About forty years ago, my wife and I were baptized in a rented hotel swimming pool by a pastor we had just met. We did not attend a detailed course on water baptism but the pastor gave us a brief explanation before he dunked us … all we knew was that we saw it in the Bible and we wanted to obey the Bible command to be baptized.Read More ...
“For anyone who cares about getting it right
it’s a matter of balance.”
Water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit are continuing themes running in sync through the Bible where believers are daily dying with Christ (Luke 9:23) and daily walking by the Spirit: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) until redemption where the Spirit filled believer braves one last trial by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). Water baptism is a command. For instance, the Greek word “baptizo” in Acts 2:38 is in the imperative mood signifying a command which requires a step of obedience from the believer. Thus, water baptism is an essential step of faith and obedience and sometimes the first step of outward obedience for the believer but not an essential step for redemption as illustrated by the thief on the cross. If water baptism was essential for that thief’s redemption Jesus would not have told him that “… today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
“A man who knows that he is saved by believing in Christ does not,when he is baptized, lift his baptism into a saving ordinance. In fact, he is the very best protester against that mistake, because he holds that he has no right to be baptized until he is saved.” ~ Charles Spurgeon[Updated June 28, 2017. I’m going to leave what I wrote below about the thief on the cross as a reminder to myself and as an object lesson to others of why we need to stay open for the work of the Holy Spirit to correct our theology. While I still believe that people who have received Christ at a deathbed conversion etc. will not be turned away from salvation because they had no chance to be baptized, the thief on the cross is not a good example as I learned by listening to discussions of those better informed that the thief on the cross was still under law.] Hope of redemption for that thief on the cross was an objective truth that became an subjective reality or else Jesus lied when He promised the unbaptized thief “today you will be with me in paradise.” While the story of the thief on the cross is a special circumstance where he did not have the opportunity to go through the process of justification, sanctification and redemption* it somehow validates the process. The thief on the cross had no choice to obey the command to be baptized. What of those who do have a choice but refuse to obey? So it must be the same for anyone who identifies with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Galatians 2:20) but has not yet “buried the corpse” so to speak through water baptism. Through the experience of water baptism that “objective truth becomes a subjective reality” – Jacob Prasch. Through water baptism, the believer declares obedience to the One who saves. It becomes a public witness to Jesus and to the world. As Jesus said “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8 NIV). This public declaration of being metaphorically buried with Christ and rising to new life should be a clearly marked guidepost near the beginning of the believer’s journey by faith. “Baptism is faith in action” – Watchman Nee. It is “… the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (1Peter 3:21 NIV). One aspect of all this should not be minimized: the Holy Spirit is present at conversion (1 Corinthians 6:11) and He is present at water baptism. For obedient believers, the Holy Spirit will be an ever present help on every step of the remaining journey.
The Holy Spirit parts the waters
and leads into His rest
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17 NIV).
The Holy Spirit’s role in baptism was illustrated by many biblical types and shadows. For example, when the children of Israel faced an impossible crossing of the Jordan River during flood season, the Spirit of God was indeed present. Just as in Paul’s illustration where they “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2), so the Spirit of God was present at the Jordan crossing. Joshua recognized the Jordan crossing as a Spiritual problem and he did not “quench the spirit” by treating it as a physical problem to be solved by his own strength or the strength of his military men. It is said that the Jordan crossing symbolized a dying to self and entering a new life with promise of rest for the children of Israel. The most important step in this journey was obedience where the people were told to keep their eyes on the ark (keep your eyes on Jesus), follow the ark (Joshua 3:3) and to consecrate themselves: “Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5).
For another example, the Apostle Paul explained that “our ancestors were all under the cloud [Spirit of God – Shekinah glory] and they all passed through the sea. “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1Corinthians 10:1-2 NIV). This is a wonderful example which illuminates the doctrine of water baptism where Paul shows that the Spirit of God is present at the Exodus “water baptism” in both the cloud and by implication in the fire that went before them by night. Matthew reveals a parallel where the Spirit of God was present at the same moment Jesus came up out of the water during his baptism under John’s ministry (Matthew 3:16). Consider also the Holy Spirit outpouring at Pentecost where they “… saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3 NIV). These passages taken in context with similar passages show that the Holy Spirit is present at a true believer’s water baptism. But water baptism is not always present at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Some were baptized in water first and baptized in the Spirit afterwards – some were baptized in the Spirit then water afterwards as in the following examples:
- baptized in water first Acts 19:2, 5, 6;
- Holy Spirit baptism first in the story of Cornelius Acts 10:47.
It should be obvious from these scriptural examples that water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism were ordained by God but not necessarily in a set order. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:5 it is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” It is one baptism understood as two aspects of that one baptism. Through water baptism, the obedient believer is baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3) and through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, obedient believers are also sanctified into His rest (Hebrews 4:1 / Genesis 2:3) then ultimately redeemed into His presence in heaven (Ephesians 4:30).
Obedience then is the key to success or failure in the believer’s journey. The point of failure today is the same as it was many times for the children of Israel… disobedience. Many believers come out of the baptismal waters and fail to “enter into His rest” through disobedience by not rightly dividing the word of God. For one example, extreme charismatics have neglected the word of God and have given more weight to questionable experiences which have plunged them into unscriptural excesses and lack of self control such as being “drunk in the spirit” where the word of God commands just the opposite: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8 NIV). Likewise, many diligent Bible students are neglecting the Holy Spirit believing the old lie that the Holy Spirit has ceased working since the days of the Apostles. Considering both extremes, it is understandable why some Christians are overly cautious to open themselves up to the working of the Holy Spirit but their reluctance is inexcusable because the very Bible they profess to rest in has given them clear instructions how to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives, how to continue walking by the Spirit and how to avoid quenching or grieving the same Holy Spirit. And the key factors in all these scenarios are once again obedience for receiving and disobedience for quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. A famous preacher explained that “Satan does not like the Pentecostals but he’s not afraid of them because they neglect the word of God. And Satan does not like the Brethren but he’s not afraid of them because they neglect the Holy Spirit.”
It’s a Matter of Balance
A believer who does not balance diligence in the word of God with diligence to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit is like an eagle trying to fly on one wing. The enemy of all believers knows this and he will do everything he can to keep those believers flopping around in circles by creating an imbalance between spirituality and the written word of God. But the sight of an eagle soaring on a thermal updraft will strike terror into his enemies. The eagle is at rest and not even flapping his wings – far above dangers and able see where he needs to go in all directions. He is not unlike diligent believers who rest in the word of God and in the working of the Holy Spirit which lifts them above worldly devices.
“Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God said, ‘So I declared an oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ And yet His works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works. And again in the passage above He says, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’ Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience. God set a certain day, calling it ‘Today.’ This He did when a long time later He spoke through David, as in the passage quoted: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts‘” (Hebrews 4:1-6 NIV).
Faithful believers who walk by the Spirit in balance with God’s word have entered into His rest. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 14 where he corrects disorderly manifestations of the Spirit and teaches correct spiritual behavior. In verse 21 of this chapter, Paul quotes a passage from Isaiah 28:11: “Indeed, He will speak to this people. Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue…” The context of Isaiah 28 is likened to the context of 1Corinthians 14 where Paul rebukes the spiritual lack of self-control of the Corinthians just as Isaiah rebukes the lack of self-control of the prophets and priests. And then there’s the lack of self-control in some present day charismatic groups where self control – a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) – is openly mocked. Consider the broader context of the verse Paul had paraphrased from Isaiah 28: “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people. to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and, ‘This is the place of repose‘ — but they would not listen” (Isaiah 28:11-12 NIV [emphasis mine]). The corresponding context in both 1Corinthians 14 and Isaiah 28 has to do with “tongues” and it obviously deals with the presence of the Holy Spirit in connection with entering into His rest. Interestingly, Paul’s very next statement after quoting Isaiah shows how spiritual eagerness can result in imbalance when it is not paired with obedience to God’s word. In the following verse after quoting Isaiah, Paul instructs that “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers…” (1Corinthians 14:22). In the face of this truth, mainline Pentecostals still maintain that tongues are a sign that one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. How is it that “believers” are looking for a sign that was meant for unbelievers?[Note: I finally got an answer to this question, indirectly, through a teaching video by David Nathan. Please watch this video: Elementary Principles – Part 4 – Doctrines of Baptisms of the Holy Spirit. He reasons in more detail from scripture that tongues are not necessarily the only evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit but can be one of the signs along with boldness to witness and prophesy (speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit, not necessarily “foretelling.” The fruits of the Spirit, says Pastor David, are another thing – you really need to watch the video for more clarity on this. As stated at the beginning of this post, a blog is for opinions. Opinions are open for discussion. My discussion compared to David’s is woefully lacking but let’s not give up on seeking truth as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us in the word of God.]
If God’s rest is the result of obeying Christ’s commands, it can also be said that unrest is the result of disobedience.
“… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
The obedient believer is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), fully immersed as in Ezekiel’s vision where the water from the temple which symbolizes the Holy Spirit out-poured is up to the knees then is deep enough to swim in. (Ezekiel 47). This seems very pleasant but the element of fire should not be overlooked. Sometimes fire speaks of hell but it also speaks of the believer’s journey where faith is tried in the furnace of affliction: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ“ (1Peter 1:7 KJV). So it should be clear that water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are a continuing theme in the Bible running in parallel where the true believer is daily dying with Christ (Luke 9:23) and daily walking by the Spirit: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) until redemption where the Spirit filled believer has one last trial by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15).
Romans 6:5 “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
According to the New Testament record, sincere believers were baptized straightaway in water as soon as they expressed a desire to obey this command. As in the example of the obedient eunuch: “… As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). And a further example from the book of Acts: “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did,can he?” (Acts 10:47). In light of these scriptures, how do some churches justify making people wait for the next water baptism course to be taught? This is not to minimize the value of learning the deeper meaning of water baptism but as this study hopes to point out, the response of obedience to the command “be baptized” far outweighs the need for an exhaustive understanding of the event. It follows that obedience to the ordinance of water baptism is an important step in the believer’s life but obedience to the commands to “be filled with the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit” is essential for the rest of the journey.
Just as the ordinance of communion can be a reminder of the daily need to feed on the “bread of life” so the ordinance of water baptism can be a reminder of the need to “die to self” daily and daily be immersed in the Holy Spirit. No one fills their belly or fuels their vehicle and expects it to run forever without re-filling. But many believers have a fill and forget mentality where they believe that since they were in-filled by the Holy Spirit at the moment they were saved there’s no more need to seek another filling. If this were true, the many scriptures that admonish believers to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) or “do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) would lose their meaning. Notwithstanding, the believer who does not seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit is lacking boldness to witness, power to edify the church and to edify themselves (Acts 1:8; 1Corinthians 14:4 & 12; Jude 1:20; Romans 14:19).
It is NOT a matter of spirituality VERSUS rational biblical understanding. For anyone who cares about getting it right – it’s a matter of balance.
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