The second element of the Great Commission after telling the eleven to go and make disciples was, “…baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Verse 19) Some churches have either ignored this element of the Great Commission or given it only lip service. They do not understand the importance and significance of baptism, especially water baptism.
Given that these words from the Lord to his disciples were probably the last words he spoke to them on earth, you would expect they would be extremely meaningful and important. Nothing that Jesus said in teaching his disciples was ever without meaning and valuable as a lesson. So in these last words of his you could naturally expect Jesus to emphasise the very important matters that they were to recall and do under the Great Commission.
This baptism in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit was incredibly important both then and now. The fact that this message was given in the last words of the Lord makes it incomprehensible that some churches today do not take these words seriously. They either do not observe this command of the Lord at all, or treat baptism as a kind of initiation into the church and a naming ceremony for babies. It was never intended as such. They fail to see and understand the truth and ramifications of water baptism. Since Jesus made a point of telling his disciples to do this specific thing as they made disciples, especially as Jesus himself was baptised before he began his ministry by John the Baptist, then it is evident that the Lord placed great importance on baptism. When we learn and understand the truth about baptism we begin to see why the Lord emphasised this requirement for all his disciples in his final words.
It is through baptism that we die with Christ as we go down into the water. And then as we are raised out of the water we are symbolically resurrected with Christ. By faith in believing that we enter into the death and resurrection of Christ as we go through baptism we then gain entry into the kingdom of God. It is by this faith in entering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through baptism that we are set free from past sins and set free from the bondage to the law. In baptism we take on the death of Jesus Christ as if it were our own death, and that is what we believe. And if we believe that we have died through the body of Christ by proxy, God says that he accepts us as having died to our old life and being reborn as new creations in Jesus Christ.
Now when a person dies they are no longer under the power of sin and the law. Paul showed this in Romans 7:4 saying, “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ.” And if we are dead to the law we are no longer under it. And if we are no longer under the law we can no longer break the law and so we are set free from sin. And if we are set free from sin we can stand righteous before God, but only by faith. We still have all the weaknesses and failures of humanity and we still fall down and make mistakes, but as new creations in Christ we come to the place where God can and will work with us to transform us into the image of Christ. He will slowly work with us and take away all those human weaknesses and failures until we can stand righteous not just by faith, but in the way we live. We may not achieve that place in this lifetime, but the work will commence immediately once we are baptised and hold on to these elements of faith.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to do the transformation within us as Paul wrote, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) The veil that covers a persons face referred to here is the law. When the law is removed, then the Holy Spirit is able to do the work of transformation.
All of this commences and is based upon being baptised in water into the death and resurrection of Christ and understanding through faith what that baptism is all about. This is why it is so important and why Jesus took pains to emphasise the need for baptism in his last words to the disciples.
There is a great deal of scripture that discusses the purpose and power of baptism throughout the New Testament and space here does not permit a full discussion. If you would like to look at this in more depth and check the scriptures that deal with baptism, I recommend to you to look at my free eBook on the “Foundations of Christianity” which is located elsewhere on my website.
I will look at the last element of the Great Commission in the next post.