Dr. Doug Posey
The one command that can be sifted out from the 59, or so, words in The Great Commission, consists of just two words: “Make Disciples.” When churches configure their own mission statements, the good ones are some iteration of His original. For example, ours is Making Disciples Who Know and Reveal Christ.
When Jesus commissioned His disciples, it wasn’t so much about what kind of disciples to make, but how to make them. It was a pretty simple instruction. The “how” part was also just two words, beyond the two words, make disciples. This command, within the Great Commission, consisted of the present participles—baptizing and teaching. These are the primary expectations Jesus has for those seeking to lead someone down the road of becoming a true disciple. They are the basics.
On any given Sunday, and often throughout the week, you can find many apparently committed followers of Jesus, happily gathering for teaching from the Word of God. They come together in the sanctuary, in classrooms and in homes, because it’s a fundamental part of being a disciple—“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). But, scattered amongst those very committed people are many who have skipped half of the command in the Great Commission.
Jesus said that part of making disciples is, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Unfortunately, the idea of baptism has been so abused, misused, de-emphasized, over-emphasized and misinterpreted for the past 2,000 years, many followers of Jesus treat it as an unnecessary “work” to be ignored, citing the theological assumption, quite properly, that “we’re not saved by works.” But, for several reasons, Jesus put baptism front-and-center as part of the irreducible minimum of what He required in disciple-making.
Unbaptized believers have a plethora of excuses for not taking “the plunge.” In some cases, they simply don’t understand what it’s all about. Like the story that is told about the baptism of King Aengus by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king's foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king's forgiveness. “Why did you suffer this pain in silence?” the Saint wanted to know. The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual!”
Baptism is not complicated and shouldn’t be painful. The church has practiced it for over two-thousand years and it was practiced by others even before that. But, as with other simple aspects of our faith, people have managed to complicate the uncomplicated. Confusion over the meaning, manner and motivation for baptism has caused many to avoid it altogether. Are you avoiding it for some reason?
Why did Jesus make it part of His Great Commission? One reason is because it’s an outward expression of an inward change; a public testimony. Sadly, many today are unwilling to express their faith in ways that people can actually observe. They consider their faith a “private thing” and become so secretive that there is little, or no, observable difference between believers and unbelievers. According to pollster and researcher, George Barna, “Only about half (53%) of born again Christians feel a sense of responsibility to tell others about their faith. In other words, nearly half of born again Christians do not think that it is their personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with those who do not know Christ.” Baptism tells people, in a very tangible way, what you believe.
It’s also clear by the Great Commission that baptism is an act of obedience. In fact, it’s the first thing a believer should do after coming to faith in Christ. It doesn’t save, faith does. But, in the early church, in Mark for example, and throughout Acts, belief and baptism are paired together.
Another reason was His desire that we identify with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. Disciples identify with Christ through water baptism. According to Francis Chan in his book Multiply,
“Just as Jesus was buried in the earth and then raised up to new life, so the new Christian is ‘buried’ under the water in baptism and brought up again as a symbol of the new life he or she has received” (p. 272).
So, not only are we following Christ’s example of death, burial and resurrection in a symbolic way, since He was literally baptized, He set the example for us to be baptized. What more do we need!
Baptism is a public testimony, an act of obedience and following Christ’s example—T.O.E. Put your “toe” in the water and understand the significance of baptism. If we seek to be fully committed followers of Jesus, as well as disciple-makers, we underestimate the significance of baptism at our own peril.
“‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” —ACTS 22:16