‘There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, ONE BAPTISM; one God and Father of all …’ (Ephesians 4:4) Yet the author of Hebrews, refers to ‘BAPTISMS’ in plural, while listing the ‘elementary teachings about Christ.’ For he wrote: ‘Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of :-
2. Faith in God
3. Instructions about BAPTISMS
4. Laying on of hands
5. Resurrection of the dead
6. Eternal judgement …
And God permitting, we will do so.’ (Hebrews 6:1–3) What is seemingly a contradiction, is in fact not, because though there are many baptisms, there is only ONE BAPTISM that can save and it is the ‘washing of rebirth’. ‘He has saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit …’ (Titus 3:5) It is easy to understand baptisms, if we consider ‘who’ baptizes ‘whom’ in ‘what’. The one who baptizes is being called the ‘Agent’ and the person who is baptized is being called the ‘Recipient’ and what they are baptized into is being called the ‘Element’ in the chart below:-
Agent > Recipient > Element
Holy Spirit > Believer > in Blood
Disciple > Believer > in Water
Jesus > Believer > in Spirit
Jesus > Believer > in Fire
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful … He will baptise you in HOLY SPIRIT and with FIRE.” (Matthew 3:11) Jesus himself was baptized in water and thereafter in the Holy Spirit and Power. ‘When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too!’ (Luke 3:21) ‘Jesus full of the HOLY SPIRIT returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert … Jesus returned to Galilee in the POWER of the Spirit.’ (Luke 4:1,14) ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the HOLY SPIRIT and POWER and he went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.’ (Acts 10:38) Hence the author of Hebrews (presumably Paul) was right in addressing baptisms in plural because there are in fact three baptisms ie., in WATER, HOLY SPIRIT and POWER / FIRE (They are essentially the same because on the day of Pentecost, the disciples received power after ‘tongues of fire’ came upon them.) But which of the three was Paul referring to as the ‘One baptism‘ in Ephesians or was he referring to the most important and essential for salvation, the ‘washing of rebirth’ in the blood of the lamb? It’s relevance can be understood if we realise that Christ wouldn’t baptise a person in the Holy Spirit and Power unless the person first experience the ‘washing of rebirth’, though men might not hesitate to baptise them in water! That is the reason why many who have been baptized only in water, haven’t received the baptism in the Spirit because they haven’t been sprinkled by the blood of the lamb. ‘We have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.’ (1 Peter 1:2)
Can we then call the ‘washing of rebirth’ as the ‘baptism in the blood of the lamb’? Jesus, who was baptized in Water, Holy Spirit and Power said: “But I have another baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50) He was obviously referring to his death as a baptism that he had to undergo. As a matter of fact, those who stood at the foot of the cross were sprinkled with the blood and water from Jesus’ side as he was pierced. ‘One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.’ (John 19:34) It was following this sprinkling by the blood at the cross that they received the Holy Spirit, post resurrection. ‘And with that he breathed on them and said,” Receive the Holy Spirit.”‘ (John 20:22) The water is symbolic of the Spirit since Jesus himself said : “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him”. By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive.’ (John 7:38-39) Wherever the blood of Christ is sprinkled, only there the Holy Spirit is poured out!
Why is the ‘washing of rebirth’ being referred to as the ‘one baptism’? Because, none of the other baptisms are essential for salvation! If it were, the thief on the cross wouldn’t be in Paradise! I suppose he could have said this better than Paul : ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20) Here is a man who physically experienced the symbolism of baptism, which is the death, burial and resurrection in Christ. ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may life a new life.’ (Romans 6:4) Therefore, baptism in water cannot be more relevant than the washing of rebirth. Moreover, those who have experienced the ‘washing of rebirth’ and received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit might not experience the baptism in Holy Spirit and Power because that is meant for service and not an essential for salvation. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.” (Acts 1:8) Amen.