God’s work is simply awe-inspiring. The last two months in my personal ministry and in my personal growth with our Lord has been truly amazing. I will share a little about that as we get into the text. This will be the second time since the beginning of December that we have been in the Great Commission Passage. When we were in this passage together before, we saw the eternal mission of Christ and His calling us to participate in that mission. Today, we are going to consider Christ’s explicit instruction to baptize.
Baptism is kind of weird. We dunk people in a pool of water to signify that they are now one of us. Some denominations or other religions flick water on people with their hands and even give babies quick head-baths (which I am sure their mothers appreciate). For those who have not grown up in the church or who visit during a baptism, the practice probably just seems kind-of cultish. baptism is weird. In our local church’s belief statement, we make this proclamation regarding baptism:
WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted two ordinances for the Church as outward, visible expressions of our faith (though our salvation is by grace, through faith, in Christ alone):
(a) full immersion water baptism of believers, and
(b) the Lord’s Supper
(Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19-20; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Ephesians 2:8-9)
As we look to the text this morning, we are going to ask, “What is baptism? Why is baptism important? What does baptism mean? Why do we think about baptism and what is the theological truth concerning God’s ordinance of baptism?”
The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus instructed us to make disciples of all nations.
Any time we think about baptism, we have to think about it in the context of making disciples. Jesus places baptism in this context explicitly. When Jesus, according to Matthew’s Gospel, defined what it means to make disciples, he did so by saying we make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything that Christ commanded.
Making disciples, then, has two parts. First, there is baptism, which represents dying to self and being born by the Spirit. Then, there is instruction resulting in growth in our obedience. This is the order of our salvation. First, we are born again, or regenerated, then we grow in our obedience to Christ, or are sanctified. Salvation is regeneration and sanctification. Though I don’t think we will ever stop learning new things, God’s people will one day be fully saved, made complete creatures.
On this earth, then, we are to make disciples by way of evangelism and correct instruction resulting in sanctification. This is explicitly how we go and make disciples of all nations.
To whom did Christ send us? When He instructs us to go, Christ explicitly teaches that we are to make disciples of all nations. If any church body is merely concerned with itself or even its own immediate community, then it seems it is concerned with something other than the explicit mission of our Lord. We must remember that God’s church is bigger than the local congregation. He uses the local congregation in our time to accomplish His own glory in every place and throughout all time. Discipleship, including both evangelism and instruction, cannot be local only. We must be making disciples who make disciples. To do this, as with the church at Antioch (Acts 11-13), must be a church planting church.
I mentioned that I am inspired to awesome wonder when I see what God is doing. I want to share what He has worked out in my personal ministry. For eight years I have been developing content and publishing. The audience has grown tremendously and I only have God and you to thank for that. I seriously want to thank my local church family for investing in me and for giving me the freedom to do the ministry of the Word. On January 1st, I announced that I was going to pursue church-planting through this personal ministry. My commitment to God was that I would walk through any door He opened. Things fell into place so quickly; it almost seems like God has been working this together from before the foundation of the world (He has). I realize again that in following Christ there has never been time for me to get comfortable or to get used to the way things were. God moves with great urgency. In my personal ministry, we now have a church plant in West Africa and plans to build an orphanage and elementary school there. Through technology, I am training pastors there, meeting with our team leader almost daily at this point so that we can talk about the Bible, ministry, pray together, and hopefully a network of church-planting churches will be the result. Yesterday, there was a woman in Ghana who contacted me via Facebook. She was desperate for a Bible. She could not get one and she desperately wants to study God’s words. So, I sent her one. This is work that you enable. As a local church, there is a great opportunity before us if we will move with God. Please pray for our brothers and sisters as we make disciples of all nations.
Jesus instructed that Baptism accompany the making of disciples.
Baptism is part of what it means to make disciples. What is baptism according to the Bible?
When we read the book of Acts, we see people getting baptized directly following their conversion (Acts 2:38, 8:12, 36-38, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 22:16). Those baptized before their conversion to Christ were baptized again (Acts 19:6). Some were baptized before receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 19:6). Some were baptized after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48). People were baptized by the apostles and by people who were not apostles (Acts 22:16). There were people who were converted but did not get baptized immediately, so far as we know. In fact, their baptisms are not recorded at all (Acts 13:12, 48, 17:34). Others were converted and baptized but we do not know the timeframe between conversion and baptism- only that they believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).
Baptism was full immersion in water and was practiced after a person came to faith in Christ. If a person was converted sometime after being baptized, that person was baptized again because the previous baptism was not the baptism of Christ.
“What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims” (Romans 6:1-7).
Baptism is like the marriage ring. It is a picture of what Christ has done in bringing us to Himself. When we are in Christ, we are no longer bachelors in the world. We are taken. When I married my wife, I was no longer single. I was never really a bachelor. I was awkward around the ladies, afraid to talk to them, and so I am glad that God works all things together! I didn’t have to be a good flirt to find the perfect wife! When a man gets married, he dies to self and lives for his wife. He sacrifices for her. He no longer flirts. He is dead to his old self. If he returns to his ways of singleness, he proves that he does not love his wife. The same is true when we are in Christ. Did you see what Paul wrote to the Romans?
For religious Christians, if your baptism was not one of death to self and of life in Christ alone, you did not receive true baptism. Your baptism was ineffective! Baptism gives us this picture of what God is doing in us for His own glory. The old person is gone! We are new creations in Christ. By the power of Christ, we are brought out of our deathly estate and into the glory and righteousness of Christ alone.
“For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:9-13).
The sign of the old covenant was circumcision. That covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. Israel was the living parable of human depravity. Human biology could not accomplish the things of God, and the Law was given to increase the trespass (Romans 5:20). This means that the Law was a witness to Christ’s perfect righteousness and our need for salvation by grace. To even see the kingdom of God we must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8)! Christ also said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)! Baptism is the sign that we are in the new covenant, partakers of the grace to which the old covenant was a testimony. It is by faith, not by works because works could not accomplish God’s glory. It is by God’s choosing, not by human biology. In the old covenant, people were revealed to be dead. In the new covenant, we are forgiven and raised with Christ from the dead! This is the theology of baptism. Baptism is the outward sign of this new life. We are buried with Christ and raised with Him.
Is baptism required for salvation? Can people who have not been baptized be saved? If human works are not able to accomplish the things of God, then we cannot try to make baptism a requirement for salvation. It’s a sign of God covenant of grace and of Christ’s work alone. By definition, baptism cannot be misconstrued to be a work by which we earn some place in Christ’s kingdom. Baptism is, though, an act of obedience to our Lord and a testimony to His awesome name. So, just because we have been ‘baptized’ does not mean we are saved. Just because we haven’t been baptized does not mean we are not saved.
What is the evidence of salvation in our lives?
“For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:17-26).
The Scriptures don’t say that if we are saved we know a lot of stuff. The Scriptures tell us that people who are in Christ bear fruit consistent with Salvation. This fruit is the outward manifestation of our transformed heart. It is a matter of character wrought by the Holy Spirit. If we are dead to self and alive in Christ, we no longer bear the fruit of the dead person. We bear fruit that is consistent with repentance (Matthew 3:8). So, we examine ourselves. If we see that a brother or sister isn’t bearing fruit that is consistent with repentance, we have a responsibility to address that with gentleness and respect so that sin will be rejected and his life will be saved (James 5:19-20).
“In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:17-20).
By fruit, we recognize who is really born again and who isn’t. It’s not a matter of intelligence, praise the Lord! Someone can have a misunderstanding about some doctrinal truth and still be saved. We are given new hearts. Our character changes through sanctification. We are dead to ourselves and alive eternally in Christ.
Jesus instructed that Baptism was to be done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? Over the previous weeks as we have walked through our church’s belief statement, we have considered the identity of God as He revealed Himself in the Bible. The Father for-ordains all things. The Son reveals the Father. The Holy Spirit does the effectual work of the Godhead. When we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we testify that our salvation is a holistic work of God alone.
Consider Acts 19:1-7:
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
“No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
“Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them.
“With John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. Now there were about 12 men in all.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was a symbolic cleansing from sin and a regular practice of the Jewish faith. Salvation isn’t achieved by our works. It is only accomplished by the holistic work of the Godhead. In Acts 19:5, we see that these 12 men were rebaptized in the name of Jesus. Jesus is the only one in whom baptism is effective. We are not baptized with John’s baptism. We are not baptized in our own names. We are dead to self, remember? We are not baptized in the name of our local churches or denominations. We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church cannot work out our salvation for us, though our committed involvement in the local church works for our sanctification as we stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:25). This is entirely a work of God. He receives all glory. We were created by God, and we are saved by Him, through Him, and to Him. Our salvation is not of ourselves or for ourselves.
In America, everything is about us. We are so human-centered and focussed inward. The American Dream is simply a new form of Pelagianism (the prosperity Gospel or works-righteousness). This mentality has invaded our churches and even the way that we present the Gospel. It was how we were raised by our culture. In the church, we teach salvation in such a way that it is centered on the person being saved. Salvation is seen primarily as our not going to Hell or our getting into Heave of our experiencing eternal bliss. A correct theology of baptism would lead us to the opposite conclusion. Our salvation is primarily for God’s pleasure and glory, that He might be known. Our salvation is not about us, though it does work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
We convince ourselves that God, if He were loving and good, would submit Himself to the will of people and work for the pleasure of people. So, we question God when things don’t go our way. God is the one working all things together, especially the salvation of His people. Scripture teaches that He does so for His own pleasure and to His own glory and according to His own will. It has to be this way. In the beginning, we weren’t here to tell God what to do. If He didn’t work for His own pleasure and glory, there would be no creation. God wouldn’t take pleasure in His people. I am so glad God takes pleasure in His creation and in His people! God is so good! His goodness is on display as we practice baptism.