Monday, June 19, 2017

Baptism, baptism by fire, baptism with/in the Holy Spirit

The purpose of this article is to examine three separate and distinct references to baptism. Specifically, it is to be noted that the references by Jesus to these three is separate and apart from the baptism for the forgiveness of sins which he commanded his disciples to carry out as they went preaching the gospel into all the world. Furthermore, the baptism performed by Jesus and his disciples was the only baptism which was in effect at the time, namely, the baptism of John for repentance. The passages in the scriptures do not spell out the meaning of the words spoke by John or Jesus concerning either 1) baptism, 2) baptism by fire and 3) baptism with the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the meaning is made  evident in the entirety of the life and message of Jesus and his relationship with the disciples. John’s words concerning baptism (1) were about what Jesus was to do in contrast to what John was doing. The words spoken by Jesus have to do with a baptism (2 & 3) of his own which he prophesies the disciples would also be baptized.

It is the apostle Paul who enlightens us concerning the difference between these references to baptism. The scriptures refer to a baptism with respect to John. The scriptures make three different references to baptism with respect to Jesus. These references were during their respective ministries during their lifetime. Hence, there is no need to read into or to assume that there is a contradiction in the light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 about one baptism which he wrote well after the same lives of John and Jesus. Briefly, I would like to cover the baptism of John as the first of these three references to baptism. Do not make the mistake or jump to a false and erroneous conclusion that these three references to baptism represent different requirements of obedience to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  

the baptism of John
Paul encountered some disciples (Acts 19) when he arrived in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John. Paul asked them into what they had been baptized. The replied that they had been baptized into John’s baptism. Paul then proceeded to enlighten them that the baptism of John was for repentance. Those people to whom Paul alludes were the Jews to whom the baptism of John was limited. Any forgiveness of sins by those Jews who submitted to John’s baptism was to be in compliance and accordance to the established law of Moses. The baptism of John was not a displacement or substitute for obedience to the law of Moses. (Even the healings of Jesus were not to be taken as license for the Jews to waive aside their obedience to the law.) The focus of John’s ministry was two-fold: to draw the children of Israel back to God and to point them towards Messiah, Jesus, the Lamb of God. The baptism by John of those who came to him is the first reference to baptism as enumerated above.

Note: The promise from Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit came long after the baptism of John. The baptism commanded by Jesus in the great commission, unlike the baptism of John, was for the forgiveness of sins. It was not limited to the Jews. It was for all who call upon the name of the Lord. The fulfillment and modeling of this began in the book of Acts in the second chapter. The three references to baptism in this article do not include that of the great commission for the disciples to baptize for the forgiveness of sins.

baptism by fire
One could argue that regardless of whether the baptism in question was for repentance or forgiveness or with the Holy Spirit it was all relatively safe both for the one baptizing as well as the one being baptized. There were no threats. Nobody was hurt. However, it was not long before the disciples begin to experience the progressive increase in the hostility towards them. It began with threats, (Acts 4:21) then came the beatings, (Acts 5:40) and eventually there was the death of our brother Stephen. (Acts 8:2) These threats and beatings began not long after the apostles had been baptized (again, this is not one of the three references to baptism in this article) with the Holy Spirit and received power. It was not long afterwards that, James, one of the apostles themselves was put to death. (Acts 12:2) This increased hostility and persecution of the disciples was their immersion, their baptism, their cup (which they had unwittingly asked for and which Jesus told them they would surely drink it) in the suffering of Jesus. This is the second reference to baptism as enumerated above.

This baptism with fire is what tries the heart and soul  of the believer, the disciple of Jesus. It is something which ought to be a surprise for anyone who takes up their cross to follow Jesus. It may sound easy and in fact may be taken as some sort of euphemism by some believers, but to “take up your cross” is a call to brace yourself for the suffering that will certainly come in various ways so as to test the faith of the disciple. This is what seemed foolishly easy enough for the disciples when they replied to Jesus, “We are able.” to his question as to whether they were able to drink the cup that he was about to drink. The baptism with which Jesus was to be baptized might have seemed to the disciples about as safe and carefree as when they had submitted to the baptism of John (# 1 above) for repentance.

baptism with the Holy Spirit
However, it was hardly neither as safe as that baptism nor was it as powerfully dynamic as baptism with the Holy Spirit (# 3 above). I am aware of the quick assumption to equate this reference to baptism with the Holy Spirit with either 1) the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles as on the day of Pentecost, or 2) the Holy Spirit as received by every believer from the day of Pentecost onward. However, to associate this reference by John the baptist to his disciples that the one whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire does not contribute towards our understanding of these various references to baptism and it hinders the edification of the saints. The different reading in the gospel accounts that Jesus would baptize “in the Holy Spirit” and “with the Holy Spirit” are neither problematic nor are they constitute a contradiction. The fact that John may or may not have known about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as prophesied by Joel and which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost is pretty much a moot point.

What does contribute towards our understanding of this immersion with the Holy Spirit is found, of course, in the words of Jesus to his disciples. At the same time as Jesus prophesied to the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit he informed that, he, that is the Holy Spirit, 1) is WITH you, and 2) will be IN you. The present and future tense mode of these words spoken by Jesus are not to be dismissed. They are significant and vital to our understanding. Therefore, it is fitting and appropriate within the topic of this article to speak and make use of baptism with/in Holy Spirit with respect to Jesus. More specifically, the reference "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit," is not to be mistaken with the baptism with which Jesus with every step towards the cross anticipated and which was a cause of distress for him (Luke 12:50). Indeed, this baptism was one which he made all who would follow him (Mark 10:38, 39) that they, too, would receive that baptism of suffering and ultimate death for his name.

This is what this distinction teaches me about my path and every believer’s path to Jesus as Lord and Savior. It teaches me that believers who find themselves in the assembly and among the saints in Christ in the days before they themselves come to commit their lives to Jesus have the Holy Spirit WITH them. It is when they act on what they have believed that the Holy Spirit comes to be IN them. This was the same experience which did not escape the disciples. Although they had been with Jesus for three years they had yet to stand their ground with conviction as did Peter “taking his stand with the eleven” on the day of Pentecost.

This should be no surprise given the small, but significant detail by Jesus to the disciples. The Holy Spirit, once he came in the very near future of the disciples, would not speak of his own initiative. He would take from Jesus and speak (very much as between Jesus and the Father) as it was given to the Holy Spirit to speak. This is the third reference to baptism as enumerated above.

There are three different references to baptism in the gospel accounts. Of course, these occur during the life and ministry of John the baptist and Jesus. These three reference do not include the reference to baptism for the forgiveness of sins as Jesus commanded his disciple preach and do as they went into the world. Do not jump to conclusions and mistaken assumptions. This is not to dismiss or in any way put aside the commandment of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Simply, it is that this article is as concerns these three references, 1) baptism, 2) baptism by fire and 3) baptism with the Holy Spirit. 

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