The First Hurdle

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” —Matthew 28:19, 20, NIV.

Recently I took a group of people through a class meant to prepare them for baptism. After explaining to the group all the standard information about baptism, I introduced them to a second presentation. This one, I warned them, was all about the reasons they shouldn’t be baptized.

Perhaps that presentation might have something to do with why only half of the group moved on to the next step in the process leading up to actually being baptized.

Part of me feels badly about that—but not that bad! After all, I didn’t keep anyone out of the Kingdom since being baptized doesn’t affect anyone’s salvation. What I hope I did do was to remind those in the class that baptism  is not only a public confession of the faith that one already has in Christ, but is also a commitment to following Christ, to making Him the number one priority of one’s life.

We shouldn’t make promises that we aren’t fully convinced that we want, with God’s help, to keep.

I remember what it cost some of those whom I have discipled to make their public confession of faith through baptism. In the days of the early church new believers understood the risk they took to publicly identify themselves with “The Way,” as Christ-followers were then known. They had not only given their lives to Christ, they might also be giving their lives to a cross, or an arena full of hungry carnivores, or prison, or exile, or living on the run for the rest of their days. They certainly gave their lives to misunderstanding, ridicule and sacrifice.

Counting the cost is a Biblical principle. Jesus reminded His listeners about that cost on several occasions, one of which was wrapped in illustrations common to people of that time. Luke 14:25-33 compares the cost of discipleship with building a tower or going to war. Before you do either of those you had better be sure you have enough resources to finish the building or to win the battle. Otherwise, don’t do it! Then the punch line: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (14:33, NIV).

We know that no one’s spiritual journey is perfect, even when we make our public confession with all the best intentions and resolve in the world. That’s okay and all part of the process called sanctification, a process which will take the rest of our lives. But to tell the world that we are committed to Christ when we really aren’t—and know it—comes wrapped in an ugly word: hypocrisy. And the “H” word has done more damage to the testimony of believers and to the church in the eyes of the world than perhaps any other.

So I make taking the step of baptism as hard as I can. But if a person triumphs over this hurdle in their spiritual race, the next one might just be that much easier.

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