Water, Spirit, Fire: The Three Baptisms of Christianity

How many times have you been baptized?

Scripture talks about baptism — full immersion in water — as a first step in believers’ walks of faith. It’s an outward sign of our identification with God’s people and our commitment to leave our old lives behind. Some church groups stop there, some sprinkle people from a baptismal instead, and Messianics continue to mikvah on a semi-regular basis.

I thought practicing mikvah once a year (more or less) was an odd idea when I started attending a Messianic group. Part of me still does, though I don’t really see anything wrong with it. However, while we are supposed to undergo water baptism at least once, it doesn’t stop there. When Scripture talks about multiple baptisms they’re not all done with water. Here’s what John the Baptist said about the baptism he was doing and the baptisms Messiah would do:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I am, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matt. 3:11, LEB)

Water, spirit, and fire — those are the three baptisms that John tells us believers in Jesus will go through. I think this is what the writer of Hebrews means when he describes “the doctrine of baptisms” (plural) as a foundation of Christianity (Heb. 6:1-2). Read more

The Foundation: Resurrection of the Dead

In the past weeks, we’ve studied four of the six foundational doctrines listed in the opening verses of Hebrews 6.

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)

The Foundation: Resurrection of the Dead| marissabaker.wordpress.com

The resurrection of the dead is an event still in the future for everyone but Jesus, but it’s essential to our present hope. Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a core doctrine of Christianity, and it leads into the core doctrine that believers will also rise from the dead. Read more

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands

This next foundation is one of the main reasons I started this study. I didn’t feel like I had a good understanding of the “laying on of hands” as a doctrinal principle, and if you’re going to study that doctrine might as well learn more about them all, right?

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)

The Foundation: Laying on of Hands| marissabaker.wordpress.com

The first three principles built on each other, so I would expect laying on of hands to be closely connected with baptism. And indeed, we do see it following baptism several times. Read more

The Foundation: Doctrine of Baptisms

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)

The Foundation: Doctrine of Baptisms | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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? Read more

How To Clean A Temple

We’ve talked about how to build up spiritual temples and the fact that the churches today need a good temple cleaning, but not much about the practical how-to for cleaning temples. Back when there was a physical temple standing, God gave specific instructions about how to purify the temple and clean it when things got dirty. You couldn’t just throw some soapy water across the floor and say, “Clean!” Today, we are the temple of God, and He has set in place ways of cleaning us out as well.

How To Clean A Temple| marissabaker.wordpress.com

Step One: Clear Out Junk

One of the most complete Old Testaments accounts we have of cleansing a temple took place in the days of king Hezekiah.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: “Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. (2 Chr. 29:3-7)

And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the Lord to the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron.
Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the Lord. So they sanctified the house of the Lord in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.
Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed all the house of the Lord, the altar of burnt offerings with all its articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles. Moreover all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are, before the altar of the Lord.” (2 Chr. 29:15-19)

I find it very interesting that, in addition to purifying the house and cleansing it (presumably with water and blood) the priests had to carry out debris and rubbish. There were things inside the temple defiling it that needed to be thrown out before the other purification could take place.

This puts me in mind of two incidents that took place during Jesus’ ministry. In several Bibles I’ve read, the section heading here reads “Jesus Cleanses The Temple.”

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:13-17)

This happened in John chapter 2, at the first Passover during Jesus’ ministry. That means one of the very first things He did as part of His ministry was throw certain things and people out of God’s temple. It was a pivotal moment, and it didn’t just happen once. A very similar incident occurs right before His last Passover.

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matt. 21:12-13)

Look how important this was to Jesus. He made a whip to drive out sheep, oxen and people. He poured the exchangers’ money onto the floor, and threw tables over. He probably raised His voice as He ordered out people who’d made His father’s house a vehicle for personal gain. He spent the time leading up to two Passovers before His sacrifice, which fulfilled all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, throwing defiling elements out of the temple.

Is there anything that needs thrown out of our lives before God can really start to work with us? The temple today is in our minds, so that’s where we need to look. Anything inside us that is crowding God out of His temple must be thrown out. Jesus can help with that if we ask Him, but – like the priests in Hezekiah’s day – we have to be willing to carry out the rubbish and dump it somewhere it won’t come back.

Step Two: Apply The Blood

Back in the Old Testament, the physical temple had to be cleaned and purified before God would put His presence there. Even when the first tabernacle was built and things started out exactly as God commanded, purification was a daily necessity. I suspect this was because people were involved, and no matter how hard we try we still can’t keep things clean enough for God on our own.

And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement. You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it. (Ex. 29:36)

As Israel fell into sin, the temple was often neglected. Throughout history, it was forgotten by Israel, defiled with idols, and ravaged by conquers. Whenever Israel came back to God, the temple needed fresh purification.

Thus says the Lord God: “In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and cleanse the sanctuary. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, on the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and on the gateposts of the gate of the inner court. And so you shall do on the seventh day of the month for everyone who has sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Thus you shall make atonement for the temple. (Ezk. 45:18-20)

The animal sacrifices used to purify the physical temple were a stand-in pointing to how Jesus’s sacrifice would purify His people. “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins,” but Jesus was able with one offering” to have “perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:4, 14).

Remember that the tabernacle and then the temple layouts were divided into different sections. In the book of Hebrews, it talks about how there was a main section of the tabernacle where the priests served throughout the year, and then the Holy of Holies which the high priest could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience — concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb. 9:6-10)

What’s really interesting is that in the Greek, there’s one word to describe the entire temple complex and another word to describe the inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies. It’s this second word, naos, which is used when talking about us as the temple of God. The book of Hebrews tells us there is a spiritual version of the Holy of Holies in heaven, where Christ presented His blood to atone for our sins, but each Christian today is also a type of spiritual Holy of Holies.

And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another — He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:22-26)

The high priest was the only one ever allowed into the Holy of Holies, just as Jesus Christ was the only one who could clean the spiritual temple. The law requires blood purification of holy things, and Jesus is the only one who’s blood is precious enough to cleans a polluted spiritual temple. Accepting Him as our Savior and asking Him to wash away our sins is a vital step in cleaning the spiritual temple.

Step Three: Keep Scrubbing

As the great High Priest over the church today, Jesus is the only one with a right to come into the temple and clean it out. We can help as best we can, but we must never forget that He’s the one doing the cleansing. It was His sacrifice that removed sin once and for all, and He’s the one continually working to clean His people.

looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:13-14)

John the Baptist testified of Jesus Christ that He would baptize His people “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and are baptized in His name, we’re washed with His blood and covered in the spirit of God. That’s just the beginning of our purification process, though.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27)

The church today is God’s temple – His personal dwelling place – and we must do all we can to set it to rights by working on ourselves individually and collectively under the Headship of our High Priest Jesus Christ. The closer we draw to Christ and the more we point others to Him, the cleaner this temple will get.

Back in the Old Testament, the priests were assisted by Levites whose “duty was to help the sons of Aaron in the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts and in the chambers, in the purifying of all holy things and the work of the service of the house of God” (1 Chr. 23:28). This was supposed to keep happening on a continual basis. In much the same way, we have to continue repenting when we fall short and continue submitting to the refining process Christ is accomplishing in our lives.

How To Clean A Temple| marissabaker.wordpress.com

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Ready To Be Faithful

How do you know when you’re ready for baptism?

For those in churches that teach baptism is the sign of our covenant with God, this is a weighty question. If you’re just coming into the church, how do you know when you’re ready to go through with this ceremony? If you grew up in the church, how do you know God is really calling you into covenant with Him? What should you look for, and what do you need, before you get baptized?

The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. It has very little to do with how long you council with a minister or how many baptism booklets you read, and everything to do with the state of your heart. Before we get into the body of this post, though, (just so we’re starting out on the same page) here’s a bit of background. I believe baptism by full immersion in water is an outward sign of an adult Christian’s covenant with God. I grew up in a Christian community that taught this, and I was baptized shortly after my 19th birthday.

Repent

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bg image credit: Kelly Hunter, CC BY

When John the baptist began his ministry, he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).  Those who came to be baptized confessed their sins as part of the baptism (Matt. 3:6). To further emphasize the need for repentance, he told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” if they wanted to be saved (Matt. 3:8).

In the Bible, repentance is “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” (G3340, Zodhitates). To enter covenant with God, the first requirement is that we realize we are sinners, genuinely regret the wrongs we’ve committed, and recognize our need for Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

In general the steps are: 1) repentance, 2) baptism, 3) receive the Holy Spirit (there are exceptions to this order, as in Acts 10). Often, we feel like we need reach perfection, or at least be “good enough” before baptism. Really, though, we need to realize we are not perfect so we can commit and submit to God. Then, after we realize how desperately we need Him and ask Him to be part of our life, He gives us the tools we need to grow toward perfection.

Believe

Looking at another baptism recorded in Acts, we find one more requirement for baptism. Here, Philip is teaching an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus.

 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)

In the New Testament, “believe” is translated from the same words as “faith” — pisteuo (G4100), a mental persuasion, faith, or belief, and pistis (G4102), ” a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths” (Zodniates).

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect before you get baptized, but you should believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that They have a plan for your future. Maybe our faith is young or small, and we’re at a place where we’re saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s okay. God knows we’ll still have work to do after baptism. In fact, He expects us to keep growing after we commit to Him.

Commit

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bg image credit: Kelly Hunter, CC BY

When you’re counseling for baptism, ministers typically have you read the “count the cost” scriptures in Luke 14:25-33. We learn we can’t cling to anyone or anything other than Christ. We’re told we must be prepared to give up everything we have. Before taking this step in our relationship with God, we must seriously evaluate our commitment level. Christianity isn’t something you can do part-time or half-way. We have to be all-in.

I’m willing to venture a guess that those of us who’ve been baptized didn’t really understand exactly what we were getting into. Our knowledge and understanding deepen so much as we grow, and the commitment I made at baptism means more to me now than it did back in 2008. We don’t need have perfect knowledge before we get baptized — we just need to know we’re willing to follow God no matter what. I’ve heard it compared to marriage. You don’t have to be perfect to get married, or even understand everything about marriage, but you do have to make a commitment that you’ll be faithful.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:19-20)

If our commitment to God is a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), then baptism is when we say our vows. We promise to stay faithful to Him in sickness and in health, to follow His authority, and to work through our problems with Him instead of running away. Baptism is a promise of faithfulness to our faithful Creator. If we’re ready to be faithful, then we’re ready to be baptized.