The elementary teachings stated in Hebrews 6:1-3 provide a basic doctrinal foundation from which we progress toward more advanced teachings. The Scriptures encourage us to have a firm grasp of these doctrines. It is important to remember that our doctrinal basis, what we believe, significantly affects every other part of our character and conduct.
If we are to live according to God’s will, it will spring from our inner man, and our belief in the truth of God’s Word. Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”; but it is only the truth that we “know” that can have this effect!
Definition of baptism
Baptisms in the Old Testament
The concept of baptism was not unfamiliar to the Jewish audience addressed in the letter to the Hebrews. Various ‘baptisms’ or ‘washings’ were performed under the law.
i. Various ceremonial ‘washings’
“concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.”Hebrews 9:10 NKJV
ii. The Proselyte’s Baptism
Signifying a heathen’s conversion to Judaism. The convert would stand up to his neck in water while the law was read to him, after which he plunged himself under the water as a sign that he was cleansed from the defilements of heathenism and had begun a new life as a member of God’s covenant people.
iii. John’s baptism
“This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.”Acts 18:25 NKJV
“And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.””Acts 19:3 NKJV
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:4). This baptism pointed to a greater baptism that would come when Messiah was revealed (Matthew 3:11). John pointed to the true baptism and cleansing by water and blood through Messiah’s ministry.
Jesus, Our Example in baptism
“Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John didn’t want to baptize him. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It must be done, because we must do everything that is right.” So then John baptized him.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.”” (Matthew 3:13-17 NLT)
It is interesting to note that we see here all three Persons of the Godhead represented. Jesus is baptised, The Holy Spirit descends and the Father speaks from Heaven.
Jesus submitted to John’s baptism, not because He Himself needed repentance, but to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15). This had to do with Jesus initiation and office as High Priest, and His fulfilling the Law. The consecration consisted firstly of baptism (washing) followed by anointing. This took place when the priest reached 30 years of age. (Numbers 4:3; Exodus 29:4-7; Leviticus 8:6-36)
Jesus disciples also administered this baptism of repentance and faith (John 4:1-2).
Baptisms in the New Testament
After the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ baptism changed forever. What previous baptisms pointed to, was fulfilled in Christ. What was once a future hope and expectation, was now an accomplished fact.
Three (or more) distinct baptisms are revealed in the New Testament
Baptism into the Body of Christ
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”1Corinthians 12:13 NKJV
This occurs when a person is born-again. They become part of Jesus mystical Body, the church. It speaks of becoming one with Jesus Christ. The Bible says that we are now “one spirit with the Lord”.
Jesus said that He is “in us” and we are “in Him” (John 17:21-23)
Imagine a sponge being plunged into a bath full of water. On the one hand the water envelops the sponge, at the same time the water saturates the sponge. The water is in the sponge and the sponge in the water. In the same way, when we are ‘baptised’ into the Body of Christ, we become part of Him and He is part of us.
It is the belief of the author that in the early church, this baptism and water baptism were not considered as separate, but two parts of the same spiritual experience. Baptism in water almost always followed immediately after conversion. The Amplified Bible brings out this thought in its translation of 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:
“For just as the body is a unity and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). For by [means of the personal agency of] one [Holy] Spirit we were all, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, baptized [and by baptism united together] into one body, and all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit.1Corinthians 12:12-13 AMPLIFIED
Baptism in water
Baptism is not presented as an option for the Believer, but a direct command. To be baptised is a matter of obedience to God, not preference. Mark even places baptism in rank with conversion as key parts of the salvation experience:
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”Mark 16:16 NKJV
Baptism is commanded by both Jesus Himself…
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV
And by the Apostles as representatives of the early church…
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:37-38 NKJV
“And he (Peter) commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”Acts 10:48 NKJV
Water baptism is a powerful and symbolic act of obedience expected of every Believer. Nowhere in the New Testament is baptism in water considered optional or secondary to the experience of the Christian Believer.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire
John the Baptist declared that this was the baptism that would be introduced by the Messiah. It speaks of being completely filled and overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, and is often accompanied by the evidence of speaking in unknown tongues. Sometimes this happens before water baptism, but most often it follows the water baptism of Believers. It can only occur after someone has been born-again of the Spirit, and is a separate and distinct experience.
A fourth baptism is spoken of in the New Testament also. Jesus refers to the overwhelming sufferings He underwent as a ‘baptism’ (Mark 10:38). Many today still share this ‘baptism’ with their Lord, and we too must be prepared, if the Lord requires it of us, to be honoured in sharing Christ’s sufferings.
Some also believe that the baptism in fire is a distinct baptism, possibly referring to this baptism of sufferings. Through trail, tribulation and pressure we are purified, much as gold is tried by fire. The baptism of fire burns the ‘chaff’ from the life of the Believer, leaving only that which is genuine and of eternal value.