“Baptized unbelievers”? Surely an oxymoron? A horrible self-contradictory phrase, no?

It’s like saying “male woman”, or “short giant”, or “black KKK”, or “holy devil”. It just shouldn’t be. It’s a term that should shock us and horrify us.

But there are such people in the church (and outside the church). I’m thinking here especially of those who were baptized as children but never went on to believe for themselves. They are baptized; but they are not believers, at least not in a saving sense. And that’s horrific.

How so?

Horrific Possibility
Let’s go back to circumcision in order to feel the awful weight of this possibility. In Genesis 12 & 15, God had promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. He promised that through Abraham’s family the devil-conquering “Seed of the woman” would come to bless all nations.

But Abraham grew impatient and in Genesis 16 turned from this verbal promise and resorted to his own wisdom and power by producing a child with his servant, Hagar.

Although we might have expected God to give up on Abraham there and then, instead He doubled down and added a physical reminder of the promise in circumcision. Now, in addition to the verbal promise, he had a visible, tangible, permanent reminder of the promise carved into his skin. This circumcision meant at least four things:

First, it was a covenantal cutting, with God separating Abraham and his family from the world, making a difference between them and everyone else.  Second, it was covenantal claiming, with God putting a mark of ownership on Abraham and his seed, saying, “You are mine.” And thirdly, it was a covenantal commitment, with God committing Himself to make available everything necessary to produce the promised Seed and make this relationship work.

Heart and Flesh
But, it was also, fourthly, a covenantal call. God cut them off, God claimed them, and God committed himself to Abraham and his family, but He also called him and his descendants to be circumcised in heart. In numerous places, God said, “Let the heart reflect the skin, let the inward reflect the outward, let the spiritual reflect the physical” (e.g. Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4), a theme that continued on into the New Testament (Acts 7:51; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11-12). That last verse also indicates that, although circumcision made way for baptism, the message of both circumcision and baptism is the same – a cutting off or separating, a claiming, a committing, and a calling.

That’s why I want to make a plea to baptized unbelievers, to those who have had the mark of the covenant placed upon their skin, whether as a child or as an adult: “Let your heart, reflect your skin, let, the inward reflect the outward, let the spiritual reflect the physical.”

By baptism, God has cut you off from this sinful and corrupt world. Of all the millions and billions of people in the world, he has chosen you and put a special mark of separation upon you. So come out from among them and be separate. By grace flee from this perishing world to the Lord Jesus Christ.

By baptism, God has claimed you. He has placed His triune name upon you. He has said, and still says, “You are mine!” So agree to His ownership, accept His claim, respond with “Yes, I am yours. Save me. Take me. Use me.”

By baptism God has committed himself to you. He has engaged to provide everything necessary to make this relationship work. So don’t doubt His provision, don’t question His commitment.

The Worst Name?
Do you now see how awful it is to be a baptized unbeliever?

Think of the worst name you could be called.

Here’s a worse one. “Baptized unbeliever.”

Although there are many covenant privileges that come with being baptized, to be a “baptized unbeliever” is also one of the worst spiritual states to be in. To whomsoever much is given, much shall be required.

As such, to be called a “baptized unbeliever” should horrify us. It should shock and grate. It just shouldn’t be so. That’s why, from the youngest years, we call our baptized children to faith, encouraging them with their baptism to cast themselves on the God who has cut them off, made such a claim upon their lives, and committed himself to provide all that they need to be saved.

You might say, “But I didn’t have a choice about my baptism.” You’re right. And for that you should be thankful. Because, left to yourself, you would never have chosen God’s cutting, claiming, or committing. This isn’t about your choice, nor even about your parent’s choice. This is about God’s choice. He has sovereignly and graciously cut you off, claimed you, and committed himself to you in the same way as He did to circumcised Israelites. So, just as God said to the Israelites, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked,” so God says to you, “Be baptized therefore in your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.”

A Baptismal Prayer
Use your baptism to encourage you as to God’s good and powerful will. Why not get your baptismal certificate out, lay it before the Lord, and say, “Lord, you have cut me off, you have claimed  me, you have committed yourself to me. But I have not responded rightly. I’m ashamed and horrified to admit that I’m a baptized unbeliever. God have mercy and baptize me with the Holy Spirit so that my heart reflects my skin.” That way you lose the worst name and get the best name in the world; a baptized believer.

PS. Although this is addressed primarily to those baptized as infants, it’s also a call to those baptized as adults to live up to or live out all that baptism means. The purpose is not to start a paedo v credo debate, but to appeal to baptized unbelievers. If it also helps build a better understanding of how those of us who baptize infants view and use baptism, then that would be a neat bonus. 

  • AK Lone Dingo

    Wow…just…wow…home run, over the fence, high hit on the big green monster, splash in the bay water, and on and on.

    Great writing! Thank you!

    May the deaf hear and a seed be planted.

    M. Howard Kehr

    • David Murray

      Thank you for the kind words.

  • Pingback: A Brotherly Dialogue on Covenant Theology | Biblical Spirituality