Many Christians have an incomplete understanding of the “Great Commission” — Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). They equate ‘baptizing’ with ‘making disciples,’ and in so doing, reduce the powerful act of conversion to merely being immersed in water.
Baptism Is Essential To Be Saved
Please don’t misunderstand — baptism is essential for salvation. My intention is not to reduce this crucial element of God’s perfect plan of salvation, but to put it in its proper perspective.
Peter told the crowd on the Day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized” for the “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). The people of Samaria, when they heard and believed Philip’s message about Christ, “were baptized” (Acts 8:12). The Ethiopian treasurer didn’t rejoice until he was baptized (Acts 8:38-39). Ananias commanded Paul to wash away his sins by being baptized (Acts 22:16). Cornelius and his household were baptized (Acts 10:48), and to withstand baptism would have been to withstand the Lord Himself (Acts 11:47). Lydia was baptized upon believing the Gospel (Acts 16:15). The Philippian Jailor, along with his household, was “baptized [immediately]” (Acts 16:33). The Corinthians “believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). The men in Ephesus were rebaptized upon learning upon learning about the inadequacies of their first baptisms (Acts 19:5).
Is there any doubt that baptism is essential? Yet, many erroneously minimize baptism to merely an ‘outward’ display of belief – a doctrine not supported by Scripture!
Baptism Alone Doesn’t Save
Though essential, baptism alone never saved anyone. Full compliance with God’s Will is how one receives the free gift of God’s grace.
One initially enters into Christ by means of baptism (cf. Rom. 6:4), but salvation requires one to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Christ]” (Luke 9:23).
While the steps to salvation include hearing the Gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), believing & confessing that belief (cf. Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:10), repenting, and being baptized (cf. Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21), genuinely obeying the Gospel requires something much deeper. Man must be keenly aware of his sin (cf. Acts 2:37; 2 Cor. 7:10), and must recognize that the only solution to his sin problem is by being born into Christ (cf. John 3:5; Rom. 6:4; Gal. 2:20) and subsequently “walking in the light” for the remainder of his lifetime (1 John 1:5-7). The core of becoming (and remaining) saved — the motivation behind obeying the Gospel — must always be a wholehearted love and passion for God (Luke 10:27).
If we are only teaching the steps of salvation, while neglecting to talk about sin, genuine repentance, how to “walk in the light,” and how to love God, we aren’t making disciples, we’re just baptizing!
The “Great Commission” Is About Complete Discipleship
How many have you known who were baptized, but eventually fell back into the world? Were they taught the meaning of true discipleship? Did they really understand why they were baptized? If we are only teaching baptism, instead of discipleship, we might as well not teach baptism at all! Otherwise, we’re just setting souls up for failure. Peter wrote,
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Pet. 2:21)
What we need to be teaching is Jesus’ definition of discipleship:
If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
- It means being faithful (“…take up his cross daily…”). We’re not in the business of making lukewarm, apathetic followers.
- It means following Jesus into suffering. Persecution is promised to all Christians (cf. John 15:20; 2 Tim. 3:12). Are we telling people that being a Christian isn’t exactly a cakewalk?
- It means being willing to sever one’s relationships with others. Are we teaching that unless people love Jesus more than their own families, they cannot be His disciple (Matt. 8:22; Luke 14:26)?
- It means being willing to sever one’s relationships with possessions. God hates the idolization of the flesh, and following His Son will cut to the heart of materialism (Matt. 19:21; Luke 14:33; Luke 19:8-9).
- It means being willing to sever one’s relationship with vocation. Are we warning people that Jesus may require them to change their vocation (cf. Mark 2:14)? In other words, we can’t allow anything to hinder our ability to serve Him.
Being a disciple is costly, but worth it
Christianity will cost you, but the cost is well-worth eternity with God in the Kingdom of Heaven. We need to help others calculate the cost of conversion.
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:28, 31)
The words of Jesus need to reverberate in our minds:
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
I’m not a Christian because it’s easy. I’m a Christian because Jesus has overcome the world. That’s why I’m making disciples, not just baptizing.