Baptism is practiced by many in the Christian world. But do you know why? I do not think baptism is hard to understand but some people make it more difficult than it should be.
The first thing about baptism that one should be able to understand easily is that is a command to be obeyed. In two of the Gospel accounts, Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ last instructions to the disciples were to preach the Gospel to the whole world. As you read these, notice where baptism falls in the context.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) 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, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”English Standard Version
Mark 16:15-16 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (16) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.English Standard Version
Now in these two passages, there is only one command that needs to be obeyed in regard to baptism and the command is not “Be Baptized” but rather “Baptize.” It is not a command given to the person who hears the Gospel but rather to the person who preaches the Gospel.
Notice that Jesus in Matthew 28:19 says “Go….Make disciples…baptizing them…” Today, you will find many people who are willing to “Go” but not to baptize. That is to say, they will teach about Jesus and not even once mention baptism. They are content to teach about Jesus and when a person says they believe in Jesus then they move on and consider their preaching is done. (To be fair, some will tell these people that they ‘should be baptized’ at some point but “it is not necessary.”) Jesus then follows up his command to the Apostles by telling them to teach the new disciples all of his commands, one of which is to “Go…Make disciples…baptizing them…”
In Mark’s account, the message is a bit clearer. “Go…proclaim! Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” In this command, the Apostles were to proclaim the Gospel. The purpose of proclaiming the Gospel is so that people can be saved. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is “God’s power for Salvation” and so it makes sense that Jesus would have them preaching the Gospel. Then he tells them who will be saved from their preaching efforts: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”
But let me ask two questions here. Who will be baptized? and “Why would they be baptized? The answer to the first question should be fairly obvious: Someone who heard the Gospel message and believed. And for the second question: They would be baptized because they were TOLD TO BE BAPTIZED. There would be no other reason. Whatever the purpose is for baptism (that is, whatever reason God has for us being baptized) is completely separate from a command to be baptized.
Think about it like this: An insurance salesman comes to you and shares with you your need to have his free insurance policy, you believe him and he gives you the policy which, he says, contains all the benefits. Now what? Well, if you are not told to do anything with it, then you might put it a filing cabinet or you might file it in the trash, the thing is, you don’t know. What if, what you don’t know is, the policy says that you need to sign the policy for the policy to be valid? How would you know?
Your first, and best opportunity, would be when the salesman offers you the policy for him to TELL you. (Salesman: It is free but you need to sign it for it to be effective.) Your second opportunity would be when you READ the policy and notice the words “Policy valid only with customer signature”. In either case, your signature would make it valid, even if the salesman ‘forgot’ to tell you.
I hope you understand what I am suggesting. If you preach the Gospel and you fail to inform your listener of his need to be baptized, you have not given him all the information.
We can infer a second command that applies those who hear the Gospel. That is, that the one who hears and believes must submit to the baptism. We infer this because if the preacher is going to “Go…and baptize”, someone has to be willing to submit to being baptized. A preacher might preach the Gospel to all creation and only wind up with people who hear. But what these preachers are looking for are people who hear and believe. These are the people who will submit to baptism….if they are told to be baptized.
Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (41) So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.English Standard Version
Only those who received (accepted or agreed to) Peter’s preaching were baptized. Peter was simply following the instructions of Jesus and those 3000 souls were simply following the instructions of Peter: Repent and be baptized (verse 38)
So again, the first thing about baptism that needs to be understood is to be understood by the preacher of the Gospel. When you preach the Gospel, you baptize the believers. Whether you do it yourself or someone else does it does not matter, we are not keeping score because Christ did not send us to baptize but to preach the Gospel. Still, as a result of the preaching of the Gospel, believers are baptized.
Question: If you share the Gospel with someone and do not tell them to be baptized, why not?
I had always wondered why it was that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit and had their eyes opened that they suddenly desired to cover themselves. I mean, the only two people in the whole world and suddenly they felt modesty? While it may be that there was an element of modesty to their decision to sew fig leaves together, I would suggest that the primary intent was to hide themselves from God; almost as if to say: “If we cover ourselves with leaves and hide among the trees, he won’t see us.” They were trying to hide their shame. Could it be that clothing should be a reminder of our sin rather than a fashion statement?
Of course, the clothing that Adam and Eve choose for themselves was not sufficient. When God removed them from the Garden of Eden, he sent them not dressed in fig leaves but He clothed them in animal skins. Animal skins might appear to be a better choice because they would be warmer but I don’t think that is what God was getting at. In order for the skins to be obtained for Adam and Eve, an animal or two had to die. This means that blood had to be shed. It seems to me that God was making a statement: In order for us to be reconciled, blood will need to be shed. Years later, Christ’s blood was shed and the invitation to be reconciled with God was preached in the Gospel.
In the parable of the marriage feast, the end of the story shows this individual invited to the feast and then thrown out because he did not have on a wedding garment. Apparently, there was no excuse for not having one because in that culture, the robes were provided for the guests. The point of the parable is that many are invited and yet not everyone who is invited is deemed worthy. The guest who was thrown out was not unworthy to be invited but made himself unworthy when he would not dress in the garments provided.
We are also invited to the feast of the marriage of the lamb and the bride, known as the church. It should not be a surprise then when the Bible uses terminology such as putting Christ on as you would a garment.
Gal 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
God has provided the robe for us to wear, the clothing that will allow us to be reconciled with him but the only question is whether you will accept that invitation and be clothed in the clothing He provides.
Have you put on Christ? If not, why not?
Sometimes taking a step back and getting an overview can help you see the topic more clearly. I want to do that in this post. Baptism is a topic that is sorely misunderstood, ranging from those who think that it is the very act of baptism which has the power to save, to those who think that baptism is a mere suggestion which we are free to do or not do. Of course, as is often the case, the truth lies in the middle.
It should not need to be stated but I will here (and probably repeat it), the reason why I am not writing about “FAITH” is that I don’t know anyone who has a problem with faith. Perhaps they misunderstand it but all agree that it is necessary. However, baptism does not enjoy such agreement, some thinking this and some thinking that, so I am focusing on this topic in an effort to share what I see the scriptures teach about it and challenge any who may have missed such an obviously important teaching. (And if you don’t think it could happen to us, how did the Sadducees miss the Resurrection teaching of the Old Testament? cf Mt 22:23) In stating that it is “what I see that the Scriptures teach” it should also be understood that Acts 17:11 is a good verse to keep in mind. Read the Blog and then search the Scriptures for yourself. Question, Ask, Challenge. My goal is not just instruction but to get to Heaven, if I am mistaken, please show me where and how.
First, the command.
Jesus commissioned his Apostles to go out to the world with a new message. In Matthew, He said “Make disciples” and in Mark, He said “Preach the Gospel” and in both Gospel accounts, Jesus mentioned baptism: In Matthew, he said that his disciples would be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and, in Mark, he said that the one who had faith and was baptized would be saved.
Second, the example.
So if Jesus sent His Apostles out to preach the Gospel, what was the message that they presented? If you look at Acts 2, Peter’s sermon, the message was simple: Jesus was the Messiah, you killed him, but God raised Him from the dead. Then not only did he tell them to repent and be baptized, the text says (verse 41) that those who received his word were baptized.
However, time and time again, throughout Acts, the preaching of the Gospel message and baptism of those who listened are joined together. From Acts 8, Acts 9, Acts 10, Acts 16, Acts 19 one gets the clear impression that baptism wasn’t something that was delayed or suggested, but rather commanded. Why the command? My guess is because that is part of what Jesus sent them to do. They were simply following orders. But there is more to it so let’s look at the epistles.
Third, the explanations.
It might seem amazing that someone would make a life changing commitment before knowing all the facts but sometimes, we know enough to realize that we need to make the change and later we find out all the implications. This was the case with Abraham when he left the Ur of the Chaldees; he left by faith not even knowing where he was going. Israel agreed to serve God in Exodus 19 just before receiving the commandments from God-apparently not even having time to look over the contract so to speak.
However, the explanations of baptism in which we learn more about what baptism means, what happened when we were baptized, and even what baptism does not mean and what it does not do are found in the epistles that were written to Christians and almost every epistle has some reference back to this important event. Those passages and meanings will be discussed in future posts, Lord willing.
Our duty: To follow the commandment.
Does it matter what baptism does or does not do? One certainly can understand wanting to have a better understanding of this event but what matters more than what it does or does not do is “Is it taught?” and “Is it taught like the Apostles taught it?” and “Is it taught like Jesus commanded it?”
For those who teach the alien sinner how to become justified by God and leave out all mention of baptism, you are not following the commandment. Jesus said not just to “Go make disciples”, not just to “baptize them” but to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. Baptizing is one of those commandments. (Mt 28:18ff)
I know people who will tell someone all about Jesus but not tell a person to be baptized; I know those who say they have been a Christian since age 5 and baptized at age 18 or 25, I know people who think they can go through life and never be baptized yet still be a Christian.
Question: If I teach only Faith in Christ, Repentance from sins, Confession of Jesus as Lord and do not teach them to be baptized but DO tell them to pray a Sinner’s Prayer, am I following the commandment of Jesus? Am I following the example of the Apostles? Am I in line with the explanations given by the Apostles in their Epistles?
Please leave your thoughts and comments!
Last night at one of our local prisons, six inmates were baptized into Jesus for the remission of sins. Most of us know from Scripture that being baptized into His death is what puts us into Christ (Romans 6) and we understand the blessings that come from now being called a child of God. (Gal 3)
These inmates were taught by one or two of the other inmates. Those inmates brought them to the knowledge that they needed Jesus. My only role in this was to actually perform the baptisms, not that it takes a “preacher” but because they don’t allow inmates to baptize other inmates. (I suppose they don’t allow inmates to baptize the guards either!)
It was a sudden and unexpected letter I received from the prison chaplain asking if I could come and meet with these men and help them with being baptized. It appears that it will also lead to an opportunity to meet with these men on a regular basis (after we work out details of schedule and such) and that is also truly good news. Prayers that an effective door of teaching will be open here would be appreciated, not just for me but for those who are also already doing the teaching from the inside.