This is the fifth part in a series about the Great Commission. Read last week's blog about what it means to go to the nations.
“‘… baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … .’” -Matthew 28:19b
Of all the commands Jesus could have called out in the task of making disciples, one He specifically mentioned was to baptize.
Jesus called the original disciples to baptize those who chose to put their faith in the Son. Those first disciples took the command seriously and baptized thousands of new believers throughout the book of Acts.
So what does baptism mean for a believer? Why is this aspect of discipleship so important that Jesus included it in the Great Commission?
Baptized into Death
Anyone who has accepted Jesus as his or her Savior is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). For there to be a new creation (a new self), there had to be an old creation (an old self). That old self is considered dead in light of a new life in Jesus.
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” -Romans 6:11
Just as Jesus went into the grave and was raised again in a new life, believers, too, put their sin to death and are born again.
This is what baptism symbolizes. Being immersed in water illustrates believers burying their sin in the grave, and coming out of the water signifies coming alive again in Christ.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” -Romans 6:3-4
Baptism is a portrayal of what happens when someone accepts the free gift of salvation—dying to the old self and being raised up as a new creation.
Baptized into Union
Paul emphasized the union with Jesus in his letter to the Romans. After explaining that disciples are “baptized into his death” and are “buried with him,” he wrote, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5, emphasis added).”
Baptism symbolizes union with Christ. On its own, it does not establish a relationship with Christ, but it is a public declaration of that relationship.
Think of how a bride and groom exchange rings at a wedding ceremony. The ring does not make two people married, but it is a public symbol of the union between a husband and a wife. Baptism is like the exchanging of wedding rings; it doesn’t secure the covenant, but it pronounces the covenant to all who see.
With that is the importance of the public declaration. A wedding ring doesn’t fulfill its purpose if no one ever sees it. In the same way, baptism isn’t designed to be a Christ follower jumping into a river alone. Baptism is an outward expression of the covenant relationship between the disciple and Jesus. In Acts, baptism was always done in the presence of at least one other person. It is the model that believers follow to this day.
Baptized in the Trinity
Jesus did not end the command at baptism but said disciples should be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … (Matthew 28:19b).’”
This is significant because it shows the Christian’s dependence upon all aspects of the triune God. Being a disciple of Christ means following and honoring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—one God in three Persons.
It also recognizes the depth of the relationship a believer has with the triune God. Being baptized “in the name” indicates an adoption, an eternal relationship with the Trinity.
Baptism and the Great Commission
Baptism is not a means to salvation but a response following the acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice. It symbolizes repentance from sin (dying to the old self), a covenant with Christ (like wedding rings signify marriage), and adoption into God’s family in the name of His three Persons.
It is no small act being baptized. Jesus called His followers to obediently follow this command (oftentimes soon after receiving salvation) as a public declaration of their faith in Him.
Baptism is a demonstration of faith. Much like the Great Commission, it takes acknowledging faith in Jesus and proclaiming His saving work. Baptism is a bold step for Christ followers, helping launch themselves onto the path of living unashamedly for the gospel.