The subject of baptism is so broad and the interpretations are so varied that it is profitable to just step back and look at it from a scriptural point of view. Also, there has built up across the years a lot of traditional and legendary points of view that only clouds or confuses.
First, it must be accepted that “baptism” is not just a New Testament teaching. It didn’t begin with the baptism of Jesus or else John would not have had any knowledge of its significance. It is John (the baptizer) who gives us the clear explanation of why he baptized Jesus.
“And I knew Him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.” (John 1:31)
Also, we find in Hebrews 9:10, that the “divers washings” that are connected with the Old Testament ordinances are those that are mentioned in Hebrews 6:2 as “the doctrine of baptisms.” In fact. the same original word for “washings” and “baptisms” is used in these Scriptures.
Secondly, it is helpful to understand that not all baptisms taught in Scripture refer to “water” baptism. In other words, the word baptism does not always mean water baptism. For instance it can be found that in one verse, Matthew 3:11, we find three distinct baptisms if read carefully and prayerfully.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
It is true, of course, that water baptism is taught from Matthew into the book of Acts as far as the “New Testament” is concerned. However, it must be studied and understood as to the purpose in God’s overall plan for the ages. In other words, the subject of baptism must be understood in light of II Timothy 2:15.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Even a cursory examination of Scripture enables us to realize that there are many things that God commanded for certain ages or dispensations that He does not necessarily apply for this age. For instance, the rite of circumcision given to Abraham and made obligatory on all the male children of Israel. We find the Apostle Paul writing, under inspiration, saying in Galatians 6:15:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
This also enables us to further understand the spiritual baptism that is real and required for salvation and service today. How does this help? In Colossians 2:11-12, we see the truth about spiritual circumcision (vs. 11) that leads on to tell about the baptism that is required and performed by God. The Scripture in Colossians 2:11-12 reads:
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God; who hath raised Him from the dead.”
It surely appears that as long as God required water baptism it was for salvation dependent upon repentance. It represented a washing or cleansing and constituted a “sign” to the people of Israel. For instance, the Apostle Peter addressed the “house of Israel” (Acts 2:36) and said:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)
It is not only interesting but very enlightening and important to notice that the epistles of Paul do not stress or teach that water baptism is relevant or required. It would be inconceivable to think that a person, especially a preacher, would say what Paul said in I Corinthians 1:14:
“I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius.”
It is also very important to note that the plan of salvation given by the Apostle Paul in his epistles does not contain any mention of water baptism. We know of Ephesians 2:8-9; I Corinthians 15:3-4, and many others that clearly spell out how a person can be saved by God’s grace.
But what about baptism for today? Does God require a real baptism? Surely, He does. The baptism that is required is the Holy Spirit baptizing the believing person into the Body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:13 is ever so clear and plain on this important truth.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
What we see about this important subject is that several types or meanings of baptism are found in Scripture. Let’s not just think of “water.” Let’s forget the traditions of men and religious groups, however large or influential, and concentrate on “what saith the Scripture.” Water baptism was in order as long as God was dealing with “the Jew first.” It accompanied the miracles, wonders, and signs as outlined in Mark 16:15-20. Now that God is dealing with the Church, which is the Body of Christ, where the distinction between Jew and Gentile is no longer observed by God, the Holy Spirit is doing the baptizing. He, the Holy Spirit, baptizes the believing sinner into the death of Christ and raises him into a newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). This is totally by the work of God (Colossians 2:12). This is the “one baptism” spoken of in Ephesians 4:5. The saved person doesn’t have to worry about who baptized him or her: whether it was immersion, sprinkling, or pouring; whether they need to be re-baptized; whether they can be a good testimony or be able to serve God. God has taken care of it all by His baptism! This Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ renders the believing sinner “complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). He or she can then be a testimony by living a life that pleases God and helps others. Also, having been baptized into God’s church, this person is approved of God to serve in the local assembly or wherever God calls.