Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:37-41
The idiom “to get the cart before the horse” means to get things in the wrong order. For example, to agree to do something before you have checked your calendar to see if you are available is “to get the cart before the horse.” The right order is important.
Some patterns need to be followed. When it comes to baptism, there is a clear biblical order to things. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 establishes the progression. First make disciples. Then baptize them. Finally (and this can take a while!), teach them to obey everything that Jesus taught.
Disciples are followers of Christ. One becomes a follower of Christ by repenting of sin and turning to Christ in faith. Then comes baptism. The “horse” is faith, and the “cart” is baptism.
Is this the way it plays out in the rest of the New Testament? We’ll see later this week. For now, let’s look at Acts 2.
At the end of his message on the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s listeners asked, “What shall we do?” They wanted to know the appropriate response to the gospel message. Peter answered: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2:38).
A couple of verses later Luke ends this scene with these words: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
Something came before baptism. In verse 38, Peter makes repentance the precondition for baptism. In verse 41, Luke said “those who accepted [Peter’s] message” were baptized. Clearly, baptism was contingent on belief in the gospel message, evidenced by the choice to turn away from the “corrupt generation” and turn to Christ in faith. Faith comes first. Then comes baptism.
Baptism is an outward, physical expression of an inward, spiritual reality. The spiritual reality comes first. Whatever words are used (repentance, acceptance of the gospel, faith, etc.), this inward, spiritual reality involves identification with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
People employ all kinds of different ways to express their identification with Jesus. They wear crosses. They put fish stickers on their cars. They don t-shirts with clever sayings. They display the Bible in a prominent place in their home or office. That’s all fine. Obeying Jesus is even better. And one thing he has commanded is that we publicly proclaim our identification with him through baptism.
One prominent way some branches of the Church get the cart before the horse is through the practice of infant baptism. Millions have been lulled into a false sense of security by this teaching. How? Because sometimes when you get the cart before the horse, you forget about the horse altogether.
The act of baptism does not convey or impart grace in an efficacious way to anyone. We are saved by grace through faith, not through baptism. The most important thing is faith in Jesus, expressed in a life of obedience to His Spirit. Yes, baptism is a part of that obedience. And obedience is not without its blessing in the life of a believer. However, let’s make sure to get the horse before the cart (and not forget the cart!).
I lost a lot of years of my life in prison. Cells are dark places, and I felt like a captive. No hope, little freedom, nothing to live for. The long days, months, and years in prison were not something to remember. I might as well have been dead.
As the years passed, I accepted the fact that I had to be there and never really thought much about the possibility of being released. I had done very bad things and accepted the consequences of my actions.
But I will never forget the day my name was called. The voice sounded different. I was told I would be released! Wow! Though I didn’t think I deserved it, I surely wasn’t going to turn it down. The excitement of being freed from prison is beyond explanation. I felt like I was being given new life.
In addition to being locked up in a penitentiary as a prisoner of the state, I was in prison in another sense. I was held captive as a prisoner of Satan. It’s an equally dark, hopeless place, the prison of sin. I was a criminal both in the eyes of society and in the sight of God.
Thankfully, my name was called to be released from Satan’s prison! I began to read the Bible and gradually grasped God’s offer of forgiveness and invitation to holiness. I wanted what Jesus had to offer, and I accepted salvation. No longer was I held captive by sin. It was great news: I didn’t have to live in prison the rest of my life!
In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul declares that the good news about no longer being incarcerated is related to what happens when one is baptized. It’s a welcome to your new life! All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death . . . that we too may live a new life (Rom 6:3-4).
So what does it mean to be baptized into Christ? It’s not an easy concept to understand. Going under the water when baptized is a picture of dying. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death. It’s death to the former life of sin that had us trapped.
But baptism doesn’t leave us under the water. We are raised from death to new life! It’s release from the prison of sin and freedom to something a thousand times better. It’s a new deal, the best deal!
Paul is like the prison guard telling the inmate, “You’re free; now go and make the best of it”: Do not let sin reign in your mortal body . . . rather, offer yourselves to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:12-13).
Baptism into Christ is dying to sin and living to God. It’s an extreme makeover edition! Incarcerated no longer!
Life Application Questions
Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:13; 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15; 16:33
Baptism into Christ verifies belief. Baptism is not primarily about the water. God is calling. The Spirit is urging. At baptism a new disciple gives public voice to the Faith as Christ draws another person to himself (John 12:32)
Accompanied by words of hearing, belief, repentance and confession the event which is baptism appears throughout Luke’s record of the first churches—the Book of Acts. During the eight occasions when people become disciples, the words of hearing, belief, repentance and confession are part of the record. Are you aware, baptism is part of each story?
The reporting occurs from Acts 2 through 16. It is hard to miss the implication. Hearing the gospel, believing the gospel, confession of sin, repentance from sin and on each occasion baptism occurred as people became disciples.
This pattern continues to inform and direct the emphasis of God’s church. However, baptism is not the goal—becoming a disciple of Jesus is the goal. Today, joining the first churches’ examples we encourage other individuals and families to consider the spiritual process of hearing and believing the Gospel, confessing our sins, repenting of those sins and being baptized as part of our commitment.
If you have yet to do so, this is a great time to respond. This week works. We have plenty of water and it is July-warm.
WLGBC continues emphasizing the voluntary baptism of individuals who say of themselves, “I believe Jesus is the Christ.” All who seek to become disciples of Jesus are encouraged to find the moment of saying, “I am ready.”
Is baptism into Christ a meaningful memory or an upcoming event in your life?
Do you have questions about hearing, believing, confessing, repenting or baptism itself which need answers? Small group leaders as well members of the pastoral staff are available to help you.
Check out baptism’s emphasis during these eight occasions when individuals/groups/families become disciples: Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:13; 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15; 16:33. Please be sure to read the surrounding chapters for a truthful context.
Mark 1:1-11, John 1:19-34
I am identified as a wife, a grandma, a teacher, a mom, a friend and a domestic goddess.
What titles do you have? My most treasured identity is child of God, Christ-follower. I desire for that to be my primary identity, but I find, as I strive to live my roles in life, I often lose sight of my most treasured identity. How do people lose sight of their identity as Christ-followers? How do people recognize someone’s identity? Is it by how a person dresses, what their t-shirts say, or who they associate with?
The Jews had some very specific markers that indicated that they were part of God’s chosen people. Circumcision set them apart. What other ways were they identified as being God’s chosen people? How were the Jewish people going to identify the Messiah? It was John’s task to prepare the nation for the Messiah and then present the Messiah. (Luke 1:16-17,
John 1:6-8, 15-34) If a Gentile converted to Judaism, they were baptized, identifying them with God’s chosen people. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. (Acts 19:1-7) “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” (Matthew 3:13) Why was Jesus baptized? How did this baptism begin to form his identity? First, John’s baptism gave approval to Jesus’s ministry. Second, Jesus identified himself with publicans and sinners. Mainly, though, His baptism pictures his future baptism on the cross. (Matthew 20:22, Luke 12:50)
What “markers” identify us as Christ-followers? What if my baptism identified me with publicans and sinners of which I am chief? How would people in your circle of relationships identify you? Baptism is one of those “markers” in our faith walk. Loving the Lord your God with all your being and loving your neighbor should also be one of those “markers” of our faith walk.
Identities are important. John identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God”. In one sense the Bible can be summed up in that title. The question in the Old Testament is “Where is the Lamb?”(Genesis 22:7) In the four gospels, “Behold the Lamb of God!” After you have trusted Him, and all our earthly identities are laid to rest, we will all sing together in the heavenly choir, “Worthy is the Lamb.”
Leviticus 16:1-5, 23-24; Psalm 51:1-12
Water is essential for life. Stop a minute and think about how many times you turn on a faucet every day. We need clean water to drink and cook and bathe. Where would we (Americans) be without our daily showers? In the Bible water is often used as an allusion to some phase of spiritual life. Old Testament priests had to be bathed before they could offer sacrifices for the people. Being clean is essential for serving. And, after his horrendous sin, David begged God to clean him and wash away his iniquity so he could enjoy a renewed relationship with him.
Water baptism is an ordinance that is practiced by Christian fellowships around the world. When the crowd in Acts 2 was convicted by Peter's sermon, they asked what they should do. His reply: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 2:38a). Of course, it isn’t the practice of baptism that saves, but it is a public demonstration of your faith in the work of Jesus that washes sin away.
Like those first-century believers, have you been baptized? When? Why?
The Christian rite of baptism has been and continues to be observed in many ways, depending upon the teaching of the church you are affiliated with. Dr. Homer Kent, Jr. once told us, "If you want to see how the early church baptized its believers, you need to see the movie, My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. We had to smile at that -- coming from our learned Greek and New Testament professor. But he was correct, of course! (You may want to view that scene before reading any further).
What did your baptism mean to you? Was it “to join the church,” a way to earn God’s favor by obedience, or a public witness to your faith?
Does your baptism guarantee a godly life? No, but wouldn’t it be great if it did? Simply “add water” to your profession and poof—you’re sinless! So, a very important question should be addressed by every professing Christian. Has there been any evident change in the way you live since your confession of faith and baptism? Would people who watch your life see anything about you that’s different from someone who doesn’t claim to be a Christ-follower?
Baptism is but one of the means of cleansing that Jesus instituted. He taught his disciples that baptism (a picture of conversion) brings a permanent forgiveness and cleansing from the penalty of sin, but our lives are continually dirtied by existing in a sin-cursed world. So, as we saw last week, we need regular cleaning from the defilement of sin, and that’s why he instituted the picture of daily cleansing in the practice of foot-washing.
Consider: How should your life as a Jesus-follower differ from an unsaved person in light of being baptized and practicing foot-washing?
jbd & gmd