Teaching the Catechism: Holy Baptism II, Third and Fourth Parts

Continue learning how to teach Holy Baptism with the Third and Fourth Parts on Baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism

Baptism, Third Part:

How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word, the water is just plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God, it is a Baptism, that is, life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

Teaching Tip: Talk with Students about the Water.

I often field questions regarding water use in Baptism: how much is enough, does it need to be pure, why do Lutherans sprinkle instead of immersing, and so on. Point out to students that any amount is appropriate, as far as the water goes.

The vast majority of Baptisms I have done (the reality is that the Holy Spirit is the One who does the baptizing) have been sprinkled Baptisms. However, I have also done a couple in a lake. One advantage of using a large body of water is the ability to immerse.

Immersion, while not necessary, effectively represents the drowning of the Old Adam and the coming up to new life in Christ. What is more, immersion illustrates Christ’s burial in the tomb and resurrection, which Christians share in.

Christ died for the sins of the whole world, was buried, and rose again having conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil. As Christians are tied to Christ in Baptism, we, although we die, will rise again when Christ returns on the Last Day.

Lake water also suggests the question regarding purity. While it is true that the purity, or lack thereof, does not enhance or diminish the effectiveness of the Baptism, this truth should not be taken as a license to use water from any source.

Exposure to pathogens is one concern (there is no telling what can be found in lake water, for example). A second concern pertains to education. What does the use of clean water represent? Clean, clear water points to the righteousness that we receive from Christ through Baptism. We are washed clean.

Regarding the practice of sprinkling as opposed to immersion, Lutherans sprinkle, in part, as a reaction to others in the course of Christian history who have insisted that Baptism by immersion is the only effective method. In good Protestant practice, Lutherans insist that the power of Baptism is the Word of God, not the amount or particular method of applying the water.

The other concern is practical. It is safer and less expensive to use a baptismal font as opposed to a tank. A font avoids the risks of leakage and water damage.

Baptism, Fourth Part:

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.

While there is never a need to repeat Baptism, it is an element of the Christian life to which we return daily. As I sin daily, I return to my Baptism daily. In other words, I remember that in Baptism I am a new creature in Christ, raised to life to love and obey the Lord and serve my neighbor, not to further indulge in sin. In the assurance of my Baptism, I confess my sins to the Lord and receive complete forgiveness.

Teaching Tip: Review Christian Repentance

Remind students that Christian repentance is not merely feeling bad about our sins. Instead, Christian repentance involves first a recognition that however I may have sinned against other human beings, my offense is first and foremost against a righteous God. There is appropriate sorrow and regret. Second, I seek and trust in the full forgiveness which I have because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4) [Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth Part]

Rising to new life in Christ through Baptism involves two major issues. First, I embrace the new life I have received in Baptism. That is, I flee from sin and instead devote my time and energies to the good works to which all Christians are called. This change in behavior is not to diminish the wickedness of my sin nor to earn God’s forgiveness. Rather, I live righteously because that is who I am or, more to the point, who God has made me in Baptism.

I use this illustration. A dog barks, wags its tail, and does tricks—not toward the goal of becoming a dog but rather because it is a dog. Those are a dog’s natural behaviors. Likewise, the baptized Christian doesn’t live righteously to become righteous. He does so because Christ has made him righteous through faith. That is his nature.

Second, as baptized Christians, we also live in the certainty of forgiveness and eternal life. I have certainty because my Baptism is not based on my merits or behavior but rather on God and His promises found in His Word. Baptism is the source of ever-present grace each day and the joyful anticipation of Christ’s return and life eternal with Him.


Small Catechism quotations are from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation © 1986, 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All Rights Reserved.

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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