By the command of Jesus, when those from “all nations” marked out for salvation, come to believe, we are to baptize them. The first mark of confidence that a person has heard with understanding, has confessed with conviction and has believed in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is baptism. None else are to be baptized. Not believers and their households but believers only. If households are instructed and also believed, then and then only are households baptized (Acts 16:31-34; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15, 16). None can be a candidate for baptism who does not hear and understand the gospel. None except those who shun any pretensions of personal merit and embrace the surpassing excellence of the righteousness that comes from God by imputation of Christ’s obedience are candidates for baptism. Those who repent unto the forgiveness of sins are the true candidates for baptism.
Baptism shows that they are separated from this world and united to Christ in his redemptive work and to other believers in the community of the redeemed: “All of us who have been baptized … were baptized into his death … [that] we might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4). Every person, not only every land, is a mission field for this presentation of the gospel for this purpose. Wherever in the world we baptize, we testify to the enduring nature of the entire command. Whether we baptize believers here in our home churches or in places with sparse or no Christian preaching, then we confess that all that Jesus said in this command still has authority in all nations. We confess with Watts,
Worthy is He that once was slain,
The Prince of Life that groan’d and died;
Worthy to rise, and live, and reign
At his almighty Father’s side.
By Christ’s command, we testify to the absoluteness of the Christian message by invoking the name of the triune God at the observance of this ordinance on the one professing belief of the gospel. There is no other God but the God who exists eternally in a true and undiluted fellowship of three distinct persons, existing in the same nature. In the covenant of redemption, co-eternal with the purpose, will, rationality, consciousness, and love within the three-personed deity, each divine immutable, all-wise person assumed a fitting aspect (an oikonomia, a plan of distribution of work) of the whole work of redemption (Ephesians 3:9-12). Baptism, therefore, assumes both the eternal purpose and historic operations of each person in order to accomplish this glorious work—”In the name [singular] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”—that is, on the basis of the singular and simple authority of the triune God. Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38—”in the name of Jesus Christ”—is not stating a formula for baptism. He is restating the authority of the risen Jesus by which baptism in the name of the Trinity is performed. Even so did Paul baptize the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:5) on the stated authority of Jesus and in light of the work of Jesus announced by John as a sign of their reception into the new Israel, the new people of God, the holy nation.
Having been incorporated as a community by baptism, disciples are to be taught “to observe all things.” Paul always saw this as consistent with his ministry. Titus 1:1 condenses this stewardship with the words, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” His commission was not complete until both the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness had been proclaimed. All of this is an outworking of the covenantal arrangement—immutably, unwaveringly, promised in the trinitarian fellowship—for eternal life for sinners. The “faith of God’s elect” would be established in the context of the proclamation of a number of revealed truths. This saving faith be in full agreement with “their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” My next entry will seek to delineate some of the revealed propositions that constitute saving faith and also how such implies the truth that leads to godliness.
Dr. Tom Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was professor of Church History and chairman of that department. Previously, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from Mississippi College and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. In addition to writing numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles has authored or edited nine books including By His Grace and For His Glory, Baptists and the Bible, and Why I Am a Baptist.
Courses taught: Historical Theology of the Baptists, Historical Theology Overview, Jonathan Edwards & Andrew Fuller.