Our conversation about faith is leading us to the Lutheran confession regarding Baptism and Holy Communion. Before we get there, we need to address the question that often comes up about what we do with our babies. To fully understand our belief about Baptism, we have to first understand that God’s gift of faith is not limited either by our age or ability to understand the gift. Faith is a gift which is applied to the very young in both the Old and New Testaments.
Gift giving is part of our and perhaps every culture. We give gifts for birthdays. We give gifts for anniversaries. We give gifts at Christmas remembering the gifts of the magi to Jesus and the gift of life to us from God. The nature of gifts is that they are in essence undeserved. If we work for something, what we get is considered a wage. But we don’t work for gifts. We give gifts because we want to bless others apart from what they do. We get gifts because others want to bless us apart from what we do. We also don’t limit gift giving to those who can appreciate or understand the value of the gift. At baby showers, we gift gifts even to our pre-born babies. Those among us who are developmentally challenged are not denied gifts because we do not have the developmental maturity that matches our physical age. In the same way, God gives us the gift of faith regardless of our age or developmental age or maturity. That we are not old enough or mature enough to understand the value or purpose of the gift does not take away from the gift’s value or purpose. Nor does it negate that God gives us gifts.
It is hopefully helpful to understand faith as gift as we apply receiving of the gift without consideration of age. That infants can receive this gift is seen in the life of a prolific Old Testament poet, King David. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, David wrote these words in the 22nd Psalm: “Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; / You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. / Upon You I was cast from birth; / You have been my God from my mother’s womb” (9, 10 NASB). In four lines, David confessed his dependence and belief in God from infancy and the womb four time: God brought him forth from the womb, David trusted (had faith in) God as an infant at his mother’s breasts, he was given to God from birth, God was his God even before birth. David believed that his relationship with God through faith began before he was born, before he was old enough to understand the gift God had given him.
Jesus also teaches infant dependency on faith. The context of His words is condemnation of those who would lead the young away. Jesus had strong words for those who would deny children examples of righteousness and instead cause them to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5, 6 [see also Mark 9:42]). For our purposes, Jesus refers to the “little ones who believe in me.” “Little ones” are the very young, infants. Notice that Jesus ascribes faith to them. They have faith in Jesus though they certainly are not old enough to understand what faith is or even how to use it.
It is clear, then, both from our understanding of gifts and from Scriptural application that faith is not limited by age or ability to understand. Faith is not a capacity or ability that is naturally in us. It is a gift that God gives us. Because it is a gift, God can give it to us whenever He so pleases. He does not need to wait for us to be of age. He does not need to wait for us to be “accountable.” He does not need to wait at all. Just as we give gifts to our children even before they are born, so God’s gifts can also be given before we can understand their value or purpose.