The second step of the Great Commission is to baptize the disciples we have made. Baptism does not make disciples. We are commanded to go and make disciples, and then baptize “them” (disciples) in the name of the Father, son, and Holy Spirit. Merely placing someone under the water, when they have no understanding, does not give them the new mind. Jesus “made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1-3). He made disciples by teaching them that they should grow to be like their Master (Luke 6:40). We are commanded to do the same thing. Then why did our Lord command baptism?
In the world, baptism is one of the most confused doctrines. Why would that be? The doctrines in the different churches concerning baptism differ in many aspects, including forms, purposes and subjects for baptism. The forms include sprinkling, pouring, immersion, proxy baptism for others, and ‘desire’ baptism. Over the years, men have added many different reasons to the purposes for baptism. They include mere obedience to commandment, an outward sign of an inward grace, dedication, sanctification, entrance to an earthly church or other organization, to receive the Holy Spirit, to receive a gift of the Holy Spirit, entrance into the one eternal church Jesus built, to bury the old man, to destroy the body of sin, to wash away or forgive the past sins, to rise to walk in a new life, to be born from the dead and many other reasons. The subjects include babies, adults of all ages and, in at least one church, those who have already died. When all of these different doctrines concerning baptism are united in almost every conceivable combination, we can understand why there might be a little confusion concerning the subject of baptism.
With so much confusion on the subject of baptism, we must be careful to find God’s truth and not man’s imagination. The Lord is proving (testing) hearts (Rev. 2:23). He tested the scribes and Pharisees with John the Baptist’s baptism. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Luke 7:30). They failed the test. This has been his pattern from the very beginning. He left the Philistines to prove Israel (Judges 3:1-4). He tested Hezekiah by having the Babylonians come to him to know what is in his heart (2 Chr. 32:31). He tested Israel in the wilderness and fed them with manna to know if they would obey his commandments or not (Deut. 13:1-3). Baptism is another of the tests God gives to know if we will obey his commandments or listen to the doctrines of men (Matt. 15:9).
The Lord warns us as we seek to understand baptism or any other religious subject. We must not lean to our own understanding (Pro. 3:5). Israel was warned: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it” (Deut. 4:2) lest they “be found a liar” (Pro. 30:6). Man is commanded not to use his own interpretation (2 Pet. 2:20). The apostles and prophets did not give their own interpretation. They were faithful to speak only as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). Jesus did not speak of himself, but what he heard, he spoke (John 12:49, 50, 14:10). His Father spoke to him and told him what to say. The Holy Spirit did not speak of himself. Though he had the exalted privilege of searching the depths of God (1 Cor. 2:10, 11), he did not speak of himself (John 16:13) but spoke only what he heard (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit glorified Jesus by taking the words Jesus spoke and giving them directly to the apostles (John 16:13, 14).
Even in the Old Testament era, the Lord was angry when men used their own tongues and said the Lord said it (Jer. 23:31). Man is not able to raise his thoughts to the level of God’s thoughts (Isa. 55:8,9). How can man think like God? How could man’s wisdom declare the truth of God? It is not that man’s wisdom is a small part of God’s thoughts. He says that our thoughts are not his thoughts.
Paul did not speak his own words but spoke as he was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 2:13) and the Thessalonians understood that. We need at least the faith of the Thessalonians! Paul did not describe baptism in his or any other man’s words. He spoke only words that were taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13). If we add to or take from his word, we are cursed by God. Not even the apostles could add to God’s word without being cursed (Gal. 1:9). Whether the subject is baptism or any other teaching of God, we must hear and speak only the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). As we study the subject of baptism we must be careful to get our doctrine only from his words in the scriptures.