According to Paul, the outcome of the new creation is not realized all at once. Certainly, a person is saved at the point they experience the new birth. However, as it is with the natural, a spiritual newborn has a lot of growing to do. Paul reiterates this truth in a discussion about knowing Jesus and the power of his resurrection when he says, I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me (Philippians 3:12).
Again, this does not mean a person is only partially saved at the point of confessing Jesus. It is a recognition the follower of Christ matures and grows in Christlike character throughout his or her life. It also acknowledges the maturation process does not “just happen.” This is the reason Scripture casts as commands the call to Christian character. For instance, Paul told the church in Rome, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). Examples of this sort may be multiplied but the point is twofold; we are in a state of spiritual immaturity at our new birth and, two, we must put forth effort to grow.
At no point does the foregoing discussion deny the scriptural truth of salvation by grace. The Bible plainly says, for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
There is some disagreement concerning the breadth of the gift of God mentioned in this passage. Some suggest it is only grace that is not of ourselves and is the gift Paul has in mind. Others say faith is the intended referent. After all, grace, by definition, is not of ourselves; it is unmerited favor. On the other hand, there is often confusion concerning faith; is it something we generate or is it something given by God? Understood properly, Ephesians 2:8 informs us that faith is not of ourselves. Thus, gracious salvation embraced by faith is a gift of God, devoid of our work, including the work of generating belief. So, "it is probably best to understand 'and this' as referring to salvation as a whole, not excluding the faith by which it is received" (F. F. Bruce, NICNT, The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 290).
Therefore, a person must be regenerated in order to faithfully receive God's gracious gift of salvation in Jesus. At no point does salvation depend upon the person who is receiving God's grace. Even the faith to accept the gift is from God. Nevertheless, upon receiving the gift, it must be cultivated in order to be fully formed in the Believer. You might say, there is some assembly required.
The new born Believer may know nothing about Christianity. This will vary from one person to the next. The speed at which they mature in the faith will also differ from one individual to another. In every case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In other words, evidence of the new birth is seen in the fruit produced (
Luke 6:43-44(43) A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit, (44) because every tree is known by its own fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants or pick grapes from a thorn bush.etc.). A person who does not experience growth and maturation in the faith should, examine [themselves] to see if [their] faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
It should be obvious that a confession of faith at a particular age is no guarantee of salvation; the age of a person does not decide the authenticity of their salvation experience. I once shared the gospel with a man who responded to the message of salvation in Christ by saying, “you're right, it's probably time I got saved and baptized again.” Upon further inquiry I discovered he had “been saved and baptized” four times in the past. As our conversation continued, it was clear he had never understood the good news and was not born again. There was no fruit of Christian character in his life. Yet, each of his four previous confessions of faith and baptisms had taken place in adulthood. The point is, God is not concerned with an arbitrary age of accountability; he gives salvation to whomever he pleases whenever he sees fit.
All of this has significance concerning the participation of children in the covenant. The Baptist tradition insists there is an age of accountability when a person is capable of making a credible confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Baptists believe it is at that point a person should be baptized. However, the insistence upon an age of accountability edges salvation away from the sole province of God and seems to place it in the possession of the individual. This is contrary to Scripture.
If we accept the fact that salvation is a work of God the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to reject the possibility of infant salvation. Indeed, When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, she greeted Elizabeth and, at the sound of Mary's greeting, Elizabeth's child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). This is recorded in Luke's Gospel to confirm that, even in the womb, John the baptizer was filled with the Holy Spirit (
Luke 1:14-17(14) You will have great joy, and many people will rejoice at his birth, (15) because he will be great in the Lord’s presence. He will never drink wine or any strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (16) He will bring many of Israel’s descendants back to the Lord their God. (17) He is the one who will go before the Lord with the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, and to prepare the people to be ready for the Lord.), and in some fashion, aware of the unfolding plan of God. The burden of proof is upon those who suggests this was a one-time event. In short, there is nothing in the Bible that tells us babies in the womb are incapable of saving faith.
Just as it is with any new Christian, an infant in a covenant household must grow in Christlikeness to evidence the new creation. As it is with an adult who confesses Christ, it may turn out that the child born to believing parents is not truly born-again. If this happens it is not because the child was assumed to be a believer and raised as such, but in spite of it.
Thus, it should be assumed a child born to believing parents is likewise a Believer. This would have been the assumption of the first century Christians and was affirmed by Peter in his Pentecost sermon
Acts 2:39For this promise belongs to you and your children, as well as to all those who are distant, whom the Lord our God may call to himself.). Paul tells us, in Christ, we are partakers of the Abrahamic covenant and one feature of that compact is the inclusion of children in the enjoyment of the covenant promises and blessings.
This is why it is right to baptize the children of believing parents. We should assume they are followers of Jesus Christ and members of the covenant family. As such they should receive the covenant sign.
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