By Teresa Ferraro
Many Christians have adopted “The Great Commission” from Christ’s instructions to His disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). From this single verse, doctrines of baptism were created which have fractured the Body of Christ.
When considering why Christians are to be baptized, we cannot simply stand on one Scripture for our instruction; for relying on a single verse in this matter has led to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and division. We must consider the weight of the Scriptures addressing baptism.
John the Baptist introduced baptism. So, let’s start with what he said about it. “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:8, also see John 1:33). Note he does not let his baptism stand alone but refers to another. What distinguishes those two baptisms?
First, before and after the Cross. The first baptism was established before the Cross and the second came after the Cross. Christ’s command to His disciples was before the Cross, and the Cross changed everything from law to grace. The Cross fulfilled the law and put it away.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:17-18)
Second, earthly vs. spiritual baptism. When John’s disciples asked him about Jesus’ disciples also baptizing, John made a distinction between his own teaching and Jesus’ teaching, saying he that is of the earth (John) speaks of earthly things, and He that is from above testifies of what He has seen and heard, heavenly or spiritual things (John 3:31-32). Christ’s message is of spiritual things.
Baptism into water for remission of sins was an earthly act based on man’s repentance. It was man’s effort to come to God. It was known as ‘John’s baptism’ (see Luke 7:29 and Acts 19:3), and it projected to a more important baptism that would come after the Cross.
John’s mission was to alert Israel of the coming of their Messiah (Luke 1:15-17), to spotlight the Son of God (not himself: “He must increase but I must decrease,” John 3:3), to go ahead of Jesus and say, Here comes the Son of God. He is more important than I. His message and His baptism are of heaven. John’s baptism, an earthly act, was a symbolic foreshadow of a spiritual baptism that would come after the Cross, Christ’s baptism of the Holy Spirit. By the way, Jesus didn’t practice water baptism, but his disciples did (John 4:1-2).
On a side note, how ironic is it that baptism of repentance of sin was brought to Israel, the law-keepers? It tells us even the most fervent law-keepers were not righteous enough for God.
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20)
After His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ verified John’s distinction of the two baptisms in Acts 1:5, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Paul also distinguished between the two baptisms.
“He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” (Acts 19:2-6)
So, what does the word baptize mean? It means to immerse, soak, or steep. This is two elements becoming one, just as tea leaves steeped in water becomes tea. In Romans 6:3-11, Paul said we were baptized into Christ, immersed into Him. This is a spiritual baptism and has nothing to do with water baptism, BUT this is exactly what John’s water baptism pointed to. Notice this spiritual baptism is an act of God, not of man. Water baptism is man’s act, but only God can baptize us into Christ. The Cross made the way for God to bring us to Him. Spiritual baptism was only made available after Christ’s death and resurrection; it was not yet available during Christ’s earthly ministry, so any mention of baptism during that time either referred to water baptism or to the spiritual baptism which was yet to come after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. This is important to note when we now read what many call “The Great Commission.”
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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.” (Rom. 6:3-4)
Paul said when we were baptized into Christ, we were also baptized into His death, freeing us from the bondage of both sin and the law. Spiritually, that deed is already done by the Father, but we need to acknowledge it to make it real in our earthly lives. In our minds and hearts (our souls), we must reckon our death with Christ so we can live in that freedom and not keep yielding ourselves to sin or the law.
Paul was the only biblical writer, aside from John, who taught of a spiritual baptism. This came from Paul’s revelation of Christ; he was personally instructed by Christ after Christ died. The others didn’t address this spiritual baptism; they only knew of the earthly act of water baptism.
Speaking of the spiritual baptism, Paul said:
• “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit [this is spiritual baptism]” (1 Cor. 12:13).
• “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27).
• “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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” (Eph. 4:4-6). He says the spiritual baptism is the real baptism. Spiritual things are real, and earthly things are not real (2 Cor. 4:18).
Of the earthly baptism, Paul said:
“I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:14-18)
To Paul, preaching the Cross of Christ and salvation through the Cross was far more important than water baptism.
Paul (I believe Paul wrote Hebrews.) also said it was time to move on from doctrine to grow to maturity in Christ.
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (Heb. 6:1-2)
Today, after the Cross and in the age of Grace, water baptism is a human’s earthly act simply to announce to the world that we have repented and trust in and accept Christ for salvation. We do not earn our salvation through any act of our own, but we accept Christ’s unearned and free gift of forgiveness, salvation, and redemption. We now live by HIS righteousness, not ours.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
(© Copyrighted 2014 by Teresa Ferraro)
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