The Church is neither self made nor created by any executive decree by someone but was created by a specific edict by God Himself. Entry is not through any specific lineage or color but through the leading of the Holy Spirit with repentance of all sins and by dying to sin through Lord Jesus’ atonement. My past was cleansed by my Savior and after baptism His Spirit continues the process of further cleansing me of anything that breaks my Lord God’s heart. Baptism starts the process of inward transformation of our body, soul and spirit through this outward ritual.
What is Baptism? – Baptism word is derived from the Greek word ‘baptizo’ which literally means ‘dip under, submerge or to immerse to be overwhelmed’ but the figurative meaning is taken to be different from this – like Israel’s passage through the Red Sea and martyrdom. However it has been taken to mean washings / ceremonial washings or ritual washings (Luke 11:38 & Hebrew 9:10). Baptism in itself is a ritual of cleansing through full immersion and being overwhelmed by the medium – water, Holy Spirit or fire- thus ridding the soul of impurities of sins as compared to the body washing to cleanse it of dust and impurities. It is a spiritual process of removal of sins, evil and all types of falsehoods through repentance giving a new birth or life through the process.
Baptism symbolizes a believer’s journey from being a mere bystander to a follower of God by moving him into the next stage of becoming a doer by changing from the preparatory stage to the calling of God. Thus the outward action of the Holy Spirit now becomes internal by changing our identity to ‘true Israel’ making us eligible for the deserved blessings and the judgement of God. Israel moved into the wilderness after baptism of the Red Sea, Lord Jesus moved into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by Satan to prepare for carrying His cross. In like manner baptism prepares and equips us to move into our wilderness and to bear judgement for others by carrying our cross. This change from self to God and others is what Apostle Paul calls death through baptism – death to sin and self and living in and for Christ. There is resurrection after death but that is not our doing but in God’s power that is given by the Holy Spirit.
Immersion or Sprinkle – The Greek word used for baptism is ‘baptizo’ meaning immersion and not ‘rhantizo’ or ‘rhantismos’ meaning sprinkle over someone to purify. In the Old Testament the process of sanctification was carried out through the sprinkling of blood of the sacrificial animal over the person. However, in the New Testament the process of baptism represents our dying with Christ and resurrection into a new life and not of a ritual of momentary cleansing. The dying can only take place through burial into water and then getting raised again to a new life. It cannot be a halfway event, either you are fully in it or not and going under water is going under God’s hand fully through total surrender to His Divine authority.
In the Old Testament the pouring of four barrels of water thrice to drench the sacrificial offering and wood to the extent of the trench also getting filled with water, is often understood to be done to obviate the likely allegation of there being pre existing fire under the wood (1 Kings 18:32-38). In light of the question of the Pharisees to John the Baptist “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25), this pouring of water would amount to baptize of the altar and the sacrifices by ‘pouring water’ over them. God answered his call to consume all that was placed on or near the altar, the sacrificial offering, the wood, the stones, the dust and the water in the trench. Elijah’s washing or pouring of water is thus taken as a form of baptism.
There are seven types of baptisms mentioned in the Scripture – John’s baptism in water (Matthew 3); Christ’s baptism in water (Luke 12:50); baptism in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2); Christian baptism in water (Matthew 28:19); baptism into Christ and into His body (Romans 6:3-7) and baptism into the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). However only three baptisms are recognized for Christians today; firstly, baptism of repentance and new birth by the priest to save the soul through immersion in water and this happens after a sinner is led by the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Savior’s sacrifice to provide salvation. This is immersion into water in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as commanded by our Lord. The second is Spirit baptism for endowment of power for service and is effected by Lord Jesus. The third is baptism by fire that is carried out by the Holy Spirit through guidance and ‘conviction’ of sin on a daily basis through revealing of the love of God.
Most scholars accept the first two baptisms only and the baptism of fire is accepted to be completed on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples “as divided tongues as of fire and one sat upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3). Understanding the words of John the Baptist clarifies the meaning of the three types of baptisms “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (John 3:11). John the Baptist illustrates four important points – firstly, water baptism is with repentance; secondly Divine might and authority is needed for the remaining two baptisms and finally the word ‘kai’ used between the two words translated as Holy Spirit and fire is a conjunction meaning ‘and, also, even, indeed’ thus differentiating the two. Thus to articulate that the action of these two words is completed through one action on Pentecost would amount to negating the specific words used in the Scripture.
The baptism of water is external in its application while the other two – baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire are internal, both forms leading to cleansing of body that is used to commit sins and the soul that is in rebellion and disobedience.
The first part of this baptism was definitely fulfilled through the arrival of the promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. But in verses 7-10 John rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees and directs them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” and warns them of punishment for “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (verse 8 & 10). After describing the might of the coming Messiah, John further clarifies about Lord Jesus’ power of judgement “to gather wheat into the barn; but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verse 12). Thus baptism of Lord Jesus into fire is of refining and judging to accept or reject the good and the evil. On the day of Pentecost there was no such action of the Holy Spirit to judge the gathered believers to accept or reject them for their deeds.
Baptism with Water – Moses’ song is directed at the heavens and the earth and their inhabitants explained the mode of action of his doctrine “My teaching (doctrine) shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb and as the showers upon the grass” (Deuteronomy 32:2). It shall come drop by drop increasing in intensity till the whole revelation is complete; descending gently like the dew silently and mysteriously upon the heart moistening and refreshing; like small rain sweeping with strong gusts of wind and as showers falling continually to help in planting and harvesting.
Water is used to represent truth and John the Baptist used this medium to reveal the truth of Jesus teaching and exhorted those being baptized to share with others; not to extort money or accuse falsely and be content with what they had (Luke 3:10-14). It was aimed at outward behavior change to start acting righteously. This is the first step into Christian living and gets reflected in truthful living by shunning lies and sin. This is the external action of the Holy Spirit in leading a soul to Christ through then preached Word by the believers.
Baptism of water does not cause forgiveness of sins but repentance, faith in the sacrifice, resurrection and ascension to glory of Lord Jesus Christ does that. Without this faith water baptism is nothing but a dip in a pool of water with mere body getting cleansed of dirt. The Holy Spirit, at this stage, is the power acting from outside the individual.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Lord Jesus had emphasized the need for a Comforter for the disciples after His return to the Father in heaven for the Spirit of truth “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Christ accepts the new believer as His sheep and what was so far an outward action, with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is received through the Savior Lord, turns this to inward change for the truth is now in us and “declares to us the things that are to come” (John 16:13). The indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit acts on the thoughts and beliefs thereby affecting our mind and spirit through revealing the deep spiritual and divine truth. He ‘convicts’ us of sin not by accusing us but by guiding us away from sin firstly at the thought stage to dissuade; then at the commission or omission stage to stop and after our deplorable actions to lead to repentance and forgiveness. The revealed truth thus reforms our thinking process, our beliefs by bringing us into the light and keeping us away from darkness.
Eliphaz, Job’s friend, explained the necessity of this purification of man for in the sight of God the saints and even the heavens are not clean and need refining (Job 15:15). This change is not a one day affair but a continuous procedure to lead us to perfection in the image and likeness of Christ. The nine gifts of the Holy Spirit gradually transform us to ultimately produce the nine fruits of the same Spirit through an inward change in our thoughts and belief system to affect out outward behavior also. The inward cleansing bears fruit in the overall affect on the soul causing change in the body also in our actions.
Baptism with fire – Baptism with the Holy Spirit commences the process of change of our thoughts but the source of such thoughts, our heart, still remains impure. Prophet Isaiah cried out of this awareness within himself, on seeing the throne of God “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of people with unclean lips”. He was made worthy of being in the presence of God by the ‘touching of his lips by a live coal, taken out from the altar, by the Seraphim to take away his inequity and purge him of sin’ (Isaiah 6:5-7). This act revealed the deep love of God for man to change his heart through this purification by fire and is not an act of inflicting punishment for the sins, which is reserved for those who refuse to be led to the ‘Light of the World’.
Keeping the warning of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees about Lord Jesus’ Authority of judgement (Matthew 3:12), baptism of fire is taken to be a punishment to the sinners. Baptism being the process of cleansing cannot be after the day of judgement for thereafter is throwing in to the unquenched fire forever. Baptisms are the process of love of God to “make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21). This act of completion is the real transformation taking place in us and it is the work of God through His Holy Spirit.
God created man in His image and likeness and every Christian is to become like Christ, perfect in His image. Perfection is achieved through prayer, meditation on the Word of God for ‘doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16) and finally through trial. Trial is the refining fire that removes all types of dross from within us and even Lord Jesus had to undergo this process. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10). Fire is used to test our faith (1 Peter 1:7) and baptism of fire is thus the process of human trials to test and establish us in that faith.
Baptism by Christ – At baptism we commit ourselves to God and as “children of God” are then alone with Him in individual relationship– in wilderness – where our skills are useless and only the Savior and His skills work for us. After our move from sin and death to a new birth and new life, we reach the Holiest Presence of God to confront and get confronted by Him. This is the stage of ‘refuge in Him’, depending on Him and His grace and live or rebel against Him by doing our will and die. Baptism provides us entry to that place where we trust Him as Almighty God or reap His judgement. The scapegoat after placing of hands on its head to transfer sins was led into the wilderness into God’s judgement for sin.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, sought a place for themselves on the left and right of Lord Jesus’ throne of glory and the Messiah asked them “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. They said to Him “We are able” (was exiled to Patmos in old age. Mark 10:37-39). This question has only one answer “No Lord I cannot bear others’ sins or carry their cross” but since they accepted, James suffered early martyrdom in 44 AD and John was the only Apostle to live into old age and be exiled to Patmos island.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire can only be through Lord Jesus, for He alone has borne the sins of humanity and displayed the ‘Love of God’ to us. Baptism with fire is a baptism with spiritual and Divine love of God after the cleansing of our outward behavior with water and our mind with the Holy Spirit for cleansing of our heart. Our behavior might have changed with understanding of the right from wrong but baptism of fire changes our heart that we no longer even desire those things and are rid of evil and selfish impulses also.
Malachi 3:1-3 resonates with John the Baptist’s declaration of chaff being burnt (Luke 3:17) and this cleansing of the heart is with intense heat of trials and tribulations. Apostle John clarifies the procedure “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). End of self and sin prepares us for sacrificial living for others. And this only the One who has suffered for us can do!
Baptism is not about church membership but about new birth. Coming out of water it seems the world has changed but it is only that see the world have changed for the Holy Spirit reveals His love to us. Baptism does not produce salvation but is an oath from the heart of loyalty to a New Master – the Risen Lord to get empowered for the coming spiritual warfare with Satan and his angels.
Baptism is the clarion call to battle against the ‘principalities and powers’ of evil, and assurance of victory in God’s power.