Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions.
Thanks for joining us for episode 184 of Missions on Point. We are in the middle of a series on the church in the Great Commission as seen in Matthew 28. As we noted in the introduction to this series in episode 181, the central command of the Great Commission is to make disciples. Jesus made disciples and before ascending to heaven he asks his disciples to make more disciples. This is the task the church is given before Jesus returns in glory. As a quick review we said that the definition of discipleship is the Christ-commanded, Spirit-empowered equipping of all true believers everywhere through the church to fully know and obey Jesus.
We’ve already covered the first two aspects of disciple-making, and those were the authority of discipleship and the scope of discipleship. Each of these aspects highlight the centrality of the church in Christ’s commission. The church is the place where Jesus exercises his authority. And the scope of discipleship indicates to us that churches need to be planted among all peoples of the earth. We must venture out, crossing cultures, bringing the light of the gospel into the darkest recesses of this world, where it is needed most.
Of all the five aspects of discipleship, there is one that stands out among them all as clearly signaling the need for the local church, and that is the one that we are addressing today. We are looking at the second of the three participial modifiers for the command to make disciples. Those three, again, inform us that we are to make disciples by going, baptizing and teaching. Let’s consider the second of those three. What does it mean to make disciples by baptizing them?
Last time we considered the first participle, the scope of discipleship, as being focused on going to all nations. Missions is simply defined as cross-cultural evangelism. And today we further color our understanding of the Great Commission by layering onto what we’ve already seen with this second participle. Jesus says in Matthew 28:19, “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.”
It shouldn’t be surprising to listeners of this podcast that there are many different opinions about what baptism is, who should be baptized and how to do it. Despite those controversies, most confessing evangelicals have substantial agreement concerning baptism. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way, saying that “baptism reminds and assure us that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits us personally. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.” End quote.
One of the most important things we could say about baptism, and the Lord’s Supper along with it as ordinances of the church, is that it displays our union with Christ. It’s a picture of the gospel. We visibly re-enact the gospel message.
While there is much that could be said about baptism, how meaningful and rich and deep it is, I want to focus our thinking today on the purview of this podcast. We are especially interested in the intersection of the doctrine of the church and missions. And there is no better place to see the centrality of the church in missions than here in the Great Commission where Christ commands us to make disciples by baptizing them.
The faithful evangelist who has seen the conversion of souls through the preaching of the gospel will soon find himself in a situation similar to Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, who said to Philip, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” As converts become disciples through the regular study of scripture, it doesn’t take long to realize that Jesus has commanded his people to be definitively set apart from the world and joined together in local churches. Baptism is situated right here at the intersection of the church and missions. It’s almost as if baptism is the glue that binds the two together. In order for the church to remain essential to missions, we must get baptism right. And I think you’ll find in missions efforts where the church is not important, baptism is not important either.
I’d like to give you two statements about baptism and attempt to demonstrate to you in each of these statements how baptism is the glue between the church and missions. These two statements give us the functions of baptism. Baptism functions as both a picture and a means of assurance for the believer.
- Baptism pictures our union with Christ as a regeneration of our heart.
Jesus tells the cautiously inquiring Nicodemus that he can’t even see the kingdom of God unless he is first born again by the Holy Spirit. And we, along with Nicodemus, are instructed to simply look to the cross of Jesus Christ. We look to Jesus who was lifted up, like the snake in the wilderness, lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Just like we cannot make ourselves be born the first time, we cannot save ourselves either. Because of our sin we are incapable of pleasing God and earning our salvation. We are wholly dependent on Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. He must save us. Without Jesus we are dead in our sins. That’s why whenever baptism is talked about in the book of Acts, take Acts 22:16 for example, it is connected to repentance and living a new life. Now, we don’t repent in order to be saved, we repent because of what Jesus has first done for us. In order for us to truly turn away from our sins and live a new life in Christ, we first need our sins to be washed away. Our spiritual baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ cleanses us from our sin. That’s why Titus 3:5 calls baptism the water of rebirth.
Our baptism into the death of Jesus indicates to us that we have been sufficiently transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. This is why we should only be baptized once. Because our salvation is a definitive work of God. He has done it and he cannot fail. He has saved and he will keep until the end. Just as Jesus has died once for all, a sufficient sacrifice, so too we are baptized once. This is a clear demarcation in time – a one-time event symbolizing that a new life has begun. We have died to our former life and been born again into a new one. This is why we say that baptism is the beginning of discipleship. All other discipleship looks back at the conversion of the believer as definitive in that person’s life. Baptism gives us confidence that we can continue to grow in Christlikeness.
I think a good analogy to baptism is the putting on of a ring at a wedding. Marriage begins at a certain point in time. And from that point on we are a different person because we are joined to another. And like baptism, that ring is a picture or symbol of a husband and wife’s union.
Missionaries need this primary tool of discipleship. They go into the world and call sinners to repentance, not on the basis of good works, but on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a sufficient sacrifice to cleanse us from our sins and cause us to be born again as new creatures in Christ. Missionaries are seeking to make converts, and a baptism clearly marks off a person as a new believer. This is probably especially important for missionaries in cultures that are hostile to Christianity. A public identification of a believer in baptism is serious and maybe even life-threatening. We don’t do this lightly. Jesus told us to count the cost.
But it’s important for us to recognize though that baptism is not merely a symbol. It is a symbol, but it is also beneficial to the believer. Our next point makes this clear.
- Baptism assures believers of their entrance into the family of God.
Our previous point emphasized the meaning of baptism as our union with Christ in regeneration. Our sins are washed away. And we’ve already touched on this second point about how baptism has an ongoing effect on our identity. It’s still about our union with Christ, but now we focus on the fact that our union with Christ brings us into the family of God. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We join an already existing communion of love.
When someone is adopted into a family, it’s really helpful to have an official adoption date. From that point on you belong to the new family. Returning to the marriage analogy. I don’t just marry my bride, but I now move in with her and we live our lives together. She put that ring on my finger at one point in time, but I still fiddle with that ring every day and remember its meaning too.
As a Christian, we don’t just publicly identify ourselves as a Christian, we now live a different life. And that new life is our life in the church. We are especially emphasizing here the ongoing effect of baptism for the believer. We can see this in the New Testament. When a person was baptized, then the number of people who are added to the church increased as well. In other words, baptism joins a person in membership to the church. And that membership ought to be meaningful and have ongoing benefits for the believer. Even though we are baptized only once, believers continue to look back on it as having a present effect. We could look at passages like Colossians 2, Romans 6, or Galatians 3 to make this point. The Apostle Paul tells us that just as we have received Jesus as Lord, so we should walk in him.
There is a subtle point of emphasis I like to make here about how the command is worded in Matthew 28. It’s not a command to be baptized. It’s a command given to the disciple makers that the way we make disciples is by first baptizing them. In other words, this is the church’s responsibility. We must make disciples by baptizing them.
Think about how this might change your counseling of someone. If a person is an unbeliever, then I will preach the gospel to them and seek for them to be baptized. But if they are a believer, publicly identified as one in baptism, then I have a significant foundation upon which all of discipleship can be built.
I hope you can see here how important the church is in the Great Commission. The church is marked off as those who are disciples. And we clearly identify those disciples in baptism. And the church is the place where disciples grow in the Lord and continue to walk by faith. Missionaries rely upon baptism as a definitive event in a person’s life marking them off as a disciple. Churches rely upon baptism to know of whom they are making disciples. And so, we can say that baptism is the beginning of discipleship.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at Propempo.com and missioserve.org. We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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