God’s Only Plan to Reach the World

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He gave His followers His one and only plan to reach the world for God’s glory (Matthew 28:19-20). The central command is to “make disciples” of Christ. A “disciple” is a learner or pupil of Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us three steps to make a disciple. 

1. “Go.” Before we can make a disciple, we need first a believer in Jesus. Jesus commands us to “go” to “all the nations” (Matt. 28:19a), and as we go, we are to “preach the gospel” of His death and resurrection to a lost world (Mark 16:15; I Cor. 15:1-6) and invite our listeners to believe in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (John 3:16; Rom. 1:16). 

2. “Baptizing them…” After a person believes the gospel, we are to baptize him or her in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (28:19b). Water baptism initiates the new believer into the discipleship process and expresses their desire to follow Jesus and never turn back. 

3. “Teaching them…” Baptized believers are to be taught more than the commands of Christ. They are to be taught to “observe” or obey all of Christ’s commands (28:20a). God wants His disciples to be “doers of His word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). 

The command to “make disciples of all the nations” may seem overwhelming. However, as we go to make disciples, baptizing them and striving to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded, we can go with confidence. We are assured of our ultimate success, because Christ now has “all authority” (28:18) and has promised to be with us in a special way (“lo, I am with you always”) to the end of the age if we obey Him (28:20b). This is referring to more than Jesus’ personal presence which is guaranteed for all believers (Heb. 13:5). Christ guarantees to back us up with everything we need to make disciples (i.e. boldness, people, protection, strength, resources, wisdom, etc.) as we learn to trust and obey Him.

Are Christians to baptize in the name of Jesus only?

Why are some believers baptized in the name of Jesus only in the book of Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) instead of “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” as Christ commanded (Matt. 28:19)?

1.  Because the purpose of the Holy Spirit in coming to earth was to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15). When Jesus Christ, the true God (I John 5:20) is glorified, so is God the Father because Jesus Christ is a perfect reflection of God the Father in human flesh (John 1:14, 18; 5:23-24; 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:7-13; 17:1-5, 21-22). To honor Jesus Christ also includes the Holy Spirit who is “one” with the Lord Jesus in essence and function (Ephes. 4:4-6). The three Persons of the Godhead (“Father…Son…Holy Spirit” – Matt. 28:19) operate in complete unity with one another. This is why Jesus commanded to baptize “in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” because God is one (Deut. 6:4), yet eternally exists in Three Persons (“Father…Son…Holy Spirit”). These three Persons of the Godhead are equal in every way, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity (Ephes. 2:18; 2 Corinthians 13:14). This can be seen in Ephesian 1:3-14 regarding the role each Person of the Godhead had in our eternal salvation. For example:

a. God the Father planned our eternal salvation when He chose us before foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephes. 1:3-6).

b. God the Son provided for our eternal salvation through His death on the Cross (Ephes. 1:7-12).

c. God the Holy Spirit produced and protects our eternal salvation by sealing us the moment we hear and believe the gospel of truth (Ephes. 1:13-14). 

So when they baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus in the book of Acts they were “baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” who are one in essence and purpose. 

2. The phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus” is not a reference to a baptismal formula, but is a reference to authority. This is like hearing someone say, “Stop in the name of the Law!” It means to stop by means of the authority of the Law.” To baptize “in the name” of Jesus means to baptize by means of Jesus’ authority (Matt. 28:18-19). We see this understanding in the book of Acts which emphasizes the authority of Jesus in the use of His name to…

a. Heal people (Acts 4:7-10).

b. Save people from hell (Acts 4:12; 16:31).

c. Teach and preach (Acts 4:17-18; 5:28, 40; 9:27-28).

d. Cast out demons (Acts 16:18).

So to baptize “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” means to baptize by means of the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ who represents “the name” of “the Father…Son…and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). “The name” represents all of the divine attributes of the Person named. To be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” is an expression of the sum total of God’s being which includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because all three Persons of the Godhead are “one” with one another in essence and purpose (John 1:14, 18; 5:23-24; 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:7-13; 17:1-5, 21-22; I Cor. 12:3-7; Ephes. 1:3-14; 4:4-6).

One acts in the name of another only when his acts are authorized. So to baptize in the name of Jesus is to baptize in the manner that Jesus authorized. Those who baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as authorized and commanded by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:19) are therefore, baptizing in the name of Jesus. Those who baptize in any other way do not, no matter what they may say.

Those who baptize in the name of Jesus only either fail to recognize or else simply ignore that vital and significant difference between the statements “in the name of Jesus” and “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Evidence that baptizing “in the name of Jesus” only is not a baptismal formula is the fact that there are many variations among those biblical references in the book of Acts: 

Acts 2:38 – “Baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Acts 8:16 – “Baptized in the name of Christ Jesus.”

Acts 10:48 – “Baptized in the name of the Lord.”

Acts 19:5 – “Baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

If this is a baptismal formula, then which formula does one use? There are four different ways to do this. 

These variations are even more pronounced in the original Greek language of the New Testament:

Acts 2:38 – “Baptistheto…epi to anomati Jesou Christou.”

Acts 8:16 – “Bebaptismenoi…eis to onoma tou Christou Jesou.”

Acts 10:48 – “Baptisthenai en to onomati tou Kuriou.”

Acts 19:5 – “Ebaptisthesan eis to onoma tou kuriou Jesou.” 

Notice that there is no uniformity in the name of Jesus:

Acts 2:38 – “Jesus Christ”

Acts 8:16 – literally “The Christ Jesus”

Acts 10:48 – “The Lord”

Acts 19:5 – “The Lord Jesus”

There is also variation in the prepositions used to show the relation between the name and the act of baptism:

Acts 2:38 – epi to onomati Jesou Christou (literally “upon the name”)

Acts 8:16 – eis to onoma tou Christou Jesou (“into the name”)

Acts 10:48 – en to onomati tou Kuriou (“in the name”)

Acts 19:5 – eis to onoma tou Kuriou Jesou (“into the name”)

Because of the several differences among the references in Acts to baptism in Jesus name only, it is best not to see this as a baptismal formula. So the book of Acts does not change the baptismal formula. It simply clarifies Who authorized water baptism. 

Conclusion: Baptism in the name of Jesus only in the book of Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) means to baptize by means of the authority of Jesus (Matt. 28:18) and is done by saying what Jesus commanded us to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19) because Jesus Christ is “one” in essence and purpose with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (John 1:14, 18; 5:23-24; 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:7-13; 17:1-5, 21-22; I Cor. 12:3-7; Ephes. 1:3-14; 4:4-6). The only baptismal formula commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ who has “all authority” in heaven and on earth, includes all three Persons of the Godhead (Matt. 28:18-19). To use a different formula than what Jesus commanded is an act of disobedience and dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ. 

God’s Grace in the Garden

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings… Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:7, 21

When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they tried to remedy their sense of fear and shame by covering themselves with “fig leaves” (3:7). But this covering did not remove the effects of their sin. Since that first attempt to remove the consequences of sin through human effort, people have been trying to remove their own guilt and shame through their own accomplishments. Various religions have been created by people trying to remedy their sin problem. But all man-made religions fall short of God’s solution to our sin problem. 

In Genesis 3:21, God graciously provided the proper covering for Adam and Eve. He “made tunics of skin” through the death of an innocent animal. Blood must be shed. Imagine how Adam must have felt to see one of the animals he had named and cared for being killed on his account! Never had Adam and Eve known death. This was serious business and this was to be God’s way of dealing with sin throughout the ages. By providing a covering with animal skins, God provided forgiveness through the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22). God later provided forgiveness through the Old Testament sacrificial system. 

Those animals were shadows of the Babe who was born on that first Christmas morning. He would be called “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Like that first animal that was sacrificed for Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ would also be innocent and without sin because He was and is God (John 1:1, 14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). And like that first sacrificial animal, Jesus was born to die for the sins of others (John 1:29; Romans 5:8; I John 4:9), that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Like Adam and Eve, our human efforts or works cannot remove our sin and shame (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). Religion cannot take away our sins. Only Jesus Christ can take away our sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). This is called grace. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve. We do not deserve forgiveness or everlasting life. But because of God’s grace, He offers us His forgiveness and everlasting life freely. Will you trust in Him alone to do for you would you could never do on your own? He is waiting for you to come to Him in faith just as You are and then He will forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life (Acts 10:43; John 3:15-16). Praise God for His magnificent grace!

Multigenerational Vision for Discipleship

God wants every individual Christian and local church to have a multigenerational vision for discipleship as seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The first generation in this verse is represented by the apostle Paul (“me”) who discipled Timothy (“you”) “among many witnesses” – a reference to the second generation of disciples. Timothy was to disciple the third generation consisting of “faithful men.” They are to be “faithful” so they can teach the fourth generation consisting of “others.” If they are not faithful, there will be no future disciples of Jesus Christ and the local church will become extinct. Like any living organism, the church will no longer exist if we do not reproduce (spiritually) through the discipleship process. 

While it is important to focus on the people we are currently preaching the gospel to and discipling, it is equally important to focus on the people they will witness to and train in discipleship, and the people they will witness to and train, and the people they will witness to and train (cf. John 17:20-26). Failure to have a multigenerational vision for discipleship is likely to result in a lack of intentionality, motivation, and strategy for making disciples of Jesus Christ in the future. 

What Happens to Babies or Toddlers who die?

We need to remember that all people are born as sinners (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 5:12) and that no one is righteous before a holy God (Roman 3:10-11). All people deserve eternal “death” or separation from God forever because of their sin (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). In addition, the only requirement for deliverance from eternal death and condemnation is belief in Jesus (John 3:16-18, 36). 

With these truths in mind, what does the Bible say about babies or children who die in infancy? Will they go to heaven or hell? 

1. The very nature of God prevents Him from being unfair. He will always do what is right and fair in His judgment (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 9:18; I Peter 1:17). 

2. God is also love (I John 4:7-8). As a loving Creator He “desires all people to be saved” and has made provision for them through His Son’s death on the cross (I Timothy 2:3-6; cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  All people are savable because Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:6; cf. I John 2:2).

3. Nowhere in the Bible does it say a person who is not old enough to believe in Jesus will go to hell. Because God is just and gracious (Psalm 9:8; John 1:14), He will not punish someone who is incapable of believing in Christ because of a lack of mental development (whether through immaturity or mental impairment). 

4. Young children are very valuable to Jesus. They have a special place of love and respect from Jesus. Jesus said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven”(Matthew 18:10). Little children are very valuable to God as demonstrated by how close their guardian angels stand to the throne of God. Christ also said, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish”(Matthew 18:14). God the Father does not want any little child to perish forever in hell. In the context (18:6) Jesus is speaking of “little”children who are old enough to believe in Him. We also see Jesus’ concern for little children in Matthew 19:13-15: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” Jesus rebukes those who forbid little children from coming to Him. He says not to forbid little children from coming to Him because “the kingdom of heaven” is occupied by those who possess childlike faith in Jesus. 

5. The Bible does seem to teach that a baby who dies in infancy will go to heaven (2 Samuel 12:22-23). In the context of this passage, King David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  The prophet Nathan boldly confronts David about his adultery and tells him that the child that Bathsheba has conceived will die.  As a result of the confrontation, David confesses his sin, puts on sackcloth and ashes, fasts, and grieves the fact that he will lose his child.  When David receives news that the child has died, he quits grieving and fasting and changes his clothing.  The prophet Nathan comes to David and asks him why he quit mourning the loss of his son. David replies, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’  But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”(2 Sam. 12:22-23).  David is confident that the child went to heaven since David says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”; and other verses indicate that David went to heaven (Psalm 16:10-11; Romans 4:5-8; Hebrews 11:32-33).

Conclusion:While I cannot be dogmatic here, I do believe that infants or toddlers who die before they are old enough to believe in Jesus will go to heaven because:

1. The character of God (holy, just, gracious, merciful, loving) does not allow Him to punish a person for something they cannot do (i.e. believe in Jesus) whether it is because of immaturity or mental impairment (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 9:8, 18; John 1:14-17; 3:14-18; I Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 4:14-16; I Peter 1:15-17; 2 Peter 3:9; I John 2:2; 4:7-8). No one will question God’s final judgment about the eternal destiny of infants and toddlers because only God is qualified to make this decision!

2. Little children are of special concern to Jesus and He does not want any of these little ones to perish in hell (Matthew 18:1-14; 19:13-15).

3. King David expected to see his dead infant son again in heaven (2 Samuel 2:22-23).

With this said, the number of babies, toddlers, and mentally impaired people from all human history who are “safe” in the arms of Jesus will greatly increase the population of heaven. When considering the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births) which was far greater in the past than the present, it is quite possible that there will be far more people in heaven than in hell. 

Using Numbers in Evangelism

“Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually.” Numbers 1:2

The purpose of counting every male 20 years old and above was to determine how many men were able to go to war for Israel when entering the Promised Land (1:3). This would help them determine the strategy to use against their enemies and could also provide encouragement for the people. But there is also a danger in keeping track of numbers. It can lead to pride such as when King David took a census for prideful reasons in 2 Samuel 24. 

It is not wrong to keep track of numbers in evangelism if it is done to bring God glory (I Cor. 10:31). God recorded the number of people saved early in the book of Acts to show His power and influence (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:36; cf. 6:1, 7; 11:21; 16:5). This can still encourage believers today to develop a bigger vision for what God can do in and through them. Let us not forget that each number represents a person for whom Jesus died. Each person is important to God. Plus, keeping track of numbers can enable us to develop the proper strategy for discipling those new believers. In addition, it helps you measure the effectiveness of your ministry. 

It is also important to remember the dangers of keeping track of numbers in evangelism. If pride is your motivation, then you are inviting God’s discipline on your life (2 Samuel 24). Pride can lead us to exaggerate numbers to make ourselves look good to others. So, ask yourself, “Why am I keeping track of numbers?” If it is to impress others or feed an addiction, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Our identity is not based on how many people come to Christ. Our identity is found in Christ alone (Ephes. 1:6; Col. 2:10). Our value and acceptance before God are based upon Jesus Christ alone, not our works. His grace determines our worth, not the results of a ministry.

(Adapted from EvanTell’s 2014 Evangelism Study Bible, p. 1340.)

Discipleship Relationships

“Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him… a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.” Mark 3:6, 8 

After Christ healed the withered hand of a man in the synagogue (Mark 3:1-5), the religious leaders plotted to “destroy Him,” but “a great multitude … came to Him” (Mark 3:6, 8b). The healing grace of Jesus addresses the real needs of people, but religion neglects the real needs of others to focus on outward appearances. 

Christ’s healing grace draws needy broken sinners to Himself, but it is despised by the religious person. Jesus Christ is all about relationships, not religion! This is why Jesus was such an effective disciple-Maker! Relationships were far more important to Him than outward appearances and peoples’ approval. If we are going to be effective disciple-makers, relationships must come first, beginning with our relationship with Christ and moving outward to those He has placed in our lives.