Observing the Oneness of the Faith | Letter 4
The One Baptism
“One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all persons, who is over all and through all and in all.”
– Ephesians 4:4-6
The One Baptism is the course a Christian embarks upon when he or she decides to pursue the call to the One Hope.
The Christian scriptures speak basically of two baptisms – the baptism of John, and the baptism in the name of Jesus.
The Baptism of John
John’s baptism was for the people of Israel only.
“From the offspring of this man [David] according to his promise God has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus, after John, in advance of the entry of that One, had preached publicly to all the people of Israel baptism in symbol of repentance.”
– Acts 13:23-24
It was performed in water in symbol of repentance for their sins against the Law Covenant so that they could accept Jesus when he arrived.
“John baptized with the baptism in symbol of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is in Jesus.”
– Acts 19:4
Since only the people of Israel were in a covenant relationship with Jehovah, only they were in need of repentance. The non-Israelites had never agreed to keep the Law and thus did not need to “feel regret” for failing to keep it, or to “right themselves” with it.
John himself taught that his baptism was only preparatory, but that another one would come along who would perform a greater baptism with spirit and fire.
“I, for my part, baptize you with water because of your repentance; but the one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not fit to take off. That one will baptize you people with holy spirit and with fire.”
– Matthew 3:11
It is this greater baptism with holy spirit and fire that is the One Baptism for all Christians, both Israelites and non-Israelites.
That John’s baptism in symbol of repentance was not the true baptism is made evident by the case of Apollos and certain Ephesians:
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent man, arrived in Ephesus; and he was well versed in the Scriptures. This man has been orally instructed in the way of Jehovah and, as he was aglow with the spirit, he went speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus, but being acquainted with only the baptism of John. And this man started to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and expounded the way more correctly to him.”
– Acts 18:24-26
“In the course of events, while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland parts and came down to Ephesus, and found some disciples; and he said to them: ‘Did you receive holy spirit when you became believers?’ They said to him: ‘Why, we have never heard whether there is a holy spirit.’ And he said: ‘In what, then, were you baptized?’ They said: ‘In John’s baptism.’ Paul said: ‘John baptized with the baptism in symbol of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy spirit came upon them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
– Acts 19:1-6
As Jews, they had been baptized in the baptism of John, but as Christians, they needed to be baptized in the greater baptism in the name of Jesus. Only then would they receive the promised holy spirit.
The Baptism in the Name of Jesus
The baptism in the name of Jesus is also performed in water, but rather than being in symbol of repentance, it is in symbol of sharing in Christ’s death. Without this symbolic death, we are still in our sins and destined to be destroyed. Paul explains this symbolic death and our acquittal of sin in the book of Romans:
“Consequently, what shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, that undeserved kindness may abound? Never may that happen! Seeing that we died with reference to sin, how shall we keep on living any longer in it? Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
– Roman 6:1-3
Here, Paul shows that when we are baptized into Christ’s death, we are no longer living in our sins. Then he goes on to describe the symbolism of the water baptism.
“Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection; because we know that our old personality was impaled with him, that our sinful body might be made inactive, that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin. For he who has died has been acquitted from his sin.”
– Romans 6:4-7
During water baptism, when we are immersed, that symbolizes our burial. When we are raised up from the water, that symbolizes our being raised up as new creations without sin.
“Consequently, if anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, look! new things have come into existence.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:17
When we are accounted as new creations, we are then baptized in holy spirit as a token of our spiritual inheritance.
“But you also hoped in him after you heard the word of truth, the good news about your salvation. By means of him also, after you believed, you were sealed with the promised holy spirit, which is a token in advance of our inheritance, for the purpose of releasing by ransom God’s own possession, to his glorious praise.”
– Ephesians 1:13-14
“He has also put his seal upon us and given us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit, in our hearts.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:22
“Now he that produced us for this very thing is God, who gave us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:5
This baptism with the One Spirit makes us a part of the One Body.
“For truly by one spirit we are all baptized into the one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink one spirit.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:13
By the spirit, we go from the symbolic baptism to the true baptism where we share in Christ’s death.
“I am impaled along with Christ. It is no longer I that live, but it is Christ that is living in union with me. Indeed, the life that I now live in flesh I live by the faith that is toward the Son of God, who loved me and handed himself over to me.”
– Galatians 2:20
Although the symbolic baptism into Christ’s death – the water baptism – is a one time event, the true baptism continues until we have been “united with him in the likeness of his resurrection” as spirit creatures in heaven.
This was the manner of Christ’s baptism. After his symbolic baptism in water, the true baptism into death continued on.
“Indeed, I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how I am being distressed until it is finished.”
– Luke 12:50
All those pursuing the One Call must follow in Jesus’ footsteps in this respect also. Notice Jesus words to James and John:
“The cup I am drinking you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am being baptized you will be baptized.”
– Mark 10:39
Jesus did not elaborate on what the “cup” was that he had to drink, but from the development of events we can gain an understanding of what may have been involved.
Although Jesus endured a painful, agonizing death, most of his disciples did not. So the “cup” that Jesus’ followers would also drink did not necessarily include such a death. But since Jesus was righteous and sinless and consequently had a right to live, his death was sacrificial. When mankind in general dies, they are not sacrificing their lives, they are paying for their sins. But to those who share in Christ’s death, they are counted as without sin. Thus, when they die, their death is considered sacrificial like that of their Lord.
Further, Jesus’ words “the cup I am drinking . . .” confirms that drinking from the “cup” is ongoing. It included his life course, the way he conducted himself and what he had to endure as a result of it. It was the contrary talk he had to endure – being called a blasphemer, and demon possessed – being sought after by false teachers, and things like these. But as Jesus successfully completed his baptism, so can we.
“I have said these things to you that by means of me you may have peace. In the world you are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.”
– John 16:33
The One Baptism is a weighty responsibility. Understanding the seriousness of the One Baptism helps us to see why only a few will be chosen, for not all are willing to drink the cup Jesus drank.
“For there are many invited, but few chosen.”
– Matthew 22:14
“Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life and few are the ones finding it.”
– Matthew 7:13-14
“Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never new you! Get away from me you workers of lawlessness.”
– Matthew 7:21-23
“Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able.”
– Luke 13:24
But to those who view “the sufferings of the present season as nothing in comparison to the glory that is going to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), we encourage you to pursue down toward the goal of the upward call, to be members of the One Body of Christ, so as to share in his glory. Make sure that your baptism is indeed the One Baptism into Christ’s death. Let’s continue to Letter No. 5.