Understanding Baptism in this Age 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.  Notice that in verse nine the word “symbol” (same Greek word for parable) is used to describe the various aspects of the Law, of which water baptism was one.  The writer of Hebrews continues later that it is the blood of Christ that 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 6:1-2).  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 these first century Jews to stop being “Jewish” and to enter into a more perfect way where God does it all through faith.  We must remember that the stewardship committed to Paul was different in many ways than the commission given to the twelve Apostles of Israel (Galatians 2:8).  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 by Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).  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 “…a time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:10).  No longer were believers to cleanse themselves outwardly, as was ordained by the Law.  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, or baptized, 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 and is required for salvation, for one is not saved today if one is not in the Body of Christ.  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 (Romans 8:14-17 and Galatians 4:6).  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…”  When were these Galatians “baptized into Christ”?  1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that this happens when they believed.

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. The believer has been crucified with Christ, buried, risen and ascended all because one believes the gospel.  This being “united” with Christ is an operation done by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ Jesus.  Water can’t possibly do any of this.  This all happens when the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) is performed by the Holy Spirit on the believer, placing the believer 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 6:3-6).  Just one verse prior, we are told that we are “complete in Him”.  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.  There is no longer a need for the “symbol”.  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.  When you go to a restaurant, you read the menu describing the food you are going to order.  When your food arrives, do you continue to read the menu, which only describes the reality, or do you set the menu aside in exchange for the real meal?

But, didn’t Paul baptize?  Yes, at first he did.  Remember what dispensation Paul was saved under.  It was the same dispensation that the twelve Apostles operated under.  He had not had any of the mysteries revealed to him right away (Acts 22:14).  He preached and followed what he knew, and he only knew of the requirements of being under the Law.  Paul also spoke in tongues, cast demons out, worked miracles and healings.  All of these signs disappeared by the end of his ministry.  Why?  These signs belong to the program of the kingdom for Israel (1 Corinthians 1:22, etc.) and were fading away (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).  By the end of Paul’s life, the whole mystery was revealed to him (Colossians 1:25-26), and the requirements under this dispensation of grace excluded these signs, miracles and wonders, as well as the requirements under the Law; of which water baptism was one (Hebrews 9:8-14).

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 “various washings”  (Hebrews 9:10) 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.  19And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  20And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”  22They said then to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”  23He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, `MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”  24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  25And they asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  26John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, among you stands One whom you do not know.  27“He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  28These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  29The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  30“This is He on behalf of whom I said, `After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’  31And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.”  32And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.  33“And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, `He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  34″  And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:19-34).  “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 Gospels, including the commissions Jesus gave to the eleven Apostles of Israel (Galatians 2:8) during the kingdom program, and all under the Law (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16).  Peter continues this same message into the early Acts period as is shown in Acts 2:36-38-36“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.  Notice that this wasn’t optional under the kingdom program for Israel-compare Luke 7:29-30 with Mark 16:14-16 and Acts 2:22 and 37-38.  Israel was to be the Priests in the coming kingdom of Christ (Exodus 19:5-6 and Zechariah 8:20-23) and Priests are mandated by the Law to be “washed” (Exodus 30:17-19 and Lev. 8:1-6).  That promise to Israel by God will be carried out after the rapture of the church and subsequent tribulation-see Revelation.  This also explains why the Pharisees asked John “why” he was baptizing, for he was baptizing EVERYONE who came to him, and the Pharisees knew that only priests were to be “washed”.  So we see that along with the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom came water baptism as a requirement.  This is another reason why Christ himself was water baptized, for He is the High Priest.

We also need to recognize what water baptism isn’t.  First, it isn’t an outward showing of any inward working.  That is nowhere in the Bible.  It is not a picture of a burial and resurrection.  That, also, is nowhere in the Bible.  Water baptism never represented a burial.  Are people buried in water?  No, water baptism always represented a cleansing-compare John 3:22-25 with Acts 22:12-16 with Hebrews 9:8-10, and finally look at Mark 7:1-4.  In the Mark 7 passage, the Pharisees were washing, “baptismo” in the Greek, their pots, cups, pitchers, tables and even their couches (KJV).  Were they burying them?  Were they showing how these implements had an inward work done to them?  No, they were cleansing them.  Another reason that is often used to cajole the believer to partake of this ceremony is that they should “obey Jesus” and be baptized.  As a prominent Biblical scholar once wrote, “Make water baptism anything you wish.  Make baptism necessary to salvation, then Paul the Apostle thanked God he saved so few.  Make baptism essential to obedience, as some urge, the Apostle thanked God he made so few obedient.” (1 Corinthians 1:14).  These “traditions of men” (Colossians 2:8, Galatians 4:3 and 9 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) were to be done away with the advent of the “new order” (Hebrews 9:10, NIV).  Unfortunately, most of Christendom, for nearly 2000 years, has decided to pick and choose certain aspects from the Law and bring them into the Body of Christ.  Romans 6:14 clearly shows that we are not under the Law program, we are under the grace program.

In this dispensation of the grace of God given to Paul for the Body of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-9), we have a different gospel.  No longer do we preach “The kingdom of heaven 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…”   Is Paul being disobedient to the commission given by Jesus to the Apostles of Israel (Galatians 2:8)?  Is this one of those “contradictions” that atheists point to in the Bible?  No, Paul received a different calling and message from the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body, to go to the Gentiles with the gospel of the grace of God (Romans 11:13 and 16:25, Galatians 1:11-12, Acts 20:24, Ephesians 3:1-9 and Colossians 1:25-26, etc.).  Why would God tell Paul that water baptism is no longer a part of the gospel message?  First of all, we in the Body of Christ are not priests, as some teach.  Israel, in the kingdom, will be God’s priests (Exodus 19:5-6 and Zechariah 8:20-23).  A priest is a go between God and man.  No unbeliever today needs a member of the Body to go to God for him; he only needs to go through the one and only mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  No, we are not priests, we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Now, everything is done spiritually “through faith in the working of God(Colossians 2:11-12).  No more outward works done with hands (2 Corinthians 5:7).  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 (Ephesians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 6:3-6, Galatians 3:26-27 and Colossians 2:11-12)…No water required.

Article written by Paul D. Pedro of Oakdale, Minnesota, Copyright 2014.

                                                                All Scripture references used in this article, except where noted, were taken from the New American Standard Bible.

Any underlining or extra emphasis added to the Scriptures was done by the author of this article.