“They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Acts 8:16b
There are those who contend that there is only one work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. They hold that the baptism in Christ and the baptism with the Spirit are one in the same. They hold that there is only one baptism. Part of their view is based on Paul’s use of the phrase “one baptism” in Ephesians 4:4-6 where it states, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
The context of the verse is Paul’s exhortation for the Ephesians to be united. He exhorts them to make every effort to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Therefore Paul reminds them they are united as “one body,” just as God is “one Spirit, . . . one Lord, . . . one God and Father of all, . . . .” They should remember too they are united “as you were called in one hope of your calling, . . . one faith, one baptism; . . . .” Our concern here is the meaning of “one baptism.”
There is “one baptism” as it pertains to entering into the church. That baptism is the baptism into Christ. Jesus is the only way to the Father and into His eternal family. But the Bible describes the two-work nature of the life in the Spirit by referring to two baptisms. Let me explain.
First, there is the experience described as being “baptized into Christ.” This is a baptism unto salvation and begins the inner work of the Spirit in the believer. Examples of this first work are as follows:
- “They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 8:16b
- “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 19:6
- “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” – Romans 6:3
At the baptism into Jesus we are born again; born of the Spirit (John 3:5). The Spirit begins conforming us to the likeness of Jesus at the new birth (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 5:18). The Holy Spirit washes our sins away and regenerates us spiritually giving us new life (Titus 3:5). Water baptism symbolizes this work of God in us. But notice that in Acts 8:16 it is implied that there is something beyond being baptized into Christ. It states, “They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This points to an additional work.
Second, there is the experience described as being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This is the Spirit’s empowerment for service. This is the second work of the Spirit and is described by Jesus as the Spirit coming “upon” us. Jesus referred to this in Acts 1:4-5 and 8, “. . . wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. . . . But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; . . . .”
Have you been baptized into Christ Jesus as your Savior? If you have been water baptized to show God’s initial regenerative work of salvation in you, have you received His baptism with the Holy Spirit that empowers for service and ministry? There are a number of examples in Acts where this twofold use of baptism is seen (Acts 2:36-39; 8:12-17; 9:3-5, 6, 17-18 with 1 Corinthians 12:3; Acts 10:44-48 in light of 11:15-17 and 15:6-9; 19:1-7).
When the apostle Paul uses the phrase “one baptism” he is referring to the unity of believers and how a person enters into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But there is a general application of baptism. Baptism speaks to initiation or entrance into something. There is of course only one way to become a Christian and have eternal life and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). This is the baptism into the name of Jesus or into Christ as we mention above. But baptism can be used to speak of other initiations or entrances.
For instance Jesus, when asked by the mother of James and John to give her sons a special place on His left and right, spoke prophetically of the cost these disciples would pay. He used baptism to describe this cost saying, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with . . . .” (Mat. 20:23; Mark 10:38). Jesus was speaking of His death and pointing ultimately to the death of James (Acts 12:2). Baptism here speaks of a literally passing from life to death through persecution.
In our denominationalized world churches often refuse to accept the baptisms of other denominations. In Ephesians Paul is stating believers are one in Christ and that believers are not baptized by denomination or specific people but by one Spirit. There are those who perform ritualistic baptisms for people who have no saving relationship with Jesus Christ. An example of this is infant baptism. An infant has no comprehension of the gospel. A ritualistic baptism cannot save that infant. That infant is covered by God’s grace until they can make their own decision to receive Jesus by faith in the gospel. That is also true of those impaired in some way and unable to understand and respond to the gospel. God’s grace is sufficient. God is merciful as well as just. God is holy and loving and will work righteously in such situations.
But baptism is merely an outward sign of an inward heart work and reality. Baptism is a ceremony Christians partake in to testify to the world that they have made a transition. Primarily, they have died to the old way of life and been raised with Christ to a new way of life in Him (Rom. 6:1ff.). Baptism testifies to a transition, a change in life direction, a transition from one realm to another. Baptism into Christ testifies to the transition from death to life, secular to spiritual, hell to heaven bound. The baptism with the Holy Spirit testifies to the transition believers make from relying on their own strength to relying on the Spirit, from flesh to Spirit, from weakness to God’s power.
The baptism into Christ is descriptive of being born again of the Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is descriptive of the initiation of the Christian into the Spirit filled Spirit empowered life of ministry and service to the Lord. It is a subsequent work Christians need to receive in order to be effective in their service to the Lord. Do you have it? If not pray and ask God for it.