As we continue our mini-series about The Great Commission, we now examine the third command, Baptize. So, just how do we cover this topic after coming off of a forty lesson, in-depth series, about water baptism? Can there possibly be anything new to discuss regarding this topic? I think so. And I think you’re going to be surprised when you see this one! Let me explain.
A Quick Review
We have already established, baptism as the third command of The Great Commission and at the risk of belaboring the point, I will once again, for the benefit of newcomers, remind us; since it is a command, it is not optional on our part. It must be obeyed by both the baptizer and the one being baptized. In other words, as a person who makes disciples, I have no choice in the matter. I must baptize my student. That is cast in stone and I do not have the right, ability, or authority to change it. That’s what Jesus told us to do. Likewise, the student has no choice in the matter, if they want to be a disciple of this particular Master, Jesus. I’m sorry but it’s just not optional. As we have stated many times, baptism can not be a work of human effort because it is a command of Christ.
Just like the first two commands of The Great Commission, this third command, the command to baptize, can be expressed as a complete sentence. The sentence contains a subject, the plural form of that “implied you,” meaning “you all” specifically “you apostles.” The verb is “baptize.” The direct object of the sentence, “them,” is the “who” to baptize. So, the complete sentence would be, “You baptize them.” If you are from the south, that would be, “Y’all baptize ‘em.”
The Narrow Road
Now, here is where things get interesting. I’m gonna bet this is probably something you have never heard before. We understand who was to do the baptizing. It was initially done by the Apostles who taught others to do it and so on. We understand what baptism is, an immersion in water. But, when Jesus adds that little direct object, “them,” something with significant ramifications occurs. Let’s walk through this carefully.
“Them,” refers to the disciples the apostles were making. Remember? The process the apostles were told to follow was, “Go, make disciples.” So, before Jesus issues the command to baptize “them,” he has already defined the class of people “them” refers to. The apostles were told to baptize the disciples they make.
Think about what this means! Jesus extremely narrows the field of candidates who are eligible for baptism. This is stunning. The only person who is a candidate for water baptism is a person who is becoming a disciple. Jesus is very specific about this “who!” “Baptize them,” refers only to the disciples the apostles are making! This becomes extremely exclusive and defines the guardrails of the narrow road.
Maybe we need to go back and think a bit deeper about the definition of a disciple from our last podcast.
What is a disciple?
A disciple is a student or a learner. They are someone who allows themselves to be trained by a discipler. They are becoming like Christ. A disciple is someone who has begun sincerely seeking God, someone who is devoted to reading their bible and praying. These are some of the characteristics we would expect to see in a person who is committed to Christ. A disciple is not someone who simply believes in Jesus and is making no effort to pursue a relationship with him.
In today’s churches, anyone can be baptized, even an infant who has no knowledge of God. The qualification for adult baptism in most churches is simply belief in Christ, no serious commitment required. After all, we wouldn’t want to scare you away by making you think you were committing life-long, effort filled obligation to the goals and operations of our church. Most churches try to keep the entrance requirements pretty low. This is vastly different from first century Christianity.
In the first century, people heard the gospel preached, and they made a decision to follow Christ’s teachings no matter where it might lead them. In some cases, it would lead to their persecution and death. This was not a hidden secret. The general public was aware of Christian persecution. So, you can bet that subject came up at some level, before anyone made a decision to become a Christian. I want us to think about that for a moment.
In the first century, the consequences of your decision to become a Christian was dramatically different than it is today. It was not a decision made lightly. It could mean a death sentence. When you were in the process of becoming a disciple, you knew there was a cost to count. What would you do if persecution broke out? Would you stick with Christ or would you abandon him to save your own skin? Becoming a Christian in the first century could be a dangerous decision.
Not much has really changed.
Today, the barrier to entry is low because it seems like there is not much persecution, right? But, not much has changed. The road is still narrow and the gate is still small. When someone wants to truly obey the Gospel today, the pressure is on. The vast majority of people who decide to follow the Biblical Plan of Salvation must abandon not only their sin but their erroneous beliefs. This can really stir up trouble in a family which has gone to the same church for generations. I have watched countless people, on the verge of Biblical obedience, get shot down by family members. I have personally witnessed friends and family accused of being seduced by a cult. I have personally been persecuted by family members for my stance regarding my faith and all of this happens in a country where we have religious freedom.
What really matters is “Lordship.”
I say all of this to help us understand; a disciple is something vastly different from someone who simply believes in Jesus and wants him as their best friend. Discipleship implies Lordship. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” that means we become his slave and He becomes our master. In today’s religious world, lots of people make Jesus savior but very, very few make Him Lord. Perhaps this issue of “Lordship” speaks more clearly to the issue of who and who is not a disciple. Remember this from Romans?
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The commitment of Lordship is a matter of salvation. This is something which must be understood before baptism. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we completely surrender our lives to the will of God and take on His mission as our new life’s mission and that mission is The Great Commission! Without a Lord, we can not have a savior.
Count the Cost Before You Commit
First century converts understood these costs and we should too. In our next lesson series, we will discuss, in great depth, what it really takes to become a disciple today. This is important because there is a level of seriousness and commitment missing from our modern message. This becomes so clear when we look at the attrition rate of the modern church. I have been told by my denominational minister friends that over 90% of the people who make a decision to join the church, wind up leaving shortly after they make their commitment. I think this is because they are never taught what their responsibilities and commitments will be before they join. They are never given an opportunity to “count the cost” of membership. I would rather have someone be scared off by a commitment to Christ before they make that serious decision to say “Yes” to Jesus… then leave the church.
Listen to this. It’s from 2 Timothy.
2 Timothy 3:12
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
Persecution is alive and well.
No matter the era, man is in love with his sin and exposing his sin brings wrath. Timothy tells us, if you want to live the kind of life which brings honor to God, you will be persecuted. You will be mocked, insulted, abused and maligned. It may not happen quickly but it will happen. The world hates the light and a true Christian is a beacon of light which challenges the sinful heart.
This is the life of a disciple and I think people should know what they are getting into before they make the decision to be baptized.
Jesus command from The Great Commission was to baptize the disciples which the apostles had just made. You see it happening first, on the Day of Pentecost. This pattern continues through the rest of the New Testament. When a person was ready to give up their old life and stop living for themselves and their own desires, they were immediately baptized by the person teaching them. There was not a moment’s hesitation. There was no delay. You did not wait for a conveniently scheduled bi-annual baptism service. There were no “baptism classes.”
These are the things we discover when we consider that little direct object, “who.” The effect of this limiting direct object, the “who” of baptism, forces us to evaluate the behavior of a person who is requesting baptism. It makes us ask, “Is this person acting like a disciple?” “Have I honestly prepared them for what could potentially come from their decision?” If our answer is, “No,” should we then baptize that individual? Probably not. Then there is also the issue of their repentance.
A Modern Day Example
Let’s say you have just met a young man and he expresses an interest in becoming a Christian. He has heard the message, believes it, is eager to follow Jesus and wants to be baptized. Would you, as an expert and careful kingdom builder, baptize him if he refused to stop doing drugs? Would you baptize him if he refused to stop sleeping with his girlfriend? Would you baptize him if he just refused to read his bible for himself and commit to contributing to his own spiritual nourishment? Do you think these behaviors are things consistent with the word, “disciple?”
The only person who is a candidate for baptism is a person who is, at minimum, in the process of becoming like Jesus to the best of their ability. This is seen in their behavior and in their language.
While we can not evaluate the content of the heart, we can evaluate a person’s behavior and language which spring from the heart. I think it is incumbent on a disciple of Christ to carefully consider the branch springing from the seed they have planted and not be too quick to move on to the obedience phase in the Biblical Plan of Salvation; especially if it is clear a person is refusing to repent of sin and take on the Lordship of Christ. There is a Biblically prescribed way to do this, by the way, and we will be talking about it soon.
I think we see this issue in the baptism of Simon the Sorcerer. The scripture says, “Simon himself believed and was baptized.” But Simon clearly never repented. Simon never made Jesus his Lord. He just continued in his lust for power and fame. This does not characterize the behavior of a true disciple.
Build with Great Patience and Careful Instruction
One could argue that it is not up to us to determine who should be baptized and who should not. Baptize everyone and let God sort out the bad hearts and false disciples. On the surface, that sounds pretty reasonable but I feel like there are too many other examples in the New Testament which express the importance of building carefully, with great patience and careful instruction. When we baptize someone, we are making them members of the Lord’s church… our home. They are required to conform their lives to the pattern of scripture. We should be discerning and selective. Call us discriminating, if you like, but our discrimination is based on spiritual qualities like repentance, righteous behavior and godly language, not on worldly things like race, class or gender.
It’s amazing how one little word, “them,” used as a direct object, can change everything. It narrows the road. It defines an identity. It places boundaries and requirements upon entrance into the Kingdom of God. It raises the bar of membership and it deepens our understanding that whoever wants to become a disciple of Jesus must have, A Faith that Obeys.Enjoy!