My greatest desire for my children is that they would be faithful followers of Jesus. Kristopher Schaal wrote a helpful article on the topic of Counseling Your Children About Salvation, but what should you say when your child tells you they want to be baptized?
As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of talking with many kids about baptism and teaching them from the Bible what getting dunked under the water is all about. I’ve observed over the years that many children understand salvation and yet know very little about the significance of baptism.
Here are some basic teaching points about baptism that I hope you can use as you talk with your kids.
Teach your children that baptism is:
1. A step of obedience to Christ
When Jesus commissioned His followers to go and make disciples in Matthew 28, he described baptism as an early step of obedience in a believer’s walk with God.
You can explain to your child that just as they were expected to obey dad and mom as a toddler even before they understood all the reasons why, Jesus commands believers to be baptized even before they become mature Christians.1
Take your child to the first recorded passage of baptisms in the church (Acts 2:38) where Peter speaks with God’s authority to those who were cut to the heart by his gospel message. He responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” Baptism is not an optional activity for Christ followers.2
Baptism is, first of all, a step of obedience. And yet, your child needs to understand that it’s not just something between them and God.
2. A public profession of your faith in Christ
Baptism shows everyone outwardly what has happened inwardly. Explain to your child that putting faith in Christ is a personal matter between them and God; no pastor or parent can make that decision for them. But once they put their faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins, God does not intend for their faith to stay private.
Many times Jesus healed or forgave someone, his or her reaction was to immediately tell other people about what God had done for them. Baptisms are intended to be public so that a child or adult can profess to everyone that they have put their faith in Christ alone for salvation.
Read with your child the stories in Acts of the baptisms of the Ethiopian, Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian Jailer, who each followed the same pattern—they heard the gospel, they believed the gospel, and they were baptized in front of others to profess their faith in Christ (Acts 8:35-38; 10:43-48; 16:14-15; 29-33).
Before I was baptized as a child, I prepared a written testimony of my salvation including a simple explanation of the gospel; it was read before I was baptized. As your child moves toward baptism, encourage them to prepare a verbal testimony with which to profess their faith in Christ.
3. A symbol of your union with Christ
Union with Christ can be a challenging concept to explain to your child. However, baptism beautifully pictures our connection with Christ in His death (as one is dunked under the water) and His resurrection (as one comes up out of the water).
Read Romans 6 with your children and explain how salvation involves dying with Christ to our old way of life. If they have truly “died with Christ” (8), then they should consider themselves “dead to sin” (11). The power of sin has been broken by Christ’s death! Furthermore, explain to your child how they can be raised with Christ to “walk in newness of life” (4) and use their bodies as “instruments of righteousness” (13) for God’s glory.
Baptism illustrates the reality of our union with Christ. But baptism is not just about our personal union with Christ. It also points to our connection with Christ’s body, the church.
4. An identification with the body of Christ
Most of the baptisms recorded for us in Acts were accomplished by the Apostles as a means of identifying individuals with the body of Christ, the local church.3
As Bobby Jamieson writes in his book on baptism, “When Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, he established the church as an embassy of that kingdom in order to identify its citizens before the world. And the initial and initiating means by which the church identifies individuals as kingdom citizens is baptism. The individual isn’t the only one speaking in baptism; the church speaks too.”4
Your child may not be old enough for church membership but there should be an understanding that baptism is administered by the church and is an important way that the church identifies and affirms an individual as part of Christ’s body.
You might talk to your children about how they are identified as part of your family because of their birth or adoption and how someone’s new birth and subsequent baptism is a way of identifying with the family of God–in particular, a local church fellowship.
When should your child be baptized?
Even if we assume the Biblical position that individuals of all ages should be baptized as believers, there are still many differing views on the age at which a child should be baptized.5 Ultimately, it is a decision of conscience and wisdom that you as a parent will have to agree upon along with your pastors. However, here are a few simple suggestions—especially for parents with young children.
- Don’t pressure
You’re probably wise not to encourage your children to be baptized the first time they tell you they “got saved,” especially if their understanding of the gospel and baptism is still immature.
- Keep teaching
Focus on faithfully teaching about the gospel and the purposes of baptism. If you do that, a truly regenerated child might even insist on being baptized as they mature in their understanding.
- Prayerfully wait
Teach them and then prayerfully wait for them to initiate and come to you to express their desire for baptism. This goes for talking about salvation as well. If you are faithfully teaching the gospel and the Holy Spirit is really working in their heart, they will often come to you.
- Ask why
When they do initiate a conversation about baptism, ask them why they want to get baptized. Their answer will probably give you an indication whether they have really grasped your teaching about the purpose of baptism. If they just want to get baptized because their friends are doing it, you have more teaching to do.
Helping your children through reservations
Baptism can be awkward and scary for young people (and adults!). Standing in front of a large crowd and getting dunked under the water is not convenient or comfortable, but it is God’s design. As you help your child through fears and pride that could keep them from taking this step of obedience, remind them of the death of Christ that baptism symbolizes. Jesus had his clothes stripped from his body and was mocked in front of a crowd of people as He bore our sins on the cross. He bore shame for us; we can surely handle some minor discomfort for Him.
In baptism, we have the privilege of professing our faith in Christ, symbolizing our union with Him, and identifying with the church family who lovingly celebrates with us in our obedience. Patiently teach your children and then rejoice with them in their baptism as brothers and sisters in Christ!
This doesn’t mean that you should encourage young children to be baptized…see points on when your child should be baptized. ↩︎
Although baptism is expected of believers, it’s important to remind your child that baptism does not have any saving effect. ↩︎
The early church did have some unique examples of baptism like the Gentiles in Caesarea who had been saved but only knew of the baptism of John or the Ethiopian that Philip apparently baptized without other believers present, but those are exceptions, and remember, they are occurrences in the early life of the church as the gospel was just spreading. ↩︎
Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership, B&H Academic, 2015, 82. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
John serves as an Associate Pastor at Grace Bible Church in Murrieta, California. He and his wife, Suzanne, have five growing boys—Josiah, Micah, Judah, Noah, and Elijah.View all posts by John