Jesus said, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Although we recognize that the Word and the Holy Spirit has been active in a person or parent’s life prior to baptism, baptism is still a critical and necessary step in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.Baptism is the public celebration of God’s action in reclaiming one of God’s lost children. In the waters of baptism we are formally reconnected to the Triune God as we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the waters of baptism we are joined to Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4) and clothed in his righteousness (Galatians 3:27).
What often gets missed in this celebration is that the person baptized is now part of a community of believers sent to follow Jesus as part of God’s mission in the world. Baptism is the launching point for discipleship.
For baptized infants this requires that parents understand their own discipleship so that they can help their child become a disciple. For older baptized persons, this means learning how to be a disciple. A critical part of this training needs to happen before the horse is out of the gate; before children of parents and older persons are baptized. However, training in discipleship never really ends.
What does discipleship involve? Minimally, it ought to include the following:
- Weekly worship. In worship we gather with God’s people to celebrate the bigness of God and to hear his word through the reading of Scripture, preaching and the participation in the Lord’s Supper. The Word is our source of faith and life and the gathered community of God’s people is our support. In worship we also respond to God’s grace by offering our praise, tithes and offerings. Worship ought to be expressed through our entire life, but we gather once a week (Hebrews 10:25) to honor what God has commanded (Exodus 20:8) and to reflect the life of Christ who also went to worship..
- Daily time with God. Every day we need to cut out time to listen to God’s Word in the Scriptures and to talk with God in prayer. Like eating, this is our daily bread and without it we can easily lose direction. Jesus said, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4) and our Lord modeled this by spending regular time with his Father.
- Belonging to a small group. Just as we need to experience the bigness of God in worship, so also we need to experience the intimacy of Christ in a small group of 3-10 people. Here we reflect together on God’s Word, pray, support one another and act together in sharing the gospel through words and deeds. Just as Jesus called together his disciples into a small group to care for them and teach them, so also we need a small group where Christ can equip us.
- Sharing the Gospel. Jesus came to proclaim the gospel in words and actions. Following our Lord’s example, we need to prepare to share with others the faith that brings us life and through the spiritual gifts God has given us, to serve the needs of people who are broken by the sin of this world.
- Giving. Jesus did not come into this world to get, but to give. All we have and are is God’s gift to us and through us, God’s gift to the world. Therefore, our time, our talents and skills, and our financial resources need to be made available for God’s mission in the world. Learning to tithe of our time and resources in God’s service is an important part of this giving.
Baptism is far more than a quaint ceremony. It is a response to the Jesus who invites us to come and follow; to become like Jesus.