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 shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you and to your children …

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27   …so it is with Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… 27  Now you are the body of Christ

Romans 8:15   …you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 



All of Adam’s family, that is, the whole human race, has been disgraced by original sin.  We can no longer "walk with God" as Adam did in the garden before the fall.  As a result of it we all experience suffering and death. 
Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death", cf. Genesis 3:16-19.  We are all separated from God and we lack the sanctifying grace that we need in order to live in heaven. 
Ephesians 2:3   Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.   RSV 
1 Corinthians 15:21-22, "Death came through a human being ... in Adam all die..." 
      (cf. Psalm 51:7, 58:4, Wisdom 2:24)

All of us, including infants, need to be saved by Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.   John 14:6  "...No one come to the Father except through me." 
Romans 5:17-19, "...Just as through one transgression condemnation (sin) came upon all...   Just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous."   After explaining that we must get out of Adam’s family and into Christ’s family, St. Paul explains how this is done.  Romans 6:4, "...We who were baptized into Christ Jesus..." 
(Note:  St. Paul doesn’t say "all you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.",  a phrase that is not found anywhere in the Bible.) 



In John’s Gospel from chapter 2: 23 through 3: 36 we read about Jesus’s explanation as to how we can be saved.

John 2:23-3:2 
2:23  Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did;  but Jesus did not trust himself to them,  because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man. 
3:1  Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night  RSV   (emphasis added )

One motif of John’s Gospel is the contrast between the Light of Christ and the darkness of the world.  So, it is interesting that John notes that Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness of the night.  Jesus knew that Nicodemus, was only acting in the natural capacities of a man.   Nicodemus only has a natural faith.  He is impressed with the miracles, (cf. John 2:23, 3:2), but his faith is not a supernatural and saving faith.  In order to be saved we need a supernatural faith that is a product of God’s grace.

God is the source of all that is good.

Only with the aid of God’s Grace can we die to ourselves so that we might truly believe in Him.  For example, a person might perform a righteous deed like sacrificing his own life for another person and do it out of a motivation of pride in himself.  However, only by God’s grace could a person do it out of true love, and thereby perform a good work.   A good work is a work that is a manifestation of God’s grace working within us.

John 3:3    "Amen, Amen I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born ‘anothen.’ " 
The Greek word "anothen" can mean "again" or "from above."   Jesus uses this word to test Nicodemus and to reveal on what level he is thinking.   Nicodemus misunderstands "anothen" to mean only "again."  So, Jesus makes clear his statement by restating what He means in John 3:5   "Amen, Amen I say to you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit."

Jesus is speaking of Baptism.  Looking at the context we see how John had just shown in Chapter 1, verse 32, that Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit from above when He received the water baptism, cf. Mark 1:9-11   "In those days Jesus … was baptized … And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw… the Spirit descending upon him like a dove…"  Immediately after the dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus went with His disciples to baptize (John 3:22).   The context is baptism.  (In John 2, the baptismal waters had been changed into wine, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit Acts 2:13.)  Also, Jesus uses the Greek word "anothen" a second time in John 3:31 which clearly means "from above."   This shows the primary intended meaning that He had in John 3:3.

"Sacrament" comes from the Latin word "sacramentum" which means an oath.  An oath is a promise that relies on God’s strength and power.  (That is why oaths taking in court would end with "So help me God.")   When Jesus says "Amen, Amen..." in John 3:3, and 3:5, He is giving us His oath that baptism will give us saving grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so that we might be made fit and ready for heaven.  And so we read how it is that  "...Baptism which saves you ..."  1 Peter 3:21.

Galatians 3:27 tells us that we are   "...Baptized into Christ." 
You were   "...washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."   1 Corinthians 6:11.   This tells us what happens at baptism.  Also, see Titus 3:5, Acts 2:38-39.

It can be difficult to believe that God can save us through a simple ritual just as it was difficult for Naaman to believe that God desired to save him by a simple seven fold washing in the Jordan River.  (See 2 Kings 5:14)  Fortunately, Naaman received and followed  good advise.   " ‘My Father’, they said, ‘If the prophet had told you to do something extra-ordinary, would you not have done it?  All the more now, since he said to you "Wash and be clean" should you do as he said.’"  2 Kings 5: 13   ( The number seven signifies covenant.)

And so Naaman, a good example for us, had a change of heart.  He believed that God would be true to His word which He spoke through His prophet Elisha.  Naaman performed the ritual and was saved from leprosy.  God desires to work miracles through simple rituals.  Our faith in His word tells us this is so.  (Cf. James 5:14-16 and 1 Samuel 10:1, 9)  Also, see John 13:8-12   " … Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."  … "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over …" 
1 Corinthians 4:1     "Thus should one regard us:  As servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." 
[The book Evangelical Is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard, shows how rituals portray the beauty and significance of the important moments in our lives.] 



Nowhere does the Bible say that infants cannot be baptized, and we’ll see later how it implies that they were baptized from the very beginning.

However, some people mistakenly contend that the phrase "Repent and be baptized" and "Believe and be baptized" demonstrate that only those old enough to repent can be baptized.  But, consider 2 Thessalonians 3:10, "If Anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat."  It says anyone.   Does that mean that we should starve our babies ?   They don’t work.    Of course we should not.   The verbs "to repent", "to believe", and "to work" apply only to the extent that a person is capable of doing so.

Infants when moved by  God’s grace can receive  His Gift of faith.  Consider Luke 1:44, when Mary brought Jesus to St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist.   Elizabeth replied, "The infant in my womb leaped for joy…"   So, we cannot scientifically measure a person’s predisposition to receiving God’s saving Grace.

When a person commits personal sins, he is turning his heart away from God.  After committing a personal sin, an adult must repent and, through an act of faith, turn his heart back toward God in order to receive the grace at baptism.  In essence, he cannot have a disposition contrary to God’s sacramental grace in order to receive it. For example, a disbelieving heart - one that stands in rejection of Him through personal sin - would be an impediment to a valid baptism.

Luke 18:17   "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."   Compare these words to John 3: 3 and John 3: 5.   We must enter into God’s Kingdom the same way an infant enters or accepts it.  That is, we must enter it without a heart of disbelief that willfully chooses personal sin against the will of God so as to obstruct the reception of His grace.

Someone who is old enough to have sinned personally must make an Act of Faith to turn away from the sin he has chosen and back towards God, thereby opening his heart.  An infant, however, does not have any personal sin, so he has no sin for which to repent.  Since he has not closed his heart through a willful rejection of God’s will, his heart is already open and capable of receiving God’s saving grace as Luke 18:17 says.  He is a fit candidate for the reception of baptism and the saving grace it gives. 



Since the child has original sin, he needs baptism.  He lacks God’s saving grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  (See Original Sin, above.)  Since Jesus is the Savior of the world, He wants to save them, too.  John 14:6   "No one comes to the Father except through me."

So, when the apostles stopped the parents from bringing their infants to Jesus, He rebuked His apostles and said, "Let them come to me"  Luke 18:15-16.  Then Jesus gave the teaching of  Luke 18:17.

Matthew 11:25   At that time Jesus declared, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes;   RSV   Did Jesus mean that babies who have not been corrupted by personal sin and the ways of the world have a natural desire for that which is good, and implicitly a desire for God, who is the source of all that is good, and Baptism ?   However, before they commit sin they still do not deserve the gift of Heaven, seeing God face to face, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Only those who have the gift of God’s grace, that was won for us by Jesus, applied to their souls are made worthy of this awesome gift. 
Revelation 22:14   Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.   RSV

The Catechism of the Catholic Church  paragraph  #1261   states: 
"As regards children who have died without Baptism, the 
Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in 
her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who 
desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward 
children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, 
do not hinder them,"[63] allow us to hope that there is a way of 
salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the 
more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children           1250 
coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism."

While we on earth are bound by God’s normal plan of administering grace through the Sacraments, God is not.  We can hope that God will Baptize the souls of deceased infants, that is, infuse them with His Grace and the Holy Spirit, and take them to Heaven.  Cf.  CCC #1257 



Some Protestants believe that a person can win their salvation by something that they do, namely making an act of faith, e. g. saying the sinners prayer.  They believe that they do not receive God’s grace until after they do that.   Whereas, Catholics believe that all good things have God as their source.  Without the help of His grace we are incapable of truly believing in God in a way that is pleasing to Him.   John 6:28-29  "Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’   Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ "   RSV.     We need God’s grace before we are capable of having a true saving faith.  Our faith is God’s working in us.  In fact all "Good works" are God’s working through us, the Body of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: 
2025   We can have merit in God's sight only because of 
          God's free plan to associate man with the work of his 
          grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the 
          grace of God, and secondly to man's collaboration. 
          Man's merit is due to God. 

In Mark 5:22-23 and 40-42, Jairus asks Jesus to save his daughter from death, and in Mark 9:17-27, a father asks Jesus to expel a demon from his son.  Jesus doesn’t turn them away and say, "I have only come to save those who are old enough to make a mature commitment and to accept Me as their personal Lord and Savior."   No.  Jesus responds with power to save them, not because of the children’s faith, but because of their parents’ faith.

Another example is  Mark 2:4-5:  "...They opened up the roof above Him.  After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic man was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’"

Matthew 28:19 says to baptize all nations.  This is how God brings them into His family (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27).  We saw how John 3:3 and John 3:5 say that everyone must be baptized to be saved (or at least have a true desire for baptism, that is, a desire to be united with the One, Holy and Loving God.  (Luke 23:43)  John 3:3 and John 3:5 do not make any exceptions for infants.  They apply universally to everyone.  God’s desire that infants be baptized is very appropriate because during one’s natural birth, he is completely dependent on others, and that during his supernatural birth of baptism as an infant, he is completely dependent on God and God working through the minister and parents.

Infant Baptism strongly conveys the important truth that our salvation is completely dependent on God and His free gift of unearned Grace.  We must cooperate with his grace and receive it, but we even need the help of His grace to do that.  We don’t earn our salvation through a work, that is totally our own, of offering up our faith.    Titus 3:5, "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."  Salvation  is a free gift from God.  Even our faith is only made possible by the help of God’s grace.  Infant Baptism conveys this truth that our salvation is truly a free gift from God.   This supernatural faith is not something that comes from within ourselves, but rather, it is God’s gift to us, rather than our gift to God.  John 6:44   "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me, draw him..." 

So, it is not that we make an act of saving faith, and then only after which we receive God’s grace, but rather, the grace of God must first come into ourselves so that we are capable of having a supernatural, saving faith.

Ezekiel had prophesied how God would save His people through a washing of water.   Ezekiel 36:23-27   "…know that I am the LORD…when … I prove my holiness… I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart … I will put my spirit within you …"  NAB

At baptism we receive from God the gift of supernatural faith, supernatural hope, and supernatural love (Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5)  We just must be open to receiving that gift by having a heart that is not obstructed by disbelief, a rejection of God (Luke 18:17). 



Regardless of when a person is baptized, he must persevere in a life of faith.  "The one who perseveres to the end will be saved" Matthew 24:9-13, Cf. Philippians 2:12.  He does this by nurturing the seed of faith that  Christ has put in his heart, and by cooperating with God’s grace so that Christ’s life, death and resurrection are reproduced in his life as a member of Christ’s body, the Church.  We are "heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him," Romans 8:17  (Cf. 2 Timothy 11:12, Colossians 1:24, Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 3:10-11).   All Christians are called to die to themselves, so that each day they may grow closer to Jesus Christ. "...He (the Christian) must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  Luke 9:23-24

St. Paul tells how he, himself, could turn away and lose salvation and be "disqualified" (‘adokimos’ in the Greek) in 1 Corinthians 9:27.  Paul makes his use and meaning of that Greek word, ‘Adokimos," very clear in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where that same word is translated as "fail".  The context clearly shows that it - ‘adokimos’ - refers to a lost soul.

Of course, God is always eager to receive back His repentant child who has disinherited himself and is spiritually dead because of sin (Luke 15:32). 



The method of entry into the old covenant was circumcision (Genesis l7).  The  "whole household"  was circumcised (Genesis 17:27) because the Old Covenant included infants (Genesis 21:4).  In the new covenant, baptism replaces circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). Galatians 3:27 says, "We were baptized into Christ" (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13).  The New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant.  Since the Old Covenant included infants, the Jews would assume that the New Covenant would also.  The Bible doesn’t specifically mention infant baptism because it was understood and assumed to include them.  If the New Covenant had broken from the tradition of including infants, it would have to have been explained to the Jews.  God came to save us as a family.  "I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named"  Ephesians 3:14, cf. Ephesians 2:19.

Since the New Covenant is greater than the old, and since the Old Covenant included infants, then the grace Jesus won for us in the New Covenant must be available to infants as well as adults. Just as we saw how whole households were circumcised, we read in the New Testament how the "whole household" of the jailer - "He and all his family," were baptized in Acts 16:31-33.   And Stephanas’s "Household"  was baptized in 1 Corinthians 1:16... and Lydia’s "household"  was baptized in Acts 16:15.  These verses clearly imply that all the infants in these families were also baptized.

1 Corinthians 10:1-2, "... our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."   The understanding that infants were to be baptized enabled Paul to speak of  "passing through the sea"  as a type of baptism.  Therefore, it prefigured the New Testament baptism.   And just as  "All of them" passed through the sea, so then, it also follows that "all of them" - including infants - are to be baptized.

Acts 2:38-39, "Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you ... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  for the promise is made to you and to your children...’ "

The belief that infants should be baptized was passed down by the apostles to the Church so clearly in their oral teachings that no Christian in the first 400 years of the Church said that infants were not allowed to be baptized (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:15).  In fact, the early Christians so clearly saw the connection between entry into the Old Covenant by circumcision and entry into the New Covenant by Baptism  (Colossians 2:11-12 and Romans 5:15 - 6:4)  that the only debate was not whether we should Baptize infants, but whether or not we had to wait until the 8th day to baptize them, since the Jews waited till then to circumcise their children. 



We should bring our infants to Christ (Luke 18:15-17) because only by being united to Christ can a person enter into heaven (John 14:6).  A person is united to Christ and adopted into His family by being "Baptized into Christ."   Galatians 32:27, cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13.  Therefore, infants need baptism.  "... Baptism saves you" 1 Peter 3:21.

 For a beautiful and Biblical explanation of Baptism and Salvation, listen to Scott Hahn’s 4 tape set, 
"Justification - Becoming a Child of God". 
Phone 1-800-526-2151.