Clean! Clean!

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 has one imperative verb and three supporting participles. The main verb is not “go,” though it looks like it in our English translations. The main verb is the command “make disciples.” The three participles explain how the command is fulfilled. We make disciples of all nations by going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. We understand the going part of the Great Commission. That’s why we have things like “Missions Week.” We get the teaching part too. That’s the whole point in going. But many of us don’t think a lot about the baptizing part. And yet, Jesus makes it one of the key elements in fulfilling the Great Commission. So it must be crucially important.

Baptism is a central component of the Great Commission because baptism marks us out as a follower of Christ and assures us that by faith we have been forgiven by God. There’s a lot that can be said about the meaning of baptism. It signifies our dying and rising with Christ. It signifies our sprinkling with the blood of Christ. It signifies our union with Christ. All of this is true and worth our contemplation. But at the most basic level, the water of baptism reminds us that our sins have been washed away. All our stains have been wiped clean by the sin-scrubbing detergent of God’s grace.

We don’t think of our baptisms enough. Whether you were baptized as an adult or a child or even as an infant, you should think of your baptism often. This may mean remembering the actual event of your baptism or simply remembering that you are baptized and have been sealed with the promise of God’s forgiveness. When you trip up and overeat to the point of gluttony, when you lose it with your kids, when you lament that you have such a critical spirit, you should remember your baptism. By faith you are forgiven and have been washed clean. Baptism is that reminder, a symbol of forgiveness we have received.

When I was younger I climbed a lot of trees, played a lot of sports, and got dirty like boys are supposed to. I never minded a little dirt, but I liked to get clean at the end of the day. That’s why I shower at night instead of in the morning. I don’t need to get clean before I start the day. I need to get clean at the end of the day. Every day, I need to get spiritually clean too. So every day I have reason to remember my baptism. By the end of each day, there is sinful crud and junk clinging to my body. I need to visit the cross. I need to be washed. Praise God for the blood that saves instead of stains. Praise God I have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He and his wife, Trisha, are expecting their fifth child in August. This excerpt is from one of his several books, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody Publications, 2010).