There is no biblical mandate regarding baby baptism or dedication. Yet the ritual, for many, serves as a public declaration of the parents’ intent to raise the child for God’s glory.
The heartwarming spectacle makes for a pleasant gathering of family and friends and often spawns some adorable photos. But can we make it into something more? Something that spills over the sanctuary stage and into the home?
This redirection of focus from church to home is critical for the modern Christian parent. Some of us may hold to the belief that because we are Christians- because we drop our kids off at Sunday school every week and purge our vocabulary of curse words and refrain from watching Game of Thrones in front of them- our children are on the fast-track to saint-status.
But the reality is that God calls us- not pastors or Sunday school teachers- to be the primary ministers to our children, not just by what we shelter them from and what we don’t do, but by what we do.
It’s our words, rhythms, and rituals- the granular constituents of our day-to-day lives- that leave the greatest imprint on our children.
The Scriptures assert this concept in Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Charles Spurgeon says this:
“Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion that Sunday School is intended to ease them of their personal duties. The first and most natural condition of things is for Christian parents to train up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
In Judges 2, we see a generation’s failure to train up their own children. Judges 2:7 describes a godly generation of Israelites who served the Lord:
“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.”
This generation witnessed “all the great things the Lord had done.” They experienced His goodness first-hand, yet failed to pass on a cognizance of that goodness to their children:
“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger. . .” - Judges 2:10-12
How did this happen? Did these god-fearing Israelite parents just forget to mention God to the younger generation?
Although we can’t be sure, my guess is that they probably had the best intentions while raising their children. They probably even talked about God from time to time.
But the problem was not their intentions. The problem was that the goodness of the one true God failed to register on a deep, personal level in the children.
This then should be the primary parental mission: to instill in our children an intimate, personal, visceral understanding of God’s goodness.
So with the mission in mind, let’s go back to baby baptism. It’s a great ritual, but how can we translate its symbolism into real life? Below are five ways to reinforce baby baptism or dedication off-stage and in the home:
1. Combat generational sin with prayer
Crosswalk.com defines generational sin as “weaknesses or tendencies that are handed down to us through the generations from parents or members of our family.”
Our culture is one of hyper-individualism. We live under the delusion that we are self-made, monolithic beings, by ourselves, for ourselves. For this reason, a topic like generational sin might seem archaic and unattractive. Just because our parents did something wrong doesn’t mean we’re doomed to do the same, right?
Right. But we probably still have a steep proclivity for our family’s vice of choice (or more likely, vices of choice).
We’ll let the scientists and psychologists debate over whether these proclivities are primarily passed down through nature or nurture. But for our purposes, this debate doesn’t matter.
Regardless of whether our favorite vices are embedded in our DNA or etched into us during our vulnerable years, what matters is that we acknowledge that things do get passed down- that we have inherited natural tendencies from our parents, and that our children will likely inherit similar tendencies.
The concept of generational sin is dense and sensitive, and I don’t want to do it injustice by giving a shallow overview. So if you want to know more, listen to this sermon , which explains the concept at greater length.
The sermon outlines a biblical framework for generational sin. It starts with Abraham and moves to Isaac and Ishmael, then to Jacob and Esau, and then to Joseph and his brothers. We see each generation of this divinely chosen and favored family lapse into toxic patterns of deceit, favoritism, and brutal sibling rivalry.
Maybe your family’s pattern involves something obvious like substance abuse. Or maybe it’s something that can be easily fitted to a neat Christian life like judgementalism, pride, or obsession with appearances.
Below is a quick, non-exhaustive list of potential generational sins just to get us thinking:
● Obsession with appearances
● Uncontrolled anger
● Holding grudges
● Substance abuse
● Relational turmoil
● Sexual immorality
The list could go on. Some of us may know our family’s generational sins off the bat, while others may need to spend some time asking the Holy Spirit to help us identify them.
But in every family, generational sin, however subtle or substantial, exists. So what do we do about it?
● We combat it with prayer- first in ourselves, then in our children. We must not give up on ourselves and heap all remaining hope onto our children. If they can witness our liberation from generational patterns, they’re all the more likely to break free themselves. We must not grant ourselves a free pass on sin with the excuse that we need to focus on our children instead.
● Then we acknowledge the sin as a family. We agree with God that it is indeed a sin, and therefore something we can control- not something to be blamed on circumstance or dismissed as a personality quirk.
● And then we believe that Jesus is powerful enough to break generational cycles, no matter how far they go back. We can thank Him for this in our prayers.
2. Release family blessing with prayer and affirmation
Again, this is a rich concept, so here’s a sermon for more detail.
If we’re going to identify our family’s shortcomings, we should also take time to identify our strengths. Even the worst of families have something good to pass on. So probe for these unique family gifts, and pray them over your child. Here are a few examples of potential family blessings; some may be more “spiritual” than others, and that’s okay:
● Close-knit relationships
● Heart for ministry
● Business prowess
Generational blessings are not to be imposed on our children. Just because you come from a family of missionaries and pastors doesn’t mean you should expect your child to pursue full-time ministry. Or if you come from a family of social animals, don’t think that something’s terribly amiss if your child turns out shy.
The concept of generational blessing is a useful tool to clue you in on what you will most likely pass on to your child, and what you might want to spend some time nurturing.
So with that, here’s what we can do:
● Identify the generational blessings. Ask the Holy Spirit for help if need be.
● Thank God for these blessings.
● Ask Him to help you be a good steward of these gifts and a good teacher to your child.
● As your child grows, if he/she begins to show signs of possessing that blessing, be sure to affirm it. Your encouraging words have the power to shape his/her life. (If you want more encouragement ideas, a subscription box makes for a great resource.)
As your family approaches baby baptism, let these blessings be at the forefront of your mind as you celebrate the future of God’s work in your child’s life.
3. Choose a life verse
I’m not sure if the term “life verse” sounds intimidating or just flat out ridiculous.
It’s ridiculous because, in theory, the whole Bible should apply to our lives.
And it’s intimidating in the same way that a permanent tattoo is intimidating (for some of us at least)- it’s a commitment.
But we should try not to think of life verses as spiritual full sleeves, nor should we think of them as somehow trumping the rest of the Bible in relevance.
Rather, they serve as a way of introducing our children to the personal nature of Scripture.
Giving your child a life verse from the get-go is just one small way of teaching them that God’s Word can and should be the language of our lives.
And as they get a little older, their life verse can serve as an excellent gateway to the memorization of Scripture. We may find that though our children are not keen on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, they do want to know their life verse. The term only suggests what is true of all Scripture- that it’s actually pertinent to them.
Although I never had a life verse, I can say that the verses that are most ingrained in me are those that I memorized in early childhood. They’re now impossible to forget. The verses I’ve attempted to memorize since adulthood just don’t stick quite as well.
So if you’re sold on the idea, here’s a list of some potential life verses:
● For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. - 2 Timothy 1:7
● But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:33
● Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. - Psalm 55:2
● Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.- Proverbs 3:5-6
● Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7
● So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
● Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. - Psalm 23:6
● Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. - Deuteronomy 31:6
● But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. - Isaiah 40:31
● May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. - Romans 15:13
4. Pray specific prayers
This should be more than a one-time occurrence. Choose specific prayers to regularly pray over your children, and be amazed as you watch God work.
Pray for more than the basics. The less generic, the better. Decide on some unique prayers, and commit to praying them as a family.
Some of my family members have prayed that I’d “always be surrounded by angels and saints,” and I’m amazed at how this prayer has unfolded in my life. All my friends are exceptional people, and I feel like I missed out on a lot of the relational drama that I’ve seen so many others go through.
For my future children, I pray for long-term, stable friendships. I pray they will always be loved by a vibrant community of both adults and peers. I pray they will be best friends with one another. I pray they will recognize their callings from a young age. And I pray they will be blessed with good spouses. You can’t forget about the spouses.
Here are a few more sample prayers:
● That they will come to faith at a young age
● That they will be wise in their romantic relationships
● That they will choose all their friends wisely
● That they will live detached from money and material possessions
● That they will be wise with their words
● That they will be avid learners and seekers of truth and knowledge
● That they will be radically generous
● That they will never be lacking in church community
● That they will have attitudes of abundance and contentment
● That they will have excellent role models in their lives
● That they will be diligent and thorough in all their work
● That they will find their passion and stick with it
● That they will find careers they love
● That they won’t be afraid to be different from their peers
5. Decide on specific values to instill
Korie Robertson, author of Strong and Kind, a book on raising children of character, says this:
“After being a parent for twenty years, I have come to believe that the most important thing for parents to decide—more important than bottle or breastfeeding, more important than co-sleeping or sleep training, and even more important than whether to put your child in daycare or become a stay-at-home parent—is what values are important to your family and how you will go about instilling those values in your children.”
And what better time to decide on these values than leading up to baby baptism or dedication?
Of course, most of us would want our children to embody a host of virtues. But in order to give us some direction, it can be helpful to narrow our focus and emphasize two or three that are most important to us.
Korie chose the values of strength and kindness for her children. Here’s a list of others to consider:
What values do you want to instill on future generations?
Share your thoughts and leave a comment below.
Erica Baker is a blogger and devotional writer, helping churches and faith-based businesses put their ideas in writing.
She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.