This month we have explored the Great Commission to discover what Jesus expects of us when it comes to sharing our faith. Thus far, we have seen that He expects us to “go,” to “proclaim the gospel,” and to “make disciples.” The final two instructions that comprise the whole of the Great Commission are components of the disciple making process. The first of these appears in Matthew 28:19 where, after instructing His followers to “make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
What is so important about baptism that it received its own reference in the Great Commission? Baptism is important because it “completes our response of saving faith.” In that one word, Jesus summarized how one receives salvation since, “our full and final salvation-answer…begins with a confessed belief, continues with repentance, and is completed in baptism.”
We know this because baptism and salvation are clearly linked throughout Scripture. Peter compared baptism to the water that saved Noah and said, “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Paul compared baptism to circumcision under Mosaic Law and indicated that being “buried with [Christ] in baptism” results in being “forgiven” of all your sins (Colossians 2:11-13). But no one made the relationship between baptism and salvation more clear than Jesus who in another form of the Great Commission said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Not only are baptism and salvation clearly linked in passages such as those mentioned above, but from the very institution of the church baptism was part of the disciple making process. When Peter finished delivering the first evangelistic sermon, the audience that heard his message asked, “What shall we do?” He responded, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:37-38). From that point forward baptism is associated with every conversion mentioned in the book of Acts.
For example, when the Samaritans heard Philip’s sermon “they believed…the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…[and] were baptized” (Acts 8:12). A little later, when the eunuch learned about Jesus from Philip, he asked, “Here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:35-36). Philip responded, “If you believe with all your heart, you may,” which prompted the eunuch to confess his faith and be baptized (Acts 8:37-38). When Ananias visited Saul after the latter’s encounter with Jesus, he asked, “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16), which Saul promptly did (Acts 9:18). When God showed Peter that Gentiles would be accepted into the church by miraculously gifting Cornelius and his family via the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” and then “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). When “the Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to heed the things spoken by Paul…she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:14-15). Then, when a prison guard asked Paul and Silas, “what must I do to be saved,” Paul told him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” and “immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:30-33). When the Gospel reached Corinth, “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8), and when Paul met some disciples in Ephesus who were baptized by John the Baptist, he taught them about Christ. As a result, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:4-5).
Now, let us be clear about one thing. We are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). If God did not extend grace to us through the sacrificial death of His Son, then baptism would be powerless. Salvation is only possible because God offers grace. So if we are “saved by grace” then why is it necessary for anyone to be baptized? Consider the implications of the following passages.
In Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” At what point does Peter indicate that one receives “the forgiveness of [their] sins” as well as “the gift of the Holy Spirit”? When he or she is “baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ.”
In Romans 6:3-4, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” At what point does Paul indicate that one dies to sin and receives new life? When he or she is “baptized into Christ.”
In Galatians 3:26-27 Paul wrote, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” At what point does Paul indicate that one is “in Christ” and “put[s] on Christ”? When he or she is “baptized into Christ.”
Based on these passages we see that baptism is essential to salvation because it is when one’s sins are forgiven, when one receives the Holy Spirit, when one dies to sin, when one starts a new life, and when one becomes a child of God in Christ. As Dan Chambers wrote, “Baptism is the time and place that God forgives and saves.” This makes baptism as essential to the salvation process as a confession of faith (Romans 10:9-10; Mark 16:16) and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; Acts 2:38).
Therefore, our marching orders from Jesus are to make disciples, first and foremost, by leading them to salvation which is received at baptism. This means that we are expected to be ready and able to communicate the plan of salvation to those with whom we are proclaiming the gospel.
Dan Chambers, Churches in the Shape of Scripture (Franklin, TN: FaithWorks Press, 2012), 37.