Last week we looked at the questions related to being ready for baptism. Today I want to look at another important baptism question.
Are They A Believer?
*Can someone be considered a “believer” or “disciple” if they don’t desire (or are not willing to take) this the step of obedience?
To find answers to this baptism question, we need to look at what scripture teaches. Many cultural and social issues exist that make this a difficult step to take. Persecution can increase after and around the question of taking baptism. In South Asian settings, many view baptism as the point at which you are “changing your religion.”
It’s better to help them see that baptism is a way to demonstrate there has been a “change of heart.” The fear of being seen by their relatives and community as having “changed religion” is a big obstacle for many.
Baptism Question Addressed By Scripture
One of the clearest directives we find related to baptism is in Acts 2:37-38 when Peter addresses the 3000 who have believed. As the Holy Spirit works, faith rises in their hearts, and they ask him what they need to do. Peter’s response is clear about two important necessary actions- Repentance and Baptism.
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Both are still needed today. I’m convinced that when we fail to emphasize them, we end up with weak disciples rather than bold, committed and growing disciples who are able to disciple others.
In our desire to “take things slowly”, not be pushy, and in our fear of creating obstacles for those showing interest in following Christ, we sometimes fail to teach them about the things that are able to make them strong – Repentance and Baptism. I believe this is a mistake, both for that person and for the DNA of the movement.
Every context is a bit different, and we do want to uphold the theological understanding that it is not our actions that save, but Christ’s work on the cross. Baptism doesn’t save us, Jesus does. Faith, however, must be lived out in actions of obedience. Baptism is one of them.
If someone doesn’t want to be baptized or waits a long time before showing a desire to be baptized, we need to have a serious discussion with them about why. We don’t want to force anyone to be baptized. We do want to encourage obedience to Jesus’ commands and make sure that a complete shift of allegiance has happened in their lives. Is Jesus truly Lord? Has He taken a higher place than family, society, and fear?
Back to our original question, are they a “believer” if they don’t want to be baptized? Maybe, but they are not a strong disciple who will make more disciples. Will they get into Heaven? Probably. God is amazingly gracious. Getting people into Heaven when they die, however, is not out goal. We want to make strong disciples who experience and live out transformed lives here on Earth!
Pray. Gently and clearly encourage them. Raise the bar of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and don’t make this step optional. Whatever it is that is holding them back, if those things are bigger in their mind than their desire to obey Jesus as Lord and Savior, those things have to “bow the knee.”
Many times, the problem is more with us, the disciple maker, than with them. We fail to give opportunity for obedience in this area and make it difficult rather than “normal” for new believers to take this step. We will talk about that more in the coming blogs.