The Question of Infant Baptism
– what is the significance of the promise?
The foundation of infant circumcision in the Old Testament was the statement, “I will be a God to you and to your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God and to your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:7, see vv. 10 & 14). What is actually being promised here? Before we answer this question, it is helpful for us to understand what is not being said.
1. God was not promising to be the God of all the children of Abraham in an external sense. He was not saying that those children would simply profess the true religion, give outward obedience and worship, and publicly acknowledge God as their God. There is no hint in Scripture that this is what it means to have God as our God.
2. Consequently, it does not mean that every single child will be part of an external covenant. It does not mean that they will simply receive the offers of the covenant, “If you repent and believe, then you will be saved.” This may be a part of what it means to have God as our God, but it is not complete.
3. It does not mean that every child of Abraham head for head would have God as their God. This is plain from Romans 9:1-13 and from experience.
4. It did not mean that every child would get to have God as their God unless and until they broke the covenant or turned away from Abraham’s faith. It did not mean that all Abraham’s descendants would be saved by circumcision and that later some would fall away.
And so what did it mean?
“The descendants” referred to some of Abraham’s children or Abraham’s children in general. It meant that God would truly be the God of some of Abraham’s physical descendants. In other words, God would raise up a spiritual seed for Abraham from his physical descendants.
That “God would be their God” meant that they would have God in the fullest sense. God described this to Abraham in Gen. 15:1, “I am your shield and very great reward.” To have God as our reward means to be able to enjoy God forever. It includes being accounted righteous before God (Gen. 15:6). This means that they would not only obtain salvation but be kept in that salvation and finally brought to glory.
Now some may say, “Does having God as our God really mean all that?” According to Jesus it does. Jesus inferred from the phrase “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” that there is a resurrection from the dead (see Mt. 22:31-33).
This principle continues on through the generations. As Moses spoke to the Israelites, he noted that even their sin would not cause this principle to cease, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Dt. 30:6).
God promised nothing less than full salvation to Abraham and his physical descendants. This did not mean all of them, for Ishmael, Esau, and many in the wilderness were destroyed. Nevertheless, the Lord brought about not only a physical seed for Abraham but a spiritual seed for Abraham from that physical seed.