When does God’s saving grace begin working in a person’s life? Is it at the moment the person decides to believe in Christ? Or can God’s saving grace be operative prior to a person believing? Could that saving grace even begin at a young child’s baptism?

Church traditions within Christendom differ over the practice of baptism. Those differences extend to its meaning, spiritual significance, rightful candidates, and how baptism is to be performed. I will not address those questions here but I highly recommend the source below for understanding where Christians agree and disagree over baptism.1

The focus of this article is more autobiographical. I hope you’ll benefit as I share my reflections on how I have understood God to have worked in my life when it comes to baptism and my ongoing spiritual development and vocation.

God’s Early Hand on My Life

My life is inextricably linked to my parents. Both my dad and mom grew up with an evangelical Christian faith in the rural state of West Virginia. They moved to Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1950s and converted to Roman Catholicism in the early 1960s. At age four, I was baptized as a Roman Catholic at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Long Beach, California. I distinctly remember as a young boy staring intently at the crucified Christ statue that hung above the church’s altar. Being very young, I knew little about who Jesus was, but the crucifix told me he had suffered greatly and that he was central to our church.

Catholicism honors its saints and our parish was dedicated to the early church father St. Athanasius (c. 296–373) who had defended Nicene orthodoxy. This meant that he affirmed the Trinity by defending the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit against arguably the church’s greatest heresy—Arianism (a categorical denial of Christ’s deity). I recalled later reading on the church door Athanasius’s famous words uttered during the height of the Arian controversy: Athanasius Contra Mundum (“Athanasius against the world”).

God’s Ongoing Guiding Hand

Many years later I would come to learn about Athanasius’s heroic life as a Christian theologian and apologist. I went on to read his classic work On the Incarnation, which inspired me to write and speak about the person of Christ and the triune God, especially to those contemporary religious groups that deny these doctrines (Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Iglesia Ni Cristo). Many years after my baptism I came to view my own modest apologetics ministry as being carried out in the spirit of Athanasius. I would even write a chapter about Athanasius in my book Classic Christian Thinkers.2

God’s special grace in my life seemed to begin at my baptism all those years ago where I first heard of Jesus Christ and made the sign of the cross and uttered those sacred words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” While theologians debate the concept of baptismal regeneration, I am convinced that God had his providential hand upon me even as a small boy. And while I would not remain a Roman Catholic my whole life, I am indeed grateful for and respectful of what I received and learned as a Catholic and for distinguished Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blaise Pascal, who would continue to teach and inspire me even as an evangelical Protestant Christian.

Reflecting on a Heritage

Several years ago I visited St. Athanasius parish and showed my children the place where my Christian spiritual pilgrimage in life began. I looked again at the statue of the crucified Christ as well as the front door of the church, which still contained Athanasius’s famous words. I reflected anew on how God’s saving grace had worked in my life both then and now.

Reflections: Your Turn

Have you reflected on how God’s saving grace has worked in your life? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

  1. For different views of baptism within Protestantism, see the book Baptism: Three Views, edited by David Wright.
  2. For an introduction to St. Athanasius and his key ideas as well his battle against Arianism, see chapter two of my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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