Based largely on one statement in Ephesians 4 many Bible teachers insist that there is only one baptism in the New Testament, water baptism. The passage states “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”(Ephesians 4:4-6) The words I have in bold fonts are the focus. If taken out of context and used as a stand-alone text many verses in the Bible can be construed to mean any number of things which are not true. This is one of those examples. The context is “unity” among believers and here Paul is attempting to get everyone on the same page. The baptism referred to here is almost certainly believer’s baptism in water. The point is that we who are saved share a common faith, in a common God, and have had a common baptism. We are together as one in Christ.
In the 2nd chapter of Acts there are clearly two distinct baptisms and another implied. There are 3 specific baptisms related to every believer. Unfortunately not all believers experience them the way God designed.
The first of these three baptisms is mentioned by John the Baptist and recorded in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. The Luke passage says “John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “He” of this verse is Jesus. Later Jesus commands the disciples in Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” They did wait as instructed and Acts 2 gives us the story of the sound of a rushing wind, tongues as of fire, and preaching in different languages with great power. When Peter recounted these events to the Jewish brothers as he defended baptizing Gentiles he said to them “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:15-18) So according to Peter the first baptism in Acts 2 is the “baptism with the Holy Spirit”.
In the act of this baptism, Jesus is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the medium. Jesus is the “who” and the Holy Spirit is the “what”. (It is worthy of notice that Peter’s testimony was that he received the gift “when (he) believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”. And further those who were saved had been “granted repentance unto life”. Is it possible then that the more important word in Acts 2:38 is “repent” rather than “baptized”?)
Most of our Pentecostal and charismatic friends teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who does the baptizing which is only one of their mistakes on the subject of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Among those mistakes is that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in addition may teach that the sin nature inherent in the flesh is completely eradicated in conjunction with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are false and easy enough for almost any Bible student to refute.
The 2nd baptism is the one that gets most of the attention, baptism in water. When Jesus gave the great command of the great commission He said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Here the Scriptures cannot be clearer. 1. Go make disciples. 2. Baptizing them (disciples) 3. Teaching them (disciples). The disciples were to make more disciples by preaching the gospel, baptizing those who believed it, and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded. Interestingly, no plan for world evangelism has been devised that beats that plan. It is the only one that is tested and proven and mandated by Jesus Himself. It worked in Acts 2, it worked with the man from Ethiopia, it worked with the house of Cornelius, and it worked for the Apostle Paul. Preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in the power of the Holy Spirit, baptize those who believe, and then teach them to be obedient to all Christ taught. This is not complicated.
In this baptism the baptizer is the disciples, Apostles, or any other believer, and the medium is water. The “who” is the person immersing the new believer and the “what” is water. Water baptism in the New Testament is clearly immersion. I can find no other method. Baptism is only for believers. It is only for those who believe the facts of the gospel or “good news” about Christ. The criteria is not church membership, what one believes ought to be said at baptisms, or even what one believes about baptism.
What about “baptism for the remission of sins”? John the Baptist baptized “unto repentance”, (Matthew 3:11). His water baptism was not actual “repentance” but was “unto” repentance. Those he baptized desired to be identified with the community of faith who had chosen to repent (change their minds) and follow the one who would come, of whom John preached. Being immersed in water was not the cause of repentance; it said to the onlookers “I have repented”. In exactly the same way baptism “for” the remission of sins is not a mechanical action that obligates God to forgive sins in conjunction with immersion. Over 50 times in the New Testament it is made plain that salvation is by faith. Obedience always comes after faith in Christ, not before. The “natural” or unregenerate mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can he be (Romans 8:7). Those who teach that no person can be saved until he or she is immersed also teach that only after baptism will they receive the Holy Spirit. That is inconsistent with Peter’s statement quoted above when he declared clearly that he received the Holy Spirit when he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and the experience of Cornelius and those at his house.
When the believer is immersed in water he is saying to the world and to God, I am dying to myself and my way of doing things and I am being raised to live my life God’s way. We thus reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and are “marked out” as followers of Jesus and of the household of faith. Water baptism never stands alone and one baptized 100 times will still be lost if he or she did not first have faith in Christ. In baptism we look to Christ and what He accomplished on our behalf when He died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Water baptism does not join us to the church nor does it join us to God but it does cry out to a watching world “I belong to Christ and I purpose to live only for Him!” So we correctly sometimes say he or she was “baptized into Christ”. Of course we speak figuratively just as we do when we eat the bread and drink the cup. We are not literally eating the body of Christ or drinking His blood. We know that we receive Him by faith, not by physical eating. The symbols are not nearly as important as what they represent. We might eat unleavened bread, a cracker, or some other bread. And, we likely drink Welch’s grape juice, or perhaps even wine, but not literal blood. So the elements of the supper, when we commune with our Lord and His people, only represent His body broken for us and His blood shed for us until He comes.
In my view, water baptism is much the same. We are not literally dying when we go under the water, we are symbolically dying. We are “baptized into His death” in a figurative way, we are not literally dead as He was. We are symbolizing our death to self and sin and our being raised to live the new life He gives. Thus it was necessary for Paul to say right after he talked about being “baptized into His death”, “reckon yourselves to be dead” (Romans 6:11). We are baptized “for the remission of our sins” by submitting to immersion in the watery grave of baptism.
Just as Adam was our head before we became Christians so now Christ is the “new Adam”, our federal head. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all live (1 Corinthians 15:22). Because Christ is now our representative, when He died we died with Him (2 Timothy 2:11), and when He was raised we were raised with Him. Baptism is a beautiful and holy reenactment of those truths. Thus our eternal salvation was completed before we were born, completely outside of us or our abilities. “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him,We shall also live with Him.”(2 Timothy 2:11)
There is a 3rd baptism that took place in Acts 2 and following in the story of the growth of the church of Christ is the world. I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”. It is the blessed Holy Spirit who regenerates and creates a “new creature”. It is the third Person of the godhead who causes one to be “born from above”. And, it is He (the Holy Spirit) who places that person into the body of Christ, the universal church of Christ on earth and in heaven.
Here the baptizer is the Holy Spirit and the medium is the body of Christ. The “who” is the Holy Spirit and the “what” is the body of Christ.
- Baptism by Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The result is an empowered witness to Christ.
- Baptism by Christians of disciples in water in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 28. The result is the identification of the disciple with Christ, with the body of believers, and separation from the world.
- Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. The result is the new disciple is “one” with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with every other believer. The Holy Spirit Himself is God’s guarantee that person is safe for eternity.
I know many who read this will disagree with my conclusions. That is fine with me. I only ask this of you. Do I have as much right, and responsibility, as any other Christian to search the Scriptures and then teach what I find there? And, when we disagree shouldn’t we do so in a gracious way? Without question we should.
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Grace to you,