A Kingdom Perspective on Baptism

By Robert Palmer. It is the kingdom of God exhibited both within and without the church that does so much to bring the transforming message of God’s covenant to fulfillment. This is why, if covenantal baptism means anything, it means the bringing of the church’s children under the rule of King Jesus. Scripture teaches these children are set apart for kingdom purposes. It’s a message meant to impact not only their spiritual alienation from God but also the totality of their lives.

It all begins with their baptism, because in administering this sacrament covenant children are being identified visibly as belonging to people of God. As such they are becoming part of “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.” Unlike other communities on earth, members of this gathering have been called of God to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). It is indeed a high and holy calling.

But what happens when this called out community fails to turn their focus away from earthly ambitions and toward their ministry as God’s royal priesthood? What happens is this: Kingdom people bring discredit to their King and disgrace to themselves.

That is precisely what is pictured in Jeremiah 22. God’s prophet describes a sad situation. Jerusalem is in ruins. There is chaos everywhere. Inevitably it leads to people from many nations, passing by the city of Jerusalem, asking one another, ‘Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?’ It’s a sad spectacle, and we’re told why it happened. The answer comes in the form of a strong accusation from the prophet. It is “because they forsook the covenant of the Lord their God and worshipped other gods and served them” (Jer. 22:8, 9).

The reason for this sorry scene had nothing to do with such important matters as the offering of appropriate sacrifices. It had nothing to do with the fact that the people of God had been unfaithful in carrying out their many religious observances. What the prophet DOES describe is kingdom responsibilities that had not been carried out! His message is blunt. “Thus saith the Lord: Do justices, and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer. 22:3).

The people obviously were not doing these things, and God was angry. Later in the chapter, God’s displeasure is sternly defined: “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13).

It is a message God’s people don’t expect to hear. It is also something they do not want to hear. God is saying there is a critical contradiction in their lives. The professions they make with their lips are not being matched by the actions of their lives. And that must change! They are a people who have been rescued by God in order to lift up ” . . . good works which God prepared beforehand that (they) should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). To this very day, this whole issue of “good works” or “kingdom works” is a fundamental principle touching every aspect of the believer’s life, including what is testified to in the sacrament of baptism.

When the church’s children receive the sacramental sign and seal of identification with God’s earthly people, the covenant community is expressing both a longing and a commitment. First, they are saying they eagerly anticipate the day when this covenant child testifies to having experienced the blessing of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Second, they are anticipating that they will be called upon to do to whatever they can to prepare this child to actively participate in carrying out God’s Kingdom work.

In other words, it’s a longing and a commitment relating to both aspects of the great commandment. First, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And then He added this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37, 39).

In the sacrament of baptism, God’s people are promising to make themselves available to do whatever needs to be done in order to see this child live out the totality of kingdom concerns. They are expressing a commitment to see the child trained to do battle with the power structures of this world that proclaim false gospels and false messiahs. They are the very structures that would encourage God’s creatures to live lives with little meaning, little hope, and little value.

Members of the church community are testifying that they will do everything in their power to equip this newly baptized member of the community to “show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” They will help prepare this child to live as God’s “salt and light” before such a world. They will encourage this child to emulate the merciful model of their Savior. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

From the youngest to the oldest, God’s people are promising to give themselves to a lifestyle characterized by self-emptying. Wherever they see people crying out for justice, for mercy, and for demonstrations of incarnational love, they will respond. And they will do this because they recognize this is what kingdom compassion is all about!

It may be costly to serve the least and the lost, but a kingdom lifestyle calls for nothing less. “The greatest among you,” said Jesus, must “become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22: 26).

All of this has a direct bearing on covenantal baptism. Because it does, the parents of the child about to be baptized will take some family inventory. They will be asking questions such as: “What effect do kingdom mandates make on relationships between persons in our family? What differences do these mandates make in the way we use our time together as a family?”

A kingdom lifestyle most assuredly will demonstrate a disciplined use of time. Why? Because it is not possible to lead chaotic, unstructured, and undisciplined lives and still achieve kingdom goals. For good reasons, Scripture commands, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15, 16).

There is the question of how these parents and how this family will use their time. However, they also will be asking: “What difference will kingdom mandates make in the budgeting and spending of our family income? What difference will it make in discerning those family needs that are valid?” They are not easy questions to answer, but covenant families cannot afford to be cavalier or careless when it comes to money matters. There is too much at stake.

The way they spend their family income matters to the poor whose well being may hinge on the generosity of God’s covenant people. And it matters to the corporate body of God’s people whose kingdom objectives either will be thwarted or facilitated by the giving of God’s people. Without a commitment to Biblical stewardship covenant families will not be able to nurture that depth of spiritual maturity and responsibility within the church’s children that is necessary to carry out kingdom concerns.

The church’s children will learn how to handle money from watching adults within the covenant community. They cannot help but be impacted for good as they observe daily demonstrations of adults who “honor the Lord with (their) wealth and with the first fruits of all (their) produce” (Prov. 3:9). They cannot help but be impressed when they observe the stewardship principles of Jesus being lived out in the lives of those they look up to. “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

And what about the exercise of kingdom stewardship in the way in which covenant families make use of their homes? When presenting their child for baptism, parents will want to ask: “What is it that we’re doing to carry out kingdom considerations with respect to this place where we live? To what use do we put our homes in ministering to others? Do we welcome strangers to the comfort of our homes?” A kingdom consciousness dictates that covenant families not hold back. It demands that they not withdraw themselves from the world.

So then, a kingdom mindset of serving others can be measured in so many practical ways. No matter how it is measured, it will always reflect that God’s called-out people model what it means to cultivate compassion. Always they will “open (their) mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And always, they will “judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy” (Prov. 31:8, 9). Always they will be like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, who “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov. 31:20).

Ultimately they will do this because all of Scripture lifts up one consistent message: Kingdom living is so much more than words. It is even more than words addressed to God. It is more than people praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is people who consistently practice what they profess. It is people who reflect kingdom values in the compassionate care they demonstrate.

And that is why when they present their covenant children for baptism, they will pause to ponder: To what extent will this child witness parents’ hearts that are broken by the things that break the heart of God?

Bottom line, it all comes down to this: It takes the Kingdom of God being exhibited both within and without the church to bring the transforming message of God’s covenant to fulfillment. It all comes down to this: If covenantal baptism means anything, it means the bringing of the church’s children under the rule of King Jesus.

Probe questions:

  1. Why is covenant baptism so extremely important in the life of the church community?
  2. What is really happening during the administration of the sacrament of baptism?
  3. The article explains how the people of God are involved in the sacrament. Explain their involvement.
  4. What is the role of the immediate family in the infant’s covenant baptism?
  5. The article refers to the family using its time, energies, and resources-how does that connect with baptism?
  6. As leaders and teachers, how do the people in your church view or understand infant baptism?
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