Dr. John B. MacDonald
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How do we make disciples?

In the last few posts we’ve asked some big questions about discipleship:

Listen again to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20. He is also telling us how to make disciples.

Participating

The main verb of the Great Commission is translated “make disciples.”

Two action words, participles, point us in the direction of “how.” One grammar describes a participle as “participation in the action or state of the verb.”

Those two actions by which we participate in the action of making disciples are (1) baptizing them; and (2) teaching them.

We’ll deal with “baptizing them” in this post.

Baptizing

The words 'baptizing' and 'baptism' are Greek words not translated – they were transliterated. That means we adopted the Greek word baptizō into the English language. This resulted in the meaning of the word being camouflaged.

According to Bauer’s (BDAG) Greek-English Lexicon, baptizō means “to put or go under water in a variety of senses.” This includes “wash ceremonially for purpose of purification,” “to use water in a rite for purpose of renewing or establishing a relationship with God,” and “to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water-rite” (BDAG, 164-165).

The only other references to baptizing in Matthew are in Matthew 3 in which there are at least four distinct types of baptism mentioned, including the baptism of the Lord Jesus (3:13-17).

The first words of Jesus in Matthew are at his baptism (3:15). The voice from heaven follows immediately after his baptism (3:17). Jesus inaugurates his public ministry at his baptism.

Although our baptism is different than that of Jesus, there are similarities. 

Not only is our baptism voluntary, intentional, public; it is also significant for the making of disciples.

What is its significance or meaning?

Meaning

Here are three aspects of the meaning of baptism to the follower of Jesus.

1.       New life

Paul says this about baptism (Romans 6:3-4):

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.

The action of baptism is a public identification with Jesus Christ in his death (going down in the water), his burial (being under the water), and his resurrection (coming up out of the water).

In this, the baptized person declares he or she has a new life.

2.       New Community 

Baptism cannot be done alone.     

At least, there is a person being baptized, and person doing the baptizing.

After the life-changing crisis of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, the first words recorded to have been spoken to him are “brother Saul.” He belonged to a new family, a new community.

Immediately after this, he was baptized (Acts 9:17-19).

3.       New Loyalty                  

The follower of Jesus not only has a new life/identity and a new community/family; that person also has a new loyalty/allegiance.

The theologian, J. I. Packer, writes:

Christ instructed his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). This means that the covenant relation which baptism formally confers is one of acceptance by, communion with, and commitment to all three Persons of the Godhead. When Paul says that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2), he means that they were put under Moses’ control and direction. Thus, baptism into the name of the triune God signifies control and direction by God himself.

Baptism is the public declaration of a new loyalty. This means that there is a new lord ruling the life of this person. It is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Making disciples

Baptizing is a way in which we participate in making disciples.

It is not some glib ritual – it is a deeply significant action. Here are two insights

  • Baptism's significance needs to be understood (to some extent) by the person being baptized. 

Does that person recognize something of the reality of new life, new community, and new loyalty?

  • Baptism is a beginning, not the end.

A wedding is the event that marks the beginning of the life-long process of marriage. In the same way, the event of baptizing marks the beginning of the life-long process of becoming more like Jesus Christ – that is, being a disciple.

What can you add to these insights? What ‘stories’ can you tell us that demonstrate the significance of baptism? 

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