How does a Catholic respond to the question, “Are you born “again”?
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.
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
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.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13,
“ …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.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
All of us, including infants, need to be saved by Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.
After explaining that we must get out of Adam’s family and into Christ’s family, St. Paul explains how this is done.
In John’s Gospel from chapter 2: 23 through 3: 36 we read about Jesus’s explanation as to how we can be saved.
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.
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.
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.”
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 …”
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
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.
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.
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THE MERITS OF JESUS ARE NECESSARY FOR HEAVEN
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.
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.
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.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph #1261
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
Because of Original Sin Satan is the ruler of this world. It is only by the power of Jesus Christ that He is cast out.
No matter how lovable a child may be, he is not worthy of the gift of heaven. It is only when the saving work of Jesus is applied to his soul that he is made worthy of heaven. Baptism is the application of that saving grace to a person's soul. Truth is not based on what seems or feels right to you or me. Our feelings do not determine reality. The Sacrament of Baptism includes the Rite of Exorcism. The person’s soul that was separated from God is now brought into God’s Family, God’s Church, by Baptism and is given the protection that God’s grace provides.
To deny a child these benefits is cruel to the child.
SALVATION IS A FREE GIFT
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
PERSEVERING IN FAITH
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 this Greek word, ‘Adokimos,’ very clear in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where it 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).
CIRCUMCISION AND BAPTISM
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,
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.
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,