Water Baptism and the One Baptism

by Mike Ratliff

37 Ἀκούσαντες δὲ κατενύγησαν τὴν καρδίαν εἶπόν τε πρὸς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς ἀποστόλους· τί ποιήσωμεν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ; 38 Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε, [φησίν,] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος. Acts 2:37-38 (NA28)

37 Now 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?” 38 Peter 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. Acts 2:37-38 (NASB) 

12 Καθάπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα ἕν ἐστιν καὶ μέλη πολλὰ ἔχει, πάντα δὲ τὰ μέλη τοῦ σώματος πολλὰ ὄντα ἕν ἐστιν σῶμα, οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστός· 13 καὶ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι ἡμεῖς πάντες εἰς ἓν σῶμα ἐβαπτίσθημεν, εἴτε Ἰουδαῖοι εἴτε Ἕλληνες εἴτε δοῦλοι εἴτε ἐλεύθεροι, καὶ πάντες ἓν πνεῦμα ἐποτίσθημεν. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NA28)

12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For 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. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NASB) 

This morning when we attended church we witnessed the baptism of about 15 people. Some were teenagers. Some were adults. Afterwards, we worshipped and prayed then we heard the Gospel preached with power by a young man who was one of the youth in our church when I was teaching there back in the 1980’s. Why does our church have such a large number of people being baptized each month while so many other SBC churches do not? The key to that is that God is moving through the obedience of our people in sharing the Gospel and making disciples as our Lord commanded in His Great Commission.

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NASB) 

Notice the importance of baptism in the passages I shared here. However, if we dig deeper we will find that there is the Baptism that is a sign which we witnessed this morning in church and then there is the “One Baptism” that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, which is not the same thing at all. 

The English word “Baptize” translates the Greek noun βαπτίζω (baptizō), which means to “immerse; place into.” The verb form, baptō, originally referred to dipping clothes into dye or drawing water by placing the container into the water. One of the earliest heresies to enter the Church was “Baptismal Regeneration,” the idea that baptism is part of salvation. Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220) was one of the earliest church fathers to teach it, and Roman Catholicism has always held it. Sadly, even some Protestant churches teach this, which is especially contradictory because it is one the doctrines they should be protesting. Here are some Biblical examples of believers declared saved before baptism: Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9), the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43), new believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), Paul (Acts 9:17-18), and Cornelius (Acts 10:47) . Salvation is by grace alone. Any other “gospel” is not the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).

Baptism has always signified identification and public testimony. The Jews used it that way; a proselyte into Judaism had to be circumcised, offer a sacrifice, and baptize himself in the presence of a rabbi to identify himself with Judaism. John the Baptist’s baptism was for the purpose of identifying people with his message of the coming Christ. Christian baptism, therefore, is an identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and a public testimony that we are following Him. Even our Lord submitted to this as a picture of His future and to be our example (Matthew 4:13-17).

Paul refers to baptism in a different light, however. It is the Christian “one baptism.” found in Ephesians 4:5.

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also 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 over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NASB) 

Some teach that Paul is referring here to water baptism, however, the language simply does not allow it. Here is the Greek for v5

5 εἷς κύριος, μία πίστις, ἓν βάπτισμα, Ephesians 4:5 (NA28)

The “one baptism” translates ἓν βάπτισμα or en baptisma, literally, “one placing into.” But a placing into what? Is it water? No! It isn’t water since the context speaks of “one body” and “one Sprit.” Here is a single, definitive baptism that really does accomplish something. It is not symbolic; it is actual. This is precisely the point of 1 Corinthians 12:13.

13 For 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. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NASB) 

What is Paul’s point in Ephesians 4:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 12:13? It is the unity, bond, and oneness that all true believers have in Christ! The word “baptized” in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is aorist indicative passive in the Greek, which clearly shows that we have been acted upon in the past by God (literally, “were baptized”). There is no second blessing. He placed us into Christ’s body; we do nothing to seek such “baptism” because there is nothing to seek; it has already been done.

The teaching that believers need to seek a “second blessing” in order to attain some higher order of spiritual gifts or whatever results in a “spiritual elite,” thereby actually dividing God’s people into two classes; those who have “received the baptism” and those who have not. The One Baptism that Paul is talking about for all believers is simply this, it is the unity all believers in Christ.

I rejoiced mightily this morning with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we witnessed the baptism of those 15 or so people. I knew I was going to write this post as I pondered that because both elements of baptism were present. The sign of new believers showing everyone that they were now in Christ and the unity in our body of believers rejoicing that it was so because God had baptized all of us into the ‘called out ones’ and also because we were coming together to continue to be obedient to our Lord to in the outreach of the Gospel to everyone God puts in our paths. He saves sinners just like us.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “Water Baptism and the One Baptism

  1. Exactly! Probably the most accurate description of this Truth I have ever read!

    Yes brother, I am still out here! LOL

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  2. Mike,
    I appreciate your teaching so very much. I read most of your posts but do not believe I have ever commented before. This one aligns perfectly with what I have seen in my own personal study and what I have been taught. Your explanation here of “one baptism” and baptismal regeneration is the clearest I remember having read.
    My question is this….in your opinion, are those who hold to the belief of baptismal regeneration saved? I have dear family members (cousins) who are in the Church of Christ. We are very close. One of them passed away this past weekend after a 40 year battle with lupus. She has lived a life of commitment and dedication to Christ. She ministered to others faithfully and her heart was to know Christ and make Him known. She discipled many women over her lifetime and was loved and treasured by all who knew her. She was a Proverbs 31 woman in every way. I have always struggled with this aspect of her belief system although on every other essential doctrine we have seemed to agree. Her understanding of “works” never appeared to be that of a means of earning salvation. She appeared to see “good works” as the normal lifestyle of someone who had been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. When we talked about the Lord and other issues of our faith and when we have prayed together I have always sensed a unity of the Spirit. Please give me your honest opinion.I understand the truth of this and know the teaching of baptismal regeneration is heresy. But does it keep one from true salvation?
    Thank you so much for all your teaching and your commitment to the Word of God and to share your wisdom and knowledge of Scripture with your readers. Personally I benefit greatly and I often share your posts with others.
    In Christ ~ Sharon Anderson

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  3. As the Baptisms started yesterday our pastor clearly proclaimed that this saved nobody. We are all saved by grace through faith. I am convinced that even those who believe in baptismal regeneration, IF THEY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL that they can do no works to earn their salvation then they are saved. They may believe they are doing works to earn or doing bad works to lose their salvation, but really they are just believing bad theology. I had a former pastor whose mother was in that mess. She would not let go of her Free Will Baptist beliefs. She had no assurance. When she died she was convinced she had sinned too much to go to heaven. That’s terrible. I had a very long and ugly debate with a Lutheran who believed that he was saved when he was baptized as an infant because his pastor told him that. No amount of scripture I provided could convince him otherwise. On the other hand, your cousin showed the signs of regeneration. I am convinced that the number one marker for true regeneration is love for Jesus and His Church. When you have that you become a defender of the Gospel like Paul was in Galatians. In any case, even though they won’t admit it, the Church of Christ split from the SBC a long time ago over this very issue. Yes, that is why we believe many of the same doctrines. However, baptismal regeneration is of the devil.

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  4. Always risky to open more cans of worms. It’s my observation that neither infant, or adult baptism makes one “saved”. That said I’ve come to accept as valid believing parents who bring their children to be baptized in a way that parallels circumcising. (In fact even more inclusive as the male child distinction ended).

    Despite being a Bunyan, Gill or Spurgeon fan, I am more a Reformed or Presbyterian Protestor….than a strict Baptist.

    Once one receives the effectual call and comes to a true profession of faith….then it would seem to be equally valid to either take the sign of baptism publicly, or publicly acknowledge their previous baptism.

    I used to be pretty strict in thinking that infant dedications were the only way to go. The theology behind all this is beyond my level of expertise, though I’ve heard good arguments on both sides.

    It might have been clear if Paul had written:

    Romans 2:29  But he is a CHRISTAIN , which is one inwardly; and BAPTISM is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (unAVB)

    But truly only God knows our hearts.
    As for us we should mainly strive to give him the glory.

    Maybe a long post discussing the various aspects of this would be a good thing.

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