Thoughts on baptism from Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 1

“Buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” – my pastor when I was baptized thirty-one years ago at the age of thirty-one.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus Christ giving the Great Commission to His church in Matthew 28:19-20.

Yesterday morning, our church celebrated the baptism of three new disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. One was a lady in her early thirties who had lived an immoral life before Christ. In her testimony, she herself compared herself to the “woman at the well” in John 4. But then she met Jesus, and had professed faith in Him, and had now found a good church where she could grow in her relationship with Jesus and could be taught what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. As a testimony to her faith in Christ, she was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where she will be nurtured and grow.

The next person baptized was ethnically Vietnamese. He was a young man 17 years old who had been raised in a Bible-believing home where Christ was honored as Lord. His parents were strong believers and had taught their son that he must personally place his faith in Jesus. And so, there came a day when this young man repented of his sins and placed his faith in Jesus. Now, as a testimony of his faith in Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

The third person baptized was a Chinese man in his thirties. He had been born in northern China and, five years ago, had come to the United States to earn his PhD. When he came to this country, he was under tremendous stress. He and his wife had a newborn and there were issues with his visa and his job was stressful. As a result, he had almost experienced an emotional breakdown. At that time, he had met some Christians from our church and had begun to hear about Jesus. He committed to read the Bible from cover to cover to find out about Christianity. Then there came the day when he told his friend, “I believe in Jesus.” And so, in obedience to the command of Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

These three stories are very different and are about three very different people. Externally they are about as different as people can be. Their journeys varied widely, as the Lord drew them to Himself (John 6:44). But the destination was the same. They were journeying toward Jesus and toward the salvation that Jesus offers to anyone who will repent of their sin and believe in Him.

THE BEAUTY OF THE GREAT COMMISSION

This is the beauty that is contained in the Great Commission which Jesus has given to His church. A person is far from God, living their life separated from Him by their sins (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 4:17-19). They may be living in open rebellion against God, or they may be outwardly “good” people who simply do not believe in Jesus, or they may be people who have never heard of Jesus and so remain ignorant of their sin and ignorant of His salvation. But regardless of why they are lost, and regardless of where they are in their wanderings, the path to salvation is clear and is the same.

First, a follower of Jesus proclaims to the sinner the gospel of salvation and tells the sinner of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, at some point, the sinner’s ears are opened so that he hears the gospel and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation. Now the sinner has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has been born again (John 3:3, 5), and has been saved (Acts 16:31). Thus, the sinner has become a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

Now that this person is a disciple of Jesus, what happens next? He is to be publicly baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as a testimony of his new faith in Jesus. This is explicitly stated in Matthew 28:19, and there is absolutely no ambiguity. And the disciple is to join themselves with a local church where she can be taught “all things that the Lord commanded us.” The proper place for every disciple of the Lord Jesus is the local church. The church is where the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) grows into a mature and obedient and reproducing believer.

The beauty of this transformed life was pictured for us Sunday in our church when these three disciples testified to their faith in Jesus and told of their journey to Him. From different directions they had entered through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14) of faith in the Lord Jesus, and they had been publicly baptized into Christ, and now they were in the place of nurturing and teaching where they would grow into “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3). This is such a beautiful picture of what Jesus came to do, “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) by bringing them to faith and then placing them in healthy local churches.

TWO DIFFERENT VIEWS AND PRACTICES

Having talked about the biblical picture of what happens when a person comes to faith in Christ, I wanted to talk about two different views and practices that occur in many churches which do not correspond to the teaching of the Great Commission, and which thus result in great confusion in even identifying disciples and determining if they are obeying what Jesus commanded. The first practice that I will discuss is Paedobaptism, which is the practice of many Protestant churches of sprinkling infants with a little bit of water and calling that baptism. The second practice that we will explore is what I will call “revivalism.” Revivalism is a particular practice of evangelism which assumes that, when an “evangelist” proclaims a standard message, there will be instantaneous conversions, which will be punctuated by “praying the sinner’s prayer” and thus guaranteeing the sinner an eternity in heaven.

I will expand on these ideas in two future articles.

SDG                 rmb                 12/20/2021                 #471