Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

WSC 94 of 107

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen

Matthew 28:18-20

WSC 94. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,1 doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the Covenant of Grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.2

1Mt 28:19; 2Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27

Our text is the famous “Great Commission.” The Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and is giving a fourfold charge to His disciples and, therefore, to the whole church. Now, you may have heard preachers suggesting that the emphasis of this commission is on the word “Go. Put the Gospel on the “Go,” they say. The rest of the verbs are participles that support the going. But the reality is quite different. The main verb is the word translated “teach” as in “teach all nations” in verse 19. All the rest are participles1.

Moreover, we should note that the word “teach” in verse 19 is not the same as the word translated “teaching” in verse 20. In verse 20, the word is didaskō (διδάσκω), which means “to instruct” or to cause to learn, whereas, in verse 19, the word is mathēteuō (μαθητεύω), which means “to make disciples.”

So the Lord is charging His apostles and, therefore, the church to make disciples. They are to do so by going into the world; and as they make disciples, they must baptise them and teach them all things He has instructed them.

In this sermon, with the Lord helping us, we want to focus on the sacrament of baptism, which the Lord here commands.

What is baptism? Our Catechism, Question 94 answers:

Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

It is evident that this statement is derived from several verses in Scripture, but let’s see what our text teaches us about baptism. Let’s query it by asking the five simple questions: What? Why? How? Who? And When?

1. What Is Baptism?

Our Lord says in our text: “Baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The word translated “baptising” (baptizō, βαπτίζω) means “to wash.” It does not mean “to immerse,” as some suppose. There is another Greek word which means to immerse, which is baptō (βάπτω), but that is a different word no matter what our Baptist brothers may claim.

The Presbyterian pastor James Wilkinson Dale has written a five-volume classic work to show how the word baptizō (βαπτίζω) is used in Judaistic literature, in the Bible, in Classic Greek literature, and Patristic writings. Through it, he proves conclusively and indisputably that whereas baptō basically means “to dip” (cf. Lk 16:24; Jn 13:26; Rev 19:13) or “to put together and to remove from,” baptizō is about “putting together so as to remain together.” Baptizō emphasises the effect, whereas baptō does not2. This is why we say baptizō is basically about washing. And this agrees with Scripture.

Look at Mark 7:4—

And when they come from the market, except they wash [baptizō], they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing [baptismos, βαπτισμός] of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

It is clear that the word baptizō and baptismos could not be translated as ‘dip’ or ‘dipping’ here. You can’t really immerse a table or a couch as some prefer to translate it. But you can wash them ceremonially by sprinkling.

Thus, when our Lord says in our text, “baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” He is ostensibly referring to a ceremonial washing that can be accomplished by pouring or sprinkling. Indeed, we can prove that the apostles used this method. But that will be another message.

But for now, since it is a ceremonial or—more precisely—sacramental washing, it must signify and seal some spiritual realities. What does it signify and seal? In other words, why do we baptise?

2. Why Do We Baptise?

Our text does not tell us why the church should baptise, but it does give us a hint, for the Lord indicates that baptism and making disciples must go hand in hand. He suggests that those who become disciples must be baptised.

Why? Not that anyone can be saved by baptism since we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So baptism must be a means to signify and ratify or seal our union with Christ. Our catechism uses the words “engrafting into Christ” as an allusion to the metaphor of the olive tree in Romans 11. Now, the olive tree is a metaphor for the church visible because you can be cut off from it.

Paul says:

Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off

Rom 11:22

All who become disciples of Christ or are born of believers are part of the olive tree and are, therefore, to be baptised to certify their union with Christ.

But baptism is also a means of grace since it is a sacrament. So, we know that it is an instrument by which we may receive the benefits of our being in Christ. This agrees with the clear teaching of Scripture.

Paul says in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” Is Paul referring to Spirit-baptism or water-baptism? Probably both! Because there is a close connection between the two. The Galatians would have understood Paul to be speaking about water-baptism, for that is a very visible and prominent sacrament that every new member of the church would receive. So, Paul is telling them that their baptism has a spiritual meaning. What is the meaning?

He says in Romans 6:4:

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

What are these benefits? Very broadly, it is cleansing from sin. In this regard, it is instructive to note that the water used in baptism signifies two things, namely: the cleansing virtue of the blood of Christ (cf. Rev 1:5) and the Spirit of Christ (Tit 3:5). This is why Paul refers to regeneration as the “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5. The blood of Christ cleanses meritoriously (1 Jn 1:7), whereas the Spirit of Christ cleanses efficaciously (Ezk 36:27). By the former, the guilt of sin is at once taken away in justification; by the latter, the blot and stain of it is gradually carried off in sanctification.

Moreover, baptism signifies and seals our engagement to be the Lord’s because, by it, we confess that we have died to sin and so resolve to walk in newness of life (see Rom 6:4, 11–13). Baptism, in other words, is like an engagement ring which Christ gives us to remind us and others that we are betrothed to Him as we await the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).

3. How to Baptise?

The Lord says, “Baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Now, we have already seen that the word baptizō (βαπτίζω) does not imply dipping or immersion. We can’t rule out dipping or immersion altogether because you can wash by dipping. However, it is unlikely that the New Testament writers have immersion in mind when they use the word. We are not immersed in the Holy Spirit; rather, the Holy Spirit baptises us by washing us. We are not dipped into the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is poured upon us.

So sprinkling or pouring has been declared the preferred mode in our Confessional standard. We will say more about that in another message. But for now, note how the Lord Jesus teaches us to baptise in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Note how it is not names (plural), but name (singular). There is only one God, though there are three persons in the Godhead. So, we do not think it is meaningful and may, in fact, be wrong to baptise by dipping three times or sprinkling three times.

But baptising in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is essential for the baptism to be valid.

So, the Reformed Church will generally not accept any baptism that is not made according to this Trinitarian formula as valid. It is not that the wordings is magical, but rather that since the Lord Jesus has given the formula, to do otherwise (whether for convenience or due to unbelief in the Trinity) would be disobedience.

Now, churches, such as those who call themselves “apostolic,” prefer only to baptise in the name of Jesus because they say that all the instances of baptism recorded in Acts are baptisms in the name of Jesus. Well, Peter indeed told the crowd, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). It is true that we are told in Acts 8:16 that the Samaritans “were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It is also true that the Gentiles were said to be baptised in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:48), and so were the disciples of John (Acts 19:5). But all these instances must be read in the context of the Lord’s command. Since the Lord has given a clear command, we must understand that all the historical records of baptism are given in shorthand. In other words, the actual baptism would probably have been made in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” although it is spoken of as baptising in the name of Jesus.

Whatever the case, we must know that the Jesus of the Bible is the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, churches that claim to baptise only in the name of Jesus but believe not the doctrine of the Trinity are, in fact, baptising in the name of an idol of their own making rather than the Jesus of the Bible.

4. Who Is to Be Baptised?

Remarkably, the Lord Jesus says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them” (v. 19).

Remember that the word translated “teach” is the word mathēteuō (μαθητεύω), which means “make disciples.” This suggests that those who are baptised are disciples, and their status as disciples is ratified by baptism. Interestingly, the Lord does not say that only those who genuinely believe are to be baptised. He says that disciples are to be baptised. Now, amongst disciples, there will be true believers, but there will also be those who are not genuinely believers.

In John 6, amid the controversy surrounding our Lord’s instruction about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we are told: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (Jn 6:66). The word translated disciples is mathētēs (μαθητής). This is evidently related to the word translated ‘teach,’ which is mathēteuō (μαθητεύω).

This is one of the reasons why the Presbyterian Church does not insist on believers’ baptism. Instead, we interview the candidates, and if they have a credible profession according to the collective judgement of the elders, then they are to be baptised.

Of course, in the case of infants and children, there is no way of ascertaining if they are credible professors. Instead, they are baptised based on the fact that they are children of those who profess faith. But we will have to leave that for another message. For now, we must ask when.

5. When Should We Baptise?

If we baptise infants, we should baptise them as soon as possible. But what about the case of adults? Well, it is clear from the Lord’s instruction that:

  • Firstly, we do not need to wait until we are thoroughly convinced that they are genuinely converted.
  • Secondly, we do not need to wait until they are thoroughly instructed. After all, the Lord places His instruction to teach all He has commanded after His command to baptise.

Thus, while a church may prescribe lessons for disciples, attendance at the class is not a biblical prerequisite for baptism. It is good for baptism candidates to attend classes so that they understand what they believe, especially in this day of much confusion. However, the church does not need to wait for a professing believer to receive complete instruction before baptising him.


Here, then, is the theology and practice of baptism in brief. Through our Lord’s Great Commission and other related texts, we saw the What, Why, How, Who and When of baptism.

Much of what we covered is summarised in:

WSC 94. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

What shall we do with these things?

Well, let me address four groups of people gathered here today.

First, if you are not a Christian, then you must remember that baptism does not save you. You are a sinner in God’s eyes, and the payment for sin is eternal death. You must be born again. You must wholeheartedly repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation. Salvation is entirely by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, turn away from your sins; turn your eyes to Jesus to seek salvation from Him. He alone is able. And He is willing to save all who truly turn to Him.

Secondly, I would like to address you who profess to believe in Christ but have not been baptised. If you are in this situation, please seek baptism as soon as possible. Baptism is a means of grace commanded by the Lord. It is the God-appointed means to signify and seal your ingrafting into Christ, partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and engagement to be the Lord’s. Seek baptism in a faithful church that seeks to be obedient to Christ.

Thirdly, I would like to address those who were baptised as adults, or baptised as infants and have made confessions of faith. May I urge you to look back to your baptism to thank God for it? Thank God for Christ, who washed you by His blood and His Spirit. Pray for a more powerful work of the Holy Spirit in your heart so that you may die unto sin and live unto righteousness. Have you lost confidence in your salvation? Have you backslidden? Turn to the Lord. There is cleansing and forgiveness in Him. Your baptism is a seal that He will forgive you.

Fourthly, I would like to address you if you are a covenant child who has not made a confession of faith. I must remind you that though your baptism marks you as belonging to Christ, your baptism does not save you. You must repent of your sin. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must confess Him to be your own Saviour and Lord. You must own the covenant. You have had the tremendous privilege of being brought up in the commonwealth of Israel. Do not forsake that privilege. Be grateful to the Lord. Be quick to acknowledge Him as your Saviour and Lord. Amen.

 —JJ Lim

  1. Though it is true that the word ‘go’ is an Aorist participle, which carries the force of an imperative. ↩︎
  2. “Whatever is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state, or condition of any object, is capable of baptizing that object: and any such change of character, state, or condition does, in fact, baptize it” (Classic Baptism, 354). ↩︎