Understanding Baptism in this Dispensation of Grace

When one hears, reads or thinks of the word baptism, the natural tendency is to automatically link it to water. In fact, there are at least twelve “baptisms” mentioned in the New Testament and only five of them have anything to do with water. All of the baptisms using water were used in the context of the Old Testament law, the Kingdom program and the nation of Israel. The book of Hebrews gives us the context in chapter nine. ” 8The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.” The word “washings“ translated in the Greek is pronounced “baptismos”….baptism. These “regulations”, although mandated by God, could not clear the conscience of the believer under the Old Covenant. They only served to cleanse the outward body. As is continues later in Hebrews, the blood of Christ cleanses the heart. ” 11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” We see here the writer of Hebrews trying to wean these Jewish followers of Christ off of the Old Covenant traditions and one of these was the many baptisms ordained by the law. ” 1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation …..2of instruction about washings…“ (Hebrews 6). Hebrews was written in the late 60’s A.D. and most commentators believe that the doctrine screams of the Apostle Paul. By now all of the mysteries had been revealed to Paul and the purpose of this letter to the Hebrews was to get them to stop being “Jewish” and to enter into a more perfect way where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. We must remember that the stewardship committed to Paul was different in many ways than the commission given to the twelve Apostles of Israel. One of these differences can be seen when comparing the instructions given in Matthew and Mark by the resurrected Lord to the Apostles to go and baptize, with the commission in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Paul said was given to him. “17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” Obviously, something had changed between the time the Apostles were sent out and when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. A new organism was being formed called The Body of Christ and with this came new instructions. No longer were believers to cleanse themselves outwardly. Now, all the cleansing necessary is done by the work of God inwardly and applied by faith. Let’s follow Paul through his epistles and watch how he explains what it means to be truly “baptized”.

The first place to start is Ephesians 4:4-5. ” 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” What “one baptism” is Paul writing about. Is it water baptism? Is it the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is it a baptism of fire as spoken of by John the Baptist? Which baptism does Paul mean? 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “13For 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.” It is this baptism that every believer experiences when they put their full trust in Christ as savior and believe the Gospel. Everybody is placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit when they believe. This is the one baptism which Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:4-5. Once you have been “baptized” into the Body, a whole host of operations spiritually done by God take place.

Paul writes about this “one baptism“ in several places in his letters to the Body of Christ. With every Scripture he expounds more and more what this baptism does for the believer. In Galatians 3:26-27 he writes, ” 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Here Paul shows first that through faith in Christ, every believer becomes a son of God. This is not merely a relational standing, but it is a term of position as we are now heirs with Christ. The second working mentioned in this passage is the putting on of Christ. Paul uses the analogy of clothing oneself as with a garment. When does all this happen? Paul answers it within the text, “….you who were baptized into Christ…” as in 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Romans chapter 6 is another Scripture that explains what happens when we are baptized into Christ. ” 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore 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. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing 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; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.” When a believer is baptized into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), they are placed, spiritually, into His literal body. Because of this, we died with Christ, we were buried with Christ, we rose with Christ and we are now seated in the heavenlies at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 2:6). This passage in Romans is an incredible truth that extends beyond comprehension. It blows me away. I have been crucified with Christ, buried, risen and ascended all because I believe the Gospel. This being united with Christ is an operation done by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ Jesus. No water is used at all. This all happens when we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Another result of being baptized into Christ is that our hearts are now circumcised by the Holy Spirit. Col 2:11 and 12 explain further, ” 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This “circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit,” as Paul shows in Romans 2:28-29. Notice who does the circumcising; it is “through faith in the working of God.” Paul, then, directly connects this operation of God to our being baptized into and buried with Christ (Romans 6). None of this is performed in the physical. Our hearts being circumcised; our death, burial and raising with Christ; and our baptism into the Body of Christ are all done by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Again, no water is used in the baptismal working of God in this age of grace. Think of this, could water do any of these wonderful workings? Only God can and Paul tells us over and over again how it is appropriated…by faith.

So why did John the Baptist and the Apostles baptize with water? We have to remember what is written in the book of Hebrews. The whole Jewish system was full of “diverse washings” or baptisms. This is why nobody in all of Israel questioned what John the Baptist was doing. They asked why, but not what because they were all very familiar with the ceremonial baptisms practiced along with the keeping of the law. When John the Baptist came preaching that the Kingdom was at hand, he baptized the Jews for the remission of sins. ” 4John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4). The King was here and so John heralded this fact by baptizing. ” 31“I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” was the cry throughout the land of Israel. This was the Gospel of the Kingdom that John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles preached. ” 23Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,” Water baptism was directly connected with this message as is exemplified throughout the early part of the Gospels. Peter continues this same message into the early Acts period as is shown in Acts 2. 36“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Nothing had changed in as much as the Jews still needed to be baptized with water as a sign of their faith for their sins to be forgiven. So we see that along with the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom came water baptism as a requirement. But now, in this dispensation of the grace of God, we have a different Gospel. No longer do we preach “The Kingdom is at hand”, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, ” 23but we preach Christ crucified”. Paul adds to this that with this Gospel, water baptism is not part of the message commissioned to Paul to preach in this dispensation. “17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” Why would God tell Paul that water baptism is no longer a part of the Gospel message? Now everything is done spiritually by God. No more outward works done with hands. Everything has been accomplished at the cross of Calvary by Christ. All we need to do is believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and then we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. No water required.

Article written by Paul Pedro of Oakdale, Minnesota

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