Choose Your Baptism

After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus appeared to “the eleven” on a number of occasions and instructed them about many things. Mark 16 records one such occasion, and Jesus’ words there are one reason why many Christians believe that water baptism is still applicable today:

Mark 16:15 and 16
(15) He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
(16) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

It is usually assumed that Jesus was saying that one who believes should be baptized in water, but because he did not specifically say “water,” perhaps we should not be so quick to jump into such an aquatic conclusion.

The book of Acts begins with Jesus talking to his disciples during this same period of time, just before his ascension, and reiterating to them some things about which he had instructed them just prior to his death. He had told them about a new spiritual program, the coming “new order,” so to speak, wherein the spirit of God (“the Comforter”) would be personally present with each of them. As Jews, they were expecting this to be associated with the coming of the Millennial Kingdom. Let’s see if what Jesus said about baptism in Acts 1 helps us understand what he meant about it in Mark 16. The following two verses could not be any plainer:

Acts 1:4 and 5 [Author’s translation, with punctuation and capitalization corrected]
(4) On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about [see Luke 24:49].
(5) For John baptized with water, but [in contrast] in a few days you will be baptized with holy spirit.” [1]

How many baptisms did Jesus mention in Acts 1:5? Two. One is the old and one is the new. One is water and one is holy spirit. From what Jesus said, it doesn’t appear that these two baptisms are a “both/and” option. Looks like “either/or,” don’t you think? So the question is which one is applicable to Christians? One of the following verses, which set off seven key doctrinal subjects about which the proper understanding is vital to Christian unity, leaves no doubt as to the answer.

Ephesians 4:4-6
(4) There is one body and one Spirit [spirit]—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—
(5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
(6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

If there is only one baptism applicable for the Church today, would it be the water baptism of John or the baptism with holy spirit? Surely the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 is baptism in that one spirit by the one Lord, which comes by the one faith and makes a person part of the one body of which God is the one Father, and which gives him the one hope.

If the one baptism for the Christian were water, then why did God specifically make the point that Apollos knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25)? And why, when Paul met with Apollos’ disciples, was he unsatisfied with water baptism and taught them to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ? Given the choice between the two baptisms, water and holy spirit, is it not clear that the one baptism for the Christian Church is not the water that was used through the Old Testament, but the holy spirit that came when the Church started?

Colossians is a companion epistle to Ephesians in that it corrects the believer’s failure to maintain the doctrine presented in Ephesians. [2] In fact, much of Ephesians is reiterated in Colossians. The “one baptism” in holy spirit, which occurs the split second a person is born again of the spirit of God, is mentioned again in Colossians, where it is paralleled to circumcision in such a way so as to make clear that the figurative, inner baptism is the true baptism for Christians. The context is what each believer has “in Christ.”

Colossians 2:11 and 12
(11) In him [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with the circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,
(12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

It is plain from verse 11 that the “circumcision” done to each Christian by Jesus Christ is not a literal circumcision, as it was with Israel in the Old Testament under the Mosaic Law. No, it is a circumcision of the heart, a figurative circumcision that “cuts off” the absolute dominance of the fleshly, sinful nature. Verse 12 then sets forth the correspondingly figurative baptism, which parallels the Old Testament immersion into and coming up out of water with the Christian’s burial and resurrection in Christ. Like a Christian’s “circumcision” by Jesus Christ, so his “baptism” by the Lord at the moment of his new birth is not a physical one, but rather an “inside job” that gives him the power to overcome his sinful nature and be like our Savior.

In the same vein, consider the following verse, which in its context also shows that because of what each Christian has received in his new birth, he is no longer at the mercy of sin:

1 Corinthians 6:11
And that is what some of you were [sinners, as per verses 9 and 10]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit [spirit] of our God.

The old water baptism was only a type and indicator of the greater baptism of holy spirit that was to come, the one baptism for the Church. In the above verse, “washed” does not refer to water. As we have seen “the name of Jesus Christ” represents the authority of Jesus Christ, which each Christian has via holy spirit within.

So which baptism do you want – water or holy spirit? Which has more power to change the heart of a man or woman? Which is more practically relevant to powerful Christian living? There can be little doubt that most Christians today are focusing more on water, which is sadly ironic, because each and every one has already been baptized with holy spirit, as the following verse, which has no direct relationship to water baptism, makes clear:

1 Corinthians 12:13
For we [Christians] were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit [spirit] to drink. [3]

Think about what we have seen from God’s matchless Word in this section of this booklet. Shortly before the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were about to be among the first humans in history to be born again of God’s incorruptible seed, holy spirit, Jesus plainly told them that a greater baptism than John’s water baptism was coming. This greater baptism is the one by which all Christians have been joined together via God’s gift of holy spirit. It is the one baptism pertinent to the Church today, as per Ephesians 4:5, which we have already seen. This new birth baptism of “holy spirit” came to pass as recorded in Acts 2, apart from any water baptism.

Acts 2:1-4
(1) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
(2) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
(3) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
(4) All of them were filled with the [no article] Holy Spirit [holy spirit] and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Ever since the Day of Pentecost, Jesus Christ has continued to baptize in holy spirit (his divine nature) every person who has confessed him as Lord according to Romans 10:9 and 10. Biblically speaking, the “baptism of holy spirit” is synonymous with the new birth. So too is “the anointing” (2 Cor. 1:21 and 22), which is used in the Church Epistles only in reference to one’s being born again of the spirit of God. [4] Despite what is taught in many charismatic circles today, there is absolutely no such thing as a “second work of grace,” or an “anointing,” or more holy spirit that one can receive from God beyond that which he receives in the new birth. [5] If you are a Christian, you already have all the righteousness and all the enablements that God can give you. Why? Because you have been “soaked” through and through with all that the name of Jesus Christ contains. Ephesians 1:3 says that each Christian has already been blessed with “every spiritual blessing.” The question we each must ask ourselves is: “What am I doing with what God has made me to be and enabled me to do?”

How sad that so many dear Christians are, in essence, arguing for something with far less potential and power because they have been taught that baptism connotes water. But remember, we have seen that the inherent definition of “baptism” has nothing to do with water, and that it is the context that determines the element in which the baptism takes place. As God plainly spelled out in Hebrews 7, 9 and 10 and 1 Peter 3, water baptism cannot do anything for the heart or conscience of a person. That is why it is called a “shadow” of the greater reality, and why it was replaced by the baptism in holy spirit. Water only symbolized the awesome gift that Jesus Christ came to make available to all who choose to believe in him as Lord. Let us now go on to see more of what we have in Christ, relative to the subject of this booklet.

Endnotes

[1] There are about 50 places in Acts and the Epistles where there is no article “the” used before the words “holy spirit.” In nearly every such instance, the “holy spirit” referred to is the gift, not the Giver.
[2] For a complete look at the relationship among the Church Epistles, see E. W. Bullinger, The Church Epistles. (Eyre and Spottiswoode, England, 1906).
[3] The Greek text literally reads, “in one spirit.” This refers to the one gift of holy spirit into which each Christian has been fully immersed. However, most Bible versions read as does the NIV: “by one Spirit.” This is the common instrumental use of the dative case, and it is also a legitimate translation of this phrase. But if the word “Spirit” is capitalized and translated as referring to a person, that person is Jesus Christ, our baptizer. We can biblically document that Jesus is referred to as “the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:17 (“Now the Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit…”) and in Revelation 2:7 (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [Jesus, as per 1:12-19] says to the churches.”). Technically, “in one spirit” and “by one spirit” are both correct, and one reading from the Greek text would see this. This is the figure of speech called Amphibologia, or double entendre, when one phrase has two meanings.
[4] See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, p. 34.
[5] Many charismatic Christians properly recognize that there are times when they seem to be “tapped into” God’s power in a greater than average way. This often happens in witnessing, teaching, or ministering healing. Sadly, this genuine experience gets mislabeled as “the anointing.” Biblically speaking, each and every Christian is “anointed” with the gift of holy spirit at the moment of his new birth, and there is no further “anointing” mentioned in the Church Epistles. What then is the experience that is genuinely occurring in Christians’ lives when they are supernaturally empowered? 1 Corinthians 12:6 says: “There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” The words “working” and “works” are the Greek words energema (noun) and energeo (verb), which refer to the spiritual energizing each Christian can experience. The Lord Jesus does indeed “energize” Christians via the gift of holy spirit, and because that is the vocabulary God uses in His Word, our using the same vocabulary will help us become united in our beliefs.

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3 comments

  1. Pastor,
    Can you please explain Verses 47 & 48 of Acts10 in which Cornelius and family are commanded by Peter to get baptized even after the HOLY SPIRIT had fallen upon them?

    JESUS bless you

    1. It was because Peter still had the mindset that water was required. But when Peter is recounting the incident to the leaders as recorded in Acts 11:16 it says, “Then I remembered what the Lored has said: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.” There is no record that Peter actually followed through with the water baptism and, according to Acts 11, it seems he did not.

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