One of the great challenges of the Bible is to “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Without a heart of humility that refuses to make our own opinions the standard I want others to live by, such unity is an impossibility. By working for unity God didn’t intend for everyone to believe the exact same thing on every matter. It is a unity that gives liberty where God gives liberty, and law where God gives law. If the unity we attain is to be the unity of the Spirit it has to be built on the seven foundations laid out in the following verses of Ephesians four. We’ve looked at the first five of these seven “Ones”. Today let’s focus on number six, “There is one baptism.”
Some times, for whatever reason, words in the Bible don’t really get translated into the new language but are simply taken from the original Hebrew or Greek texts and spelled out in English, giving us a new word on which we can put whatever meaning we desire. The Greek word used in the New Testament for “Baptism” could be translated by such words as “Immersion, submersion, to place under, to submerge.” It was a common word in the language among the Jews of Jesus time on earth. It was used of such things as a woman dying a piece of cloth and submerging the cloth so that the dye get all over the cloth.
There is a similar word used a few times in the Bible that has a much wider application. It is translated by some as “Baptisms” or “Washing” that could easily be applied to any form of washing. It would equally apply to washing that was done through pouring water over a cloth or to one that had be sprinkled down with water to prepare them for the dye. That word is at times applied to one that has been baptized. For example in Titus 3:5-7 it says, “It is not by works of righteousness that we have done but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” In Ephesians 5:25-27 He said, “Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of the water by the word, that he might present her to himself in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle of any such thing.” In Hebrews 10:22 the writer says that we have our evil conscience cleaned by the washing of pure water. But in none of these cases did he use the word typically translated “Baptism”.
What is the “One baptism” referred to here by Paul? It seems likely to me that it was intended to make the point that baptism is something that you do one time and it never needs to be done again. In many of the ceremonies of the Jews used in their worship and service baptisms were done every time one approached God. But the baptism that Jesus commanded the apostles to do wasn’t a ceremony to repeat often. It needed only one time to be done to last a life time if it was done correctly the first time.
There is one instance in the Bible of people needed to be baptized again to make everything right with the Lord. It is recorded in Acts 19:1-9 when Paul went down to Ephesus. Acts 18 closed with the story of Aquila and Priscilla staying in Ephesus and while there worshiping with the church, they met a man named Apollos who had been taught about Jesus and was mighty in the Scriptures. He began preaching for the church there and many were following the teaching he was giving. One thing was wrong that had to be corrected. He knew only about John’s baptism and so he was baptizing people in that manner. Aquila and Priscilla took the time and interest in him to take him aside and teach him more correctly the teachings of the Lord and Apollos accepted the teachings and went on from there preaching and teaching God’s word more correctly.
In Acts 19 it opens with Paul arriving in the city where he found a group of disciples and asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed. They told him they didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit. He responded, “Unto what then were you baptized?” They said, “Unto John’s baptism.” He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord which they did and then he laid his hands on the to give them the Holy Spirit and they began to praise God speaking in different languages from their native tongue.
There are some obvious and powerful points to be seen from this passage of Scripture. First, it is obvious that baptism is important in God’s sight for it to matter how one does it. Second, it has to be done in the way God teaches to be effective. There were numerous ways in which John’s baptism was exactly the same as the baptism of Jesus. They were both done by immersion in water. They were both “For the forgiveness of sins.” And they were both effective at the proper time. But there are some major differences between John’s baptism and that of Christ.
In Matthew’s account of the great commission he quoted Jesus as saying to the disciples before he ascended back to God, “As you go make disciples among all ethnic groups, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This phrase is only used this one time in connection with baptism. In the Book of Acts the common phrase is that they were baptized, “In the name of Jesus Christ” or some other such phrase. There certainly isn’t any contradiction between the two in that he isn’t telling us what to say when someone is baptized but what to do. We are to baptize people based on the name or authority of Jesus.
Third, notice how Paul realized they weren’t baptized correctly. “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” When they answered, “We’ve not even heard if there is a Holy Spirit” he knew something was wrong with their baptism. Since our baptism is a birth of the water and the Spirit (John 3:5) it could have gone back to this point. Since the Day of Pentecost being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit had gone hand in hand so this would seem to be the major reason he would know something was wrong with their baptism if they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit, much less received him. It might also be noted that I Corinthians 12:13 says that “In one Spirit we are all baptized into one body and are all made to drink of that one Spiritual drink which is Christ.”
Since this is the only time anyone is recorded as being baptized again in the Bible, it should send us the signal that this isn’t something that happens all along. Too many worry about technicalities of baptism instead of the changed life it should produce.
In Romans 6:1-5 Paul goes from a study of grace overflowing to the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” His answer was, “Certainly not!” But notice his reasoning on why that shouldn’t be the case with us. “Don’t you know that as many of us as are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death. Therefore we are buried with him in baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism puts us into Christ, into his death and into our own death to sin to be raised up to live a new kind of life. If one is baptized and their life didn’t ever change something is dreadfully wrong.
When a person is first baptized they are infants in Christ, starting a life that is to grow and develop all the time. It will always be true if you grow as you should that you can look back and think “I didn’t really know as much then as I do now.” Because of such growth people raise the question, “Did I really know enough to be baptized to begin with?” That brings up the question, “How much does one need to know to be baptized correctly?” When you read the Book of Acts and see that every example of people being baptized it was after hearing one sermon and being moved to give their life to God. One has to know they are lost and in need of salvation from God. They have to know that Jesus is our savior and Lord because he paid the price of sin for us. They have to have made the turn from sin and Satan to God to live for him. The rest comes afterward as we continue growing.
It is foolish when baptism is made so important that we don’t think of anything else. It is also foolish to ignore something that God has placed between one’s belief in Christ and their salvation in places like Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:26-27; I Peter 3:21. Anything that is important to the Lord, ought to be important to me.