Adapted from an article by Clem Thurman
in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 57, No. 20, May 16, 2008.
Which baptism is referred to as the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5?
Some people want to refer to this baptism as a spiritual baptism.
I have never been able to understand what one means by the term "spiritual baptism," for that phrase often has different meanings for different people. There is a sense in which every act of obedience to God is a spiritual act. The apostle Paul writes, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service" (Romans 12:1). Jesus tells us that we are to "worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). The deeds of anyone seeking to please God are "spiritual deeds." And, in this sense, the baptism which Christ commands is spiritual. But usually people mean by "spiritual baptism" what is called in Scripture "baptism in the Holy Spirit."
When John, the forerunner of Jesus, was baptizing in the River Jordan, he told people of the Christ: "I indeed baptize you in 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 in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (Matthew 3:11). Notice that John baptized in water, but Jesus was to baptize in "the Holy Spirit and in fire." Jesus refers to the baptism in the Holy Spirit when He told the apostles to wait in the city of Jerusalem for power from on high: "For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).
The apostle Peter refers to this promise later, when he preached to the household of Cornelius, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:15,16). These are the only two cases recorded in Scripture of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And only Christ could baptize one with the Holy Spirit. No man could do it. Jesus sent the apostles out to preach and promised, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved... Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19). These apostles, in obeying that command, baptized people in water (Acts 8:36 10:47; I Peter 3:20,21).
No man was ever given authority to baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Only Christ could do that. And no one was ever commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit -- that was a promise, not a command. But the baptism administered by the apostles was a command (Acts 10:47). And the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not for all people, but for only a few. The baptism of "the Great Commission" (Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19) was for all people and was to be administered by followers of Christ. That is the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was to empower people, as Jesus told the apostles, "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you" (Acts 1:8). The purpose of the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5 was for an entirely different purpose.
The purpose of the baptism which Christ has commanded is clearly stated: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). This same idea is found in Acts 2:38, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." This is the baptism of which we read: "Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him...Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ...while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water; which also after a true likeness doth not save you, even baptism...Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for it; that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the Word" (Acts 8:36-38; 10:47,48; I Pet. 3:20,21; Ephesians 5:25,26). That is the "one baptism" and every example of it is baptism in water for the remission of past sins.
What amazes me is that people who claim that we must be baptized with spiritual baptism, will then also baptize that person in water! The Bible says, "There is one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). If that one baptism is "baptism in the Spirit" then it cannot be water baptism. It is not two baptisms, but one. And it is hypocritical to claim that water baptism doesn't save, but spiritual baptism does -- and then baptize those "saved" people in water. The "one baptism" puts one "into Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:3), it saves one from his past sins (Mark 16:16), it is "unto the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), it is "into the death of Christ" (Romans 6:3). When one obeys Christ today, he will be baptized in water, for that is what the Lord says.