Summary: Christians are commanded to make disciples. The process of discipleship includes: going; baptising; teaching. The responsibility devolves upon each follower of the Christ.

“It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” [1]

Discipleship is expected to be integral to the daily life of every community of faith. However, the process of discipling is woefully neglected among the churches of our Lord. To be certain, there are churches that take discipling quite seriously; but for the most, discipleship is lost in the rush to gain adherents. Let me say quite clearly for the benefit of all who listen—not every individual in attendance at a service is a disciple. Candidly, not every person in regular attendance is engaged in the process of being discipled. To appropriate a common saying, “Disciples are made, not born.”

The process of discipleship is presented concisely in the words of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:19, 20 NET BIBLE]. The command is to “make disciples.” The means by which disciples are made is given with the participles employed—going, baptising and teaching. These three words define the discipling process. Congregations are to be engaged in discipling through going, baptising and teaching. If any one of these activities is neglected, whatever else we may be doing, discipleship cannot take place.

Evangelism and discipleship are conjoined—they cannot be separated. Where evangelism is taking place, discipleship (of necessity) is taking place. Where discipleship is practised, evangelism is being conducted. I am not suggesting that there is no room for learning how to be more efficient or how to be better equipped for doing either evangelism or discipleship, but I am saying that it is not an issue of either/or, rather it is an issue of both/and whenever we are discussing evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is not complete until we have discipled those coming into the Faith of Christ the Lord; and discipleship means that we are equipping new converts for evangelism. This dual responsibility is evident in the account of some “disciples” whom the missionaries met in the city of Ephesus during the Apostle Paul’s third missionary journey.

THE JOHN THE BAPTIST CULT — Paul met some disciples; but he was cautious about embracing them as followers of the Master. It was necessary to draw them out by asking selected questions. There are some startling truths discovered in this pericope—truths that need to be emphasised so that we understand what the Spirit of God would teach us. These disciples whom Paul met were disciples of John the Baptist. What is surprising about that is that John had been dead for more than a generation. You will remember that John was the Forerunner who blazed the way for Messiah; his ministry was concluded before the crucifixion of Jesus.

Another fact that is important to keep in mind is that John never sought to create disciples that would follow him—John pointed those who heard his message to look to Jesus as Messiah. This should not be taken to mean that John’s baptism was flawed, as is often done. Remember that Jesus received baptism from John. Recall the exchange as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” Then he consented” [MATTHEW 3:13-15]. The only baptism Jesus received was from John. By this act, the Master put His approval on John and on his ministry.

Remember, as well, that John’s baptism was a requirement for anyone who would be an Apostle. The criteria for Apostleship is given when Peter said: “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” [ACTS 1:21, 22]. To be an Apostle, a man had to have been baptised by John and he had to be a personal witness of the resurrection of Christ the Lord; each of the Apostles, including the one appointed after Judas had turned aside in his sin, had been baptised by John and had witnessed the resurrection of the Master. It is reasonable to conclude that John’s baptism, and hence, his message, enjoyed the imprimatur of the Apostles and the smile of Heaven itself.

Let’s think about the “disciples” whom Paul found. The text reads, “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There, he found some disciples” [ACTS 19:1]. Clearly, there was something about these “disciples” that gave the Apostle pause. Maybe you can relate. Have you ever met someone who claimed to be “Christian,” but something about their mannerism, their speech, their general attitude made you uneasy? This seems to be the situation for Paul when he met these disciples.

The Faith of Christ the Lord is the Christian Faith that is proclaimed to this day. However, parallel to the growth of the Faith of Christ Jesus was numerous religions, some of which remain with us to this day. God’s intention was that John would serve as the Forerunner to Jesus and that his ministry would both lay the groundwork and then be merged into the work that the Master Himself would perform. John understood this, as is evident from his declaration, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” [JOHN 3:30].

Remember, John had just testified, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete” [JOHN 3:29]. From the earliest days of his service, John had understood his divinely appointed role. Early in his service, the Baptist had testified, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” [JOHN 1:32, 33].

However, a surprising number of John’s disciples were less spiritually astute than their esteemed leader. Many so revered their leader that they carried on his work, creating a movement in his name for the years and decades after John was martyred. Tension between the disciples of John and the disciples of the Christ were witnessed early on. In the fourth Gospel, we read, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison)” [JOHN 3:23, 24]. It takes enough water to fully immerse an individual for baptism. You cannot use a cup, you cannot use a lily leaf, you cannot use a wetted palm of your hand—you need a pool for baptism.

“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification” [JOHN 3:25]. Note that the discussion was “over purification,” but the purification in view was baptism. We know this because of what follows. John’s disciples came to him, complaining, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him” [JOHN 3:26].

There is another confrontation recorded in Scripture that focused on the difference between Jesus’ ministry and that of the Baptist recorded in Scripture. In this instance, it wasn’t the disciples of the Baptist who brought the complaint to Jesus, but it appears to have been some identified with the Pharisees. “They said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink’” [LUKE 5:33]. They wanted to drive a wedge between Jesus and John, at the least. They argued, “You’re not like John. They were saying, “John is ascetic and his disciples fast and pray. You, on the other hand, go to weddings, and you take your disciples with you. You are convivial and gregarious. You laugh and you are willing to talk to sinners. We don’t understand how you can be so different!”

Consider Jesus’ estimate of the Baptist, shown in His response to an attempt by the chief priests and the elders to debar Him from teaching in the Temple. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority” they demanded [MATTHEW 21:23]? Jesus coolly responded, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man” [MATTHEW 21:24, 25a]? Now, notice the reasoning of these leaders. “They discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” ‘But if we say, “From man,” we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet’” [MATTHEW 21:25b, 26]. Their answer was a classic cop-out: “We do not know” [MATTHEW 27a]. John’s influence was great in Israel, and Jesus recognised the impact of John’s ministry to the nation.

Let me give another example of the influence of the Baptist. This example is drawn from the Gospel of Mark. “King Herod heard of [the miracles Jesus was performing], for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him’” [MARK 6:14]. This is important because it demonstrates the Baptist’s influence even after his death. Herod trembled at the thought that John might have risen from the dead.

The influence of the Baptist was great before his martyrdom, and his influence continued to be great following his execution. Now, here we are almost thirty years after his death and we discover a “John the Baptist” movement growing parallel to the growth of the Faith of Christ the Lord. In ACTS 18:24 we are introduced to a brilliant orator from Alexandria; his name was Apollos, and he was a disciple of John the Baptist! And in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, we are introduced to twelve disciples of John the Baptist. This John the Baptist movement was preceding even the advance of the Faith of Christ the Lord!

The famed Justin Martyr, writing about 110 A.D, speaks of the disciples of John the Baptist. In the “Recognitions of Clement,” he wrote, “Behold, one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets. If then, said this man, he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater than Moses and than Jesus Himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then must he be the Christ.” [2] Justin Martyr notes the tension between the disciples of John and the disciples of Christ, writing. “Simon the Canaanite, answering, asserted that John was indeed greater than all the prophets, and all who are born of women, yet that he is not greater than the Son of man. Accordingly, Jesus is also the Christ, whereas John is only a prophet: and there is as much difference between him and Jesus, as between the forerunner and Him whose forerunner he is; or as between Him who gives the law, and him who keeps the law.” [3] About thirty years after Justin Martyr, Hegesippus writes about the disciples of John the Baptist, identifying them as Hemerobaptists (daily bathers). [4]

The Apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel near the close of the first century. Writing so late, and fully aware of the continued tension between the disciples of John and the followers of the Lord Jesus, it is significant that he took pains to contradict the disciples of John who were saying that John was the Messiah. John the Apostle clarified this matter when he wrote in the Gospel bearing his name, “This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” [JOHN 1:19, 20]. John’s statement was emphatic, and the Apostle drew out this strong denial so that anyone reading this Gospel would know that the Baptist made no claim of being the Messiah.

I find it interesting that John, who wrote, “There are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” [JOHN 21:25], chose to write the Baptist’s denial that he was the Messiah. There can be only one reason the Apostle was so emphatic, and that is that the John the Baptist sect was transmogrifying into a cult. I don’t want to provide a treatise on the difference between a sect and a cult, except to note that whenever a movement begins to coalesce around one figure, it is in danger of becoming a cult. My responsibility is to point people to Jesus—I am to make disciples of the Christ and not draw attention to myself. Keep this thought in mind.

I find it interesting to discover that there continues to this day a religious group known as Mandaeans who hold John the Baptist to be their prophet. The Mandaeans are a gnostic religion situated between Iraq and Iran. They have their own language which appears to be derived from Aramaic. The group has an extensive literature, though little is known of their writings because the group has remained separate and intensely private. [5] It is evident that this group heard only a portion of what John taught, not understanding that John was the forerunner pointing to the Messiah. This was the group whom Paul encountered in Ephesus.

DISCIPLES OF WHOM? The text could lead us astray if we only read casually what is written. Doctor Luke wrote, “There [in Ephesus], [Paul] found some disciples.” Paul found some disciples. We should ask, “Disciples of whom?” Ignoring what the Mandaeans practise today, what was the John the Baptist movement like when Paul met them? Whenever a group has departed in one of the fundamental truths of the Faith, they will continue moving ever farther from the Faith until they are at best but a pale husk of the Faith.

For the benefit of all who share this message, the essentials of the Faith are as follows:

• Jesus Christ is very God in human flesh.

• He gave His life as a sacrifice because of our sinful, fallen condition.

• He was buried and He rose bodily from the dead.

• He ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father.

• He shall return from Heaven to receive to Himself those who are born from above.

• By faith in Him, without any effort on the part of an individual, we receive His life.

• These truths are revealed in His Word, the Bible, which is to be received as true and accurate.

Deviating from any one of these truths will lead mankind into ever deeper darkness. Taken together, these truths define the Faith of Christ the Lord. Those who hold to these truths are Christians, though they may disagree on any of a number of other variables.

So, how might we describe these disciples whom Paul encountered? Let’s look at the Baptist. John was ascetic, and the movement that grew up around his name adopted the asceticism which they considered necessary to any who would adopt his message. In other words, they could dissociate the message from the manner of life. John dressed simply and ate simple meals. The Word of God describes John thusly, “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” [MATTHEW 3:4].

John the Baptist was a Nazirite from his birth [see NUMBERS 6:1-8]. Before he was conceived, the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah as he ministered in the Temple. The angel brought a message of God’s great work in Israel, a work that would begin with the birth of a child to this childless couple. “While [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’” [LUKE 1:8-17]. From birth, John was dedicated to the Lord and to His service. The hair of the Baptist would never be cut; his bear would never be trimmed. He would never drink fermented drinks—no wine and no strong drink. He would dress in simple, rude clothing. His food would be simple, plain foods designed to make one strong.

John looked as if he had stepped out of the pages of the Old Testament—he dressed as did Elijah and he lived as did Elijah. When Ahaziah was injured and sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, the messengers were confronted by Elijah. They hurried back to the king to tell him that they had been deterred by a strange man who told them that Ahaziah would assuredly die. The following exchange is recorded in the Word of God. “[The king] said to [the messengers], ‘What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?’ They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite’” [2 KINGS 1:7, 8]. The prophets were rough-hewn, dressed in rough clothing.

John’s preaching was unlike anything most people had ever heard in that day. He wasn’t concerned with how his message would be received; he sought only to please the One who sent him to with the message of repentance. Thus, John’s message was pointed, plain, pertinent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.”’”

[MATTHEW 3:1-3]

John’s message was not designed to make people feel good about themselves. He thundered judgement against those who played at religion, warning them of judgement to come. “When [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” [MATTHEW 3:7-12]. People may think they would appreciate the preaching of the Baptist, but his insistent demand for righteousness, he constant call for repentance, grated on the sensibilities of those who heard him in that day, just as such preaching becomes tiresome to those who hear it today.

When John was imprisoned, he sent messengers to Jesus. They were dispatched with questions for Jesus, to which the Master responded by pointing to what He was accomplishing. Then, “When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet’” [LUKE 7:24-26]. Then, Jesus exposed the attitude of the crowds who had listened to John by contrasting the response to Himself and John. “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” [LUKE 7:33, 34]!

It is said of one modern prophet that he headlined every major Christian gathering in the day; and he was debarred from every major gathering before he died. The message of God’s glory and the necessity of living as though God’s presence made a difference became a problem for those who heard. Prophetic preaching has always challenged those who hear, resulting at last in ridding oneself of the bothersome messenger of God. The Master challenged those who heard Him, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” [MATTHEW 13:57].

The public life and ministry of Christ the Lord was radically different from that of John. The message was the same; but the conduct of the Master differed from the Baptist. The difference between these two men was so great that the disciples of John were overwhelmed, they were amazed at how the Lord and His disciples conducted their lives. Jesus was gregarious, convivial. John withdrew from people; Jesus went where the people gathered. If there was a wedding in Cana, Jesus would go. If he was invited to dinner, He went. So far as I can determine, Jesus never turned down an invitation to dinner—never! All that was necessary to have Jesus grace your home was to invite Him to dinner.

John, on the other hand, retreated to the wilderness. Though crowds came to hear him, he did not seek out crowds. John was monastic, rigorous in continence, and his disciples were likewise disciplined in the conduct of their lives. The disciples of Jesus were different. Both preached repentance and both movements were marked by unimaginable power, and the initial sign of discipleship for either movement was immersion in water by those choosing to accept the teaching delivered by the leaders.

We are provided two instances of those adhering to the John the Baptist movement. Out of Alexandria came a man named Apollos [see ACTS 18:24 ff.]. The Lukan account tells us that Apollos was eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, zealous and powerful in delivering the message he brought. He knew the ethical teaching of the Lord, even though he had only received the baptism of John. However, he did not know of the crucifixion or of the resurrection of our Lord. Fortunately for the churches, a godly couple—Priscilla and Aquila—heard him, took him aside and instructed him in the things of Christ so that he would speak more accurately. Having received the clarification of the sacrifice of the Saviour and His resurrection, Apollos now preached powerfully, refuting the Jews by showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

Notice, however, that Apollos was not re-baptised; he was accepted by the congregation in Ephesus. The baptism of John, which Apollos had received, was validated by the congregation when they accepted him as one of them. However, when Paul encountered these twelve “disciples,” he exposed their baptism as invalid. There was something flawed in the ritual to which they had submitted. That something which was missing was the Spirit of God. Though they lived an ascetic life, though they were severe in disciplining their bodies, there was no joy in their life. The joy of the indwelling Spirit was absent!

CHRISTIAN DISCIPLES — The twelve “disciples” were disciples of the disciples of the disciples of the Baptist. By this time, the movement had degenerated, drifting far from the original calling God had delivered through John. Speaking with them, even casually, Paul sees a serious defect in their faith. They are ascetic, they are austere, but they are not alive. There was no joy in their life, no vibrancy in their walk, their presence does not refresh the weary soul. These “disciples” had no victory; they were not overcomers in the battles of life. They were lugubrious, gloomy, conducting life under a cloud. Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

Of course, when Paul asked whether they received the Holy Spirit when they believed, he exposed the flawed message they had received. They were living under the law. Make no mistake, whether we refer to the Law of Moses or whether we attempt to live according to the Sermon on the Mount, we will always fall short of the glory of God. These men, like so many supposed Christians in this day, are attempting to be saved through their own efforts. However, Christian baptism is always identified with grace. These “disciples” had not heard of the Holy Spirit, demonstrating that they had not heard the message John delivered.

John pointed to the coming Messiah, declaring that He would come to baptise with the Holy Spirit. Didn’t John preach, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” [MATTHEW 3:11]? And didn’t John receive a revelation from God, saying, “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” [JOHN 1:33]? John pointed forward to fulfilment of life in the Spirit when Jesus came.

After His resurrection, the Master was preparing the disciples for His ascension. We read of Jesus’ preparation, “As they met and ate meals together, [Jesus] told [the disciples] that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but ‘must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon’” [ACTS 1:4, 5 THE MESSAGE]. That which John had pointed to was about to become reality. Understand that every child of God that has come to Faith since Christ’s ascension has received the Holy Spirit. Each believer is baptised in the Spirit of God.

Baptism pictures outwardly what God has done inwardly in the life of the believer. Paul has taught us, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:13]. The Spirit of God baptises the believer into Christ; and the baptism in water that we receive after we believe pictures what the Spirit of God is doing. When the Spirit of God is dissociated from the act of baptism, the rite has no meaning.

Imagine the Apostle observing the ritual administered in many of our churches. Here comes a mother carrying her little baby. She hands the baby to the priest who dips a cup, or a leaf into a laver of water and pours some of that water onto the head of that infant. Now, imagine that Paul asks that baby, “Little baby, did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The little child would look wide-eyed, cooing and gurgling, but never understanding what was asked. The little child has no understanding, so the act is meaningless. Oh, the mother and perhaps the father feel good that they have done something for the child, much as they feel good when they inoculate the infant against mumps or polio. In fact, the inoculation against disease is more beneficial because it does some good. There is no benefit to the water the priest drips onto the head of that infant. It is a meaningless rite because the Spirit of God is not present in the act.

There is nothing magical in baptism. It is a ritual, a ceremony; but it is a dead act if there is no presence of the Spirit of God in the rite. Paul stood against permitting the Christian Faith slip into dead formalism, lifeless ritual and cold ceremonialism such as the Judaism of that day had become. The Christian Faith is alive, it is vibrant, scintillating. The Faith of Christ the Lord is burning, throbbing with the presence of the Spirit; it is never dull, dead orthodoxy, mere ceremony and ritual. This holy Faith is life and light, full of the Holy Spirit, burning with power. Paul refused to permit the Faith to be delineated by some form of dead ritual, even baptism. So, he stood opposed to mere ritual such as these “disciples” described.

Though the ritual had been degraded to mere formality by these disciples of the disciples of the disciples of John the Baptist, it did not mean that baptism is unimportant. Remember that we began by asserting the discipleship process as “going, baptising and teaching.” Baptism is important because it identifies us as belonging to the One who redeems us. Baptism always has a right candidate, a right mode, a right administrator and a right purpose. These “disciples” had maintained the right mode—they were immersed, picturing death, burial and resurrection. However, they were not the right candidates.

If we baptise a goat, it will still be a goat. If we baptise a sheep, it will remain a sheep. The nature of the candidate for baptism is not changed by the act of baptism. We do not baptise in order to make one a Christian; we baptise because the one baptised is already a Christian. Unconscious infants are not transmogrified through the application of water; they are not transported from death to life through the action. The Word of God is unaltered, “You must be born again” [JOHN 3:7]. That new birth is the work of the Spirit. Then, when one has been born from above, that one is a proper candidate for baptism.

This is a church ordinance, just as the Lord’s Table is a church ordinance. It is not a Christian ordinance, in that one cannot simply go about immersing people and claim that they have received baptism. Baptism is always the means by which one enters into a congregation of the faithful for the first time. Therefore, the proper administrator is the one designated by the congregation to perform the rite. One cannot simply take it upon himself to begin to baptise. Missionaries are designated by the sending church to baptise on their authority. Baptism in the congregation may be performed by whomever the assembly designates. Usually, it is the elders of the congregation who will immerse those confessing Christ.

These “disciples” whom Paul encountered had not had the proper purpose when they were immersed. They were baptised to identify as disciples of John. Christian baptism teaches that we are baptised in obedience to the command of the Saviour. He redeems us and He then calls us to follow Him in baptism as believers who have been born from above. We who are twice born have the Spirit of God within us and we are baptised to demonstrate the work that He has done in us.

This is evident from Paul’s words in ROMANS 6:3-11. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So, you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The discipling process begins with believers going in obedience to the command of the Master. When He appeared to the disciples following His resurrection, the Master said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then, having given this command to go, “[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” [JOHN 20:21. 22]. That command to go is incumbent upon each disciple to this day. If you are saved, you are responsible to go. And as you go, you are to tell of God’s great salvation.

Those who respond, those whom the Spirit gives us, are then commanded to be baptised. Believers are to identify with Christ the Lord. Those who have believed will seek to identify with the Saviour who redeemed them. This is the clear meaning of Paul’s words to the Colossians. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” [COLOSSIANS 2:8-12].

It is the identical message that is presented by Peter, who writes, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” [1 PETER 3:18-22].

Practising discipleship means that we are going—going into the community, going into the marketplace, going into the homes that are broken, going to those ruined by the sin that has become rampant in our day, going to lend our strength to those who are weak in the face of constant assault. As we go, we understand that we represent Christ and we reflect on the assembly of the righteous. We bear the message of life as we go and we seek God’s sheep.

Those who respond to our message are to be encouraged to openly confess their faith, to identify with the Master in baptism, to be welcomed into the community of Faith. We have become used to seeing people that are morally like us; but in a broken, sinful world, those coming into our congregations will bring their baggage with them. We have baggage, but we have learned to hide our baggage. These come to us broken and bruised, and we are responsible to show them mercy and love, just as Jude has taught: “You, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” [JUDE 20-23].

Welcoming those whom God appoints to life, we are responsible to instruct in the truths of God. We are not to reproduce a form of popular religion; we are responsible to declare the truth. We are commanded, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” [EPHESIANS 4:15, 16].

This is our mission. This is the task to which we are appointed. Start the work; begin today. Let the Holy Spirit direct us and employ us to the praise of Christ’s glory. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] E.g., Pseudo-Clement of Rome, “Recognitions of Clement,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, Chap XXIII, Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Thomas Smith, trans., vol. 8, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 93

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Dissertations on the Apostolic Age (Macmillan, London; New York 1892) 387–393

[5] See “Mandaeism” (art.), Wikipedia,, accessed 30 June 2017; “Mandaeans or Mandeans,”, accessed 30 John 2017; Kurt Rudolf, “Mandaean Scriptures and Fragments,”, accessed 30 John 2017; Mandaean Associations Union,, accessed 30 John 2017