One Spirit Baptizing Into One Body
When the new Christian is physically immersed into water and then raised again, these two acts symbolize a spiritual transformation. We refer to both as baptisms. One is physical and one is spiritual. John the Baptist first connected these baptisms. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 4:11). He was referring to the baptism of repentance (physical) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (spiritual).
Traditionally, the baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to an immersion into the body of Christ. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he wrote that this spiritual baptism is twofold. First, it regenerates the soul by washing away sin, which is symbolized in the immersion of water. Secondly, it makes the soul new in Christ, which is represented in the coming up out of the water, and symbolic of resurrected life. This twofold baptism is the transformation from death to life. As Paul wrote, it happens at conversion when “He saved us” (Titus 3:5).
On the other hand, more nontraditional beliefs hold to the idea of a “second renewal” that takes place after conversion. This view was developed during the early 1900’s and became widely popular in the 1960’s with the spread of the Charismatic Movement. Rather than a baptism into the body of Christ, it is taught to be a baptism into the Spirit of Christ resulting in a manifestation of spiritual gifts (namely, the gift of speaking in tongues). However, such a teaching is really unwarranted and does not consider the historical progression of the early church.
The expression baptism of the Holy Spirit is mentioned only seven times in the New Testament. Each can be grouped into three categories according to how they refer to baptism:
- Referring to the Future Work of Christ
The first four occurrences appear in the gospels. They are narratives of the same event where John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would spiritually baptize in the future. He taught that his own baptism was only symbolic of Christ’s actual work (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33).
- Referring to the Day of Pentecost
The next two occurrences appear in Acts. The first of the two (Acts 1:8) takes place before Jesus ascended to Heaven. He tells the disciples to wait for the coming spiritual baptism that would soon take place on the Day of Pentecost. The second is found in Acts 11:16 and is referring back to the John the Baptist’s prediction being fulfilled on Pentecost.
- Referring to the Work of Conversion
The remaining occurrence seems to be the clearest in respect to the nature of spiritual baptism. It is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. He writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Here, Paul clearly teaches as he did Titus that baptism is the immersion into the body of Christ. It is in essence the work of conversion.
We can remember the truths of regeneration and renewal found in the spiritual baptism as we experience the physical baptism of ourselves and of others. It should remind us of our deep Christian unity as the body of Christ. As the saying goes, “One Spirit; One Baptism; One Church.”
Verses for Reflection
1 Corinthians 12
1 Corinthians 14:26-33