The next “principle of the doctrines of Christ” listed in Hebrews 6 is “the doctrine of baptisms.” It builds on the previous two, but we already have a post on this blog talking about how repentance and belief are a prerequisite for baptism, so that’s not what we’ll focus on today.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)
Notice it says “baptisms,” plural. Why is that the case, especially in light of the “there is one body, and one spirit … one faith, one baptism” passage in Ephesians 4:4-5?
John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)
John lists three baptisms here, and we’re going to look at all of them.
For Christians today, water baptism is an outward sign of our commitment to God. It’s the natural next step after turning away from our sins and turning to God in faith.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
Once again, this foundational principle is centered on Jesus Christ. It’s His sacrifice that made repentance possible, His work in us that perfects our faith, and His name we’re baptized in.
Since the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, water baptisms have included a request for Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Water and spirit baptisms are two separate events. We see evidence of this in Paul’s first contact with the Ephesians, who had been baptized to John’s baptism without knowing about the Spirit.
He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:2-6)
Laying on of hands is the next principle listed in Hebrews 6, so we’ll get back to that next week. Here, note the focus is on being water baptized in Christ’s name so that He will baptize with the greater, spiritual baptism. Water baptism is something we do to demonstrate our commitment; Spirit baptism is something Christ does to begin transforming us into children of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16)
I’ve heard this likened to “spiritual DNA replacement.” God’s essence is filling us, transforming us, and making us part of His family. Beginning that process is the next step after believing and committing to God, and a key part of our foundation.
Baptism of fire is closely connected with baptism of the Spirit — the Holy Spirit even appeared like “divided tongues, as of fire” on Pentecost (Acts 2:3). Fire baptism refers to a refining, purifying process that takes place in each believer as God works in us through His Spirit.
In Matthew 20:20-23 and Mark 10:35-40, James and John asked Jesus if they could sit on His right and left hands in the Kingdom. In His answer, Jesus asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” He had already been baptized with water by John and with the Spirit by the Father, so this must be in reference to His baptism of fire.
I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! (Luke 12:49-50)
Christ’s life on the earth involved all three kinds of baptism, including one by fire as He was tested, tried, and proven worthy. Looking back to the incident with James and John, He tells them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” Following Jesus includes our own baptisms of fire.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:11-13)
The baptism of fire tests what we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If you look back to John the Baptist’s words about the baptisms Jesus performs, you’ll see the next thing he says describes Jesus as a man threshing wheat to get the good kernels out and burn up the useless chaff. It’s similar to the refining process scripture closely connects with the called-out ones being made ready.
If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:14-15)
Threshing and refining are done for our good. They involve removing useless, sinful parts of ourselves that must be permanently done away with, like burned chaff, so we can be good seed and useful to the Master. None of us pass through a baptism of fire intact, and that’s a good thing. The point is to burn off the things that are unholy, so we can continue in the faith and walk with God as we move forward building on the Foundation.
More posts in this series: