Why is Baptism in the Great Commission? - Radical

Why is Baptism in the Great Commission?

When we’re discussing the Great Commission, our attention is often drawn to the commands to go, make disciples, and teach. In our zeal to reach the nations, we might overlook the command to baptize. Why would Jesus include baptism in the Great Commission?

It’s important to recognize that Christians have varying positions on baptism. Many of my dear friends in other Christian traditions argue for infant baptism. As a Baptist, I believe in believers’ baptism. As we consider this question, we should be charitable to those who view baptism differently and still maintain that baptism is important. In his book, Finding Hills to Die On, Gavin Ortlund rightly describes baptism as a secondary doctrine, meaning baptism is important, but Christians can disagree on the issue.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is the public sign of new life in Christ and identification with the Christian faith. As we are immersed in the water, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection and signify our commitment to the Lord and his church (Romans 6:3–4).

 As we are immersed in the water, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection and signify our commitment to the Lord and his church.

Like the Lord’s Supper, baptism was given to the church as a means of grace to strengthen, unite, and remind believers of Christ’s work in his death, burial, and resurrection. As Jesus commissioned his disciples in Matthew 28:16–20, he commanded them to go, make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Baptism Responds to Faith

In Acts 2:37–41, Peter preaches the Word, and the listeners “were cut to the heart.” They ask him how they should respond and Peter says, “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” (Acts 2:38). Those who “received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:40). These new converts did not first receive baptism. Rather, they were baptized after they had repented of their sins and received the gospel in faith. Therefore, those who are baptized should be believers.

Baptism Publicly Identifies Us with Christ

As believers are immersed in the water, they publicly identify with Christ (Romans 6:3–4). In baptism, new Christians publicly demonstrate their faith to those around them (Acts 2:37–41). When Christians are baptized, they declare to the world that they have experienced the saving grace of God in their lives (Colossians 2:11–13).

In baptism, new Christians publicly demonstrate their faith to those around them.

If you’re reading this in a place where the gospel is readily accessible and has a large Christian presence, then publicly professing your faith in Christ likely doesn’t seem counter-cultural. But, if you’re reading this in a place like Iran where the government is hostile to the gospel, then publicly identifying with Christ comes with a cost. However, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

Baptism Invites Us into a Local Church

When a Christian is baptized, the congregation corporately affirms their faith in Christ. Believers are not baptized as individuals professing their faith alone but are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be baptized into the Trinity requires us to be baptized into a visible, local church, when possible.

When new converts hear the gospel, respond in faith, and are baptized, they are welcomed into a Christian community that will instruct and care for them. Baptized believers are not left to walk the Christian life alone, but are shepherded by elders and surrounded by brothers and sisters in their congregation encouraging them.

Baptism Strengthens Us

Baptism is not simply a declaration. Like circumcision, baptism is a sign and a seal (Romans 4:11). God uses baptism as a means of grace, which is an ordinary way the Holy Spirit communicates grace to a Christian. When Christians are baptized, they are declaring their faith, but the Holy Spirit is using this event to strengthen them for the Christian life.

As new converts in hard-to-reach places publicly profess their faith and join local churches, they will face persecution. Like the Lord’s Supper, baptism reminds, strengthens, and unites believers with one another. When these new believers are discouraged, they can look back on their baptism, not simply as a moment where they professed their faith, but as a time when God strengthened them through his grace and the congregation around them. To remember one’s baptism is to remember that we are a new creation by God’s grace.

Cole Shiflet

Cole Shiflet is the content manager at Radical. He is a member of Redeemer Community Church and an M.Div. student at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.

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