EDITOR’S NOTE: Johnny Hunt serves as the senior vice president of Evangelism and Leadership at the North American Mission Board. Prior to joining NAMB, Hunt pastored First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., for 33 years. Baptist Press will be releasing a series of columns leading up to Sept. 8, which is Baptism Day in the Southern Baptist Convention. For resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday-resources/.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — To me, when I study the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, it appears that baptism is the first act of obedience a believer takes after they are saved. It is so important because it is the first time individuals will share about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and they do so without ever opening their mouths!
Baptism serves as a witness to others who need to be obedient to Christ’s command, and it shares the Gospel with those who have yet to believe because baptism is a physical representation of how Jesus saves us.
One of my favorite baptism stories in the New Testament begins in Acts 8, verse 26. Philip is called by the Spirit to leave a major movement of God in the city of Samaria in order to intersect in divine providence with one person — the Ethiopian eunuch.
Philip sees him sitting in his chariot. The eunuch had likely been to Jerusalem and participated in worship, but undoubtedly, all of his questions had not been answered. So, when Philip approaches and sees him reading one of the most prominent messianic passages from the Old Testament, Isaiah 53, he asks the eunuch, “Do you understand what you read?” The man responds, “How can I except somebody help me?”
As pastors, we are trying to help our people be obedient to Jesus. Christ said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Baptism is not an option. It’s a command. When we encourage our people to be baptized, we are encouraging them to obey Christ’s commands, not ours.
There are many questions that I’ve answered throughout my ministry. How old should a person be? Why be baptized? Will baptism get you into heaven? These are good questions, but at the end of the day, we are commanded by Jesus to be baptized.
It only stands to reason that if I’ve said yes to Christ as Lord, where does the “no” fit into that equation? How can a person who has trusted Jesus say to Him, “No, Lord?”
To go back to the Ethiopian eunuch, when he and Philip came across a body of water, he asked, “What hinders me from being baptized?” Based on a simple confession about Jesus in response to the Gospel, Philip went down to the water and baptized him.
I don’t know that the eunuch knew much more than his simple confession that Jesus is the Son of God and that Christ saved him from his sin before Philip baptized him. I think, sometimes, we may be too hard on new believers as to what we think they should understand.
They must understand they are a sinner and that — based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 — Jesus Christ died for sin and for sinners according to the Scripture, that He was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. That is the Gospel.
In baptism, we are declaring the Gospel to the congregation and testifying to the fact that we have already received it. Why shouldn’t we give new believers the opportunity to obey Christ and follow through with baptism immediately after they have responded to the Gospel?
As pastor at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., we held a service where we allowed people to respond in obedience through spontaneous baptism. Dozens of people came forward that Sunday, and there was such a spirit of celebration in the room that no one wanted to leave.
This Baptism Sunday, Sept. 8, our church will be hosting a similar service again. We will have extra gowns, shorts, t-shirts and towels — even extra hair dryers — and we will tell people, “You can come right now and enter the baptismal waters.”
Now, none of them will do so without sharing a clear testimony with a trained counselor. Some who come forward may not have that testimony of being transformed by Christ yet, but we also know that there are many who need to be obedient. They know what they need to do. They just need the opportunity to respond in obedience to the Lord.
Pastor, I want to encourage you to lead your church to do something similar. At First Baptist Woodstock, we are so expectant that we will bring in a second, portable baptismal pool. Regardless of the size of your church, I believe you will be amazed by the number of people who will come forward when you share the Gospel and call for obedience to God’s command to be baptized.
The night I was converted, many years ago, if they had told me to be baptized that night, I would have been delighted to do so. While they did baptize me the very next Sunday night, I think we often forget the joy a new believer has and their desire to obey their new Savior.
Whether it’s new converts who come forward or whether it’s people in your church who have not followed through with the biblical model of believer’s baptism, this coming Baptism Sunday provides the avenue for what could be a special time of celebration of what Christ has done to save sinners.