The clarity of the water in a high mountain lake always makes me think of “cleansing’. The process of melted snow; running downhill over rocks, dirt, and bushes; to be collected in a giant bowl of rock with a sandy bottom; which results in pure refreshing “cleansed” water…is a filtering miracle. When I turn on my garden hose and run water over dirt, rocks, and bushes and collect it in a clear water bottle…the water is anything but “cleansed”. I have stood on the shore of many mountain lakes and stared at this miracle of “cleanliness” as my thoughts drifted toward baptism. My life can be characterized by the “unclean” of the rocks, dirt, and bushes…but also by the reservoir of “cleansed” water.
I hesitate to even write about baptism under the title of “Symbol” because it is so much more. However, baptism (as we typically understand it) is a symbol, but it is a symbol of itself. We must always remember that God uses physical things to speak to spiritual things. The physical thing, provides the framework and context necessary to understand the spiritual thing. In Ephesians 4:4-6 we read, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” In this passage, Paul lists out a series of spiritual things that are all “singular”, meaning…there is ONLY one body, ONLY one Spirit, ONLY one Lord, ONLY one hope, ONLY one faith, ONLY one God, and ONLY one baptism. The Bible, however, has multiple passages which speak about baptisms in plural form.
- The baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
- The baptism into John (Acts 19:1-4)
- The baptism of Fire (Matthew 3:11)
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11)
- The baptism into Christ (Romans 6:3-7)
- The believers baptism (Acts 8:36-38)
Some of the listings above are physical things and some of them are spiritual things. Some of them involve physical water and some of them do not involve physical water. The list above shares spiritual truths through physical actions. Meaning…the physical act of baptism, whether it be into Moses, or John, or Christ; demonstrates the spiritual identification with their message, and through them…God’s message. Baptism means to “be immersed” in something. When the Hebrews crossed through the Red Sea, they were identified with Moses’ leadership, and immersed in a new culture totally dependent on God for their food, their water, their clothing, and their direction. When the path through the Red Sea closed…it symbolized that they couldn’t return to their old culture, to their old ways, to their old sins.
Likewise, when the surrounding countryside was coming to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. They were baptized into his message, namely, that they needed to repent of their sins and ready their hearts for the Messiah that was coming to take away the sins of the world. They were immersed into the preparation. We read in Matthew 3:11-12, “As for me, 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 and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John makes mention here, that Jesus Christ will baptize with both the Holy Spirit and fire. This is interesting because in the Gospel of John we read that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing but He Himself…did not baptize anyone. This seems like a contradiction, but it is not, as long as we remember that Scripture uses physical things to teach spiritual things. John is correct, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is for all of those who believe in Him and follow Him. The baptism of fire is for all of those who do not believe in Him and follow Him. It is through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, that the spiritual realities of ONE baptism take place. Paul writes about this in Romans 6:3-7, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through 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. 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, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
The ONE baptism of the Spirit, identifies us with the death…and the resurrection into new life…of Jesus Christ. It immerses us into a new culture of Christ-likeness. We are freed from the slavery of sin. An absence of this ONE baptism of the Spirit, means we are still slaves to sin and have not risen to new life. We are still immersed in a culture of death and will receive baptism, or be identified, into that culture at judgement day. Until that day comes…ONE baptism by the Spirit is still available to all who repent, who identify themselves with Jesus Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit by asking. This is a spiritual baptism…which is represented through physical ceremony or symbolism. In other words, Jesus didn’t baptize anyone physically, but He baptizes everyone spiritually.
The pure mountain lakes make me think of baptism because of their physical reality. The water is surrounded by unclean things, but the water itself, is pure and refreshing. I do not hesitate to drink from the mountain lakes, however, I do not pick up dirt from the shore and spread it on my sandwich. When we immerse a new believer into the baptismal waters, we understand the quickening of the Spirit (ONE baptism) has already taken place. We understand that their flesh is still unclean, but their spirit is a pure as that mountain lake. We understand that they have made the choice to identify themselves with Christ, to repent of their sins, to immerse themselves in a new life, a new culture of Christ-likeness. We also understand that these physical actions please God, because they are given to us by Him. Anytime we celebrate the immersion of a new believer into the culture of Christ…grace flows.
So…the believers baptism, or water baptism, is a symbol, but it is a physical symbol of it’s spiritual self…ONE baptism.