The Unity Worthy of Our Calling – 6
1. “Nothing can be removed from this list and leave unity in tact.”
a. That’s what one writer said of the seven ones named in Ephesians 4:4-6.
b. He wrote, “Without all these elements, the one God cannot bind us all together.” (B. Hendren, Chosen for Riches, 87)
c. At first thought, almost everybody would agree with him. After all, the point the apostle is making in the passage is that there’s a unity to be maintained because of these things.
2. But wait! It says, “There is...one baptism!”
a. One baptism? A lot of people can’t see much reason for baptism to mentioned at all in a list of such distinguished spiritual realities, and there’s more division over what it is and what it means than there is unity.
b. A brief sampling will show you what I mean.
i. The ESV Study Bible comments on one verse, “Hearing and believing the gospel, unlike baptism, is essential to salvation...” (2193, on 1 Cor. 1:17).
ii. A widely read evangelical author’s explanation is: “As far as the One Body is concerned, there is one baptism – the baptism of the Spirit. But as far as local bodies of believers are concerned, there are two baptisms: the baptism of the Spirit, and water baptism.” (Wiersbe, Be Rich, 98)
c. That’s just a hint of the problem: we are to be one by virtue of having experienced a common act of obedience, but there are big differences over what it is and who is submit to it, and why, and how, and when.
3. Our purpose is to get to what Paul meant when spoke to the Ephesians about maintaining the unity that came about through “one baptism.” The point we want to get at is that baptism is basic to our unity because it is basic to our being identified with Christ.
a. In and of itself, “baptism” is about an unimpressive a matter as can be imagined – so much so that many find it difficult to conceive of why it would even be named in a list of so uniquely important realities as these “ones.”
i. On its own, the word just means “dipping” or “plunging.”
ii. It refers to action which requires going down into and coming up out of the water (cf. Jn. 3:23; Acts 8:36, 38, 39).
iii. When we read about it in the New Testament, we can see that baptism is simply an immersion in water that can be likened to a burial (cf. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).
b. But there is something significant about what it means that we are told in Acts 19 that it was one of the first subjects that came up when Paul visited Ephesus.
i. “Into what...were you baptized?” the apostle asked them (v. 3). Isn’t it interesting that it was assumed that they had been baptized?
ii. It’s instructive, too. When you read Acts you find this practice in the cities where the gospel went, from Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) to Samaria (Acts 8:12) to Caesarea (Acts 10:48), and from Philippi (Acts 16:33) to Corinth (Acts 18:8), and now to Ephesus, and beyond.
iii. One of the most impressive things to me is the way the record, almost in passing, just says, “And after she was baptized...” (Acts 16:15), as if every reader knows it would have happened.
iv. Another thing that strikes me is the urgency about it that’s implied when the record says of the jailer, “the same hour of the night...he was baptized at once..,” (Acts 16:33).
v. Baptism seems to be one subject where a Jew or a Gentile, in Judea or in Macedonia, a god-fearing woman or a fearing-for-himself man, found themselves on level ground before the Lord.
c. My question is, why? How are we to account for the widespread and universal practice of baptism?
i. The perspective developed by the Old Testament may have had something to do with it – at least among people who knew anything of it.
(1) It described events like the fall of Jericho and the cleansing of Naaman in which God delivered people through their faith – but when they met his conditions – when they trusted him by obeying him.
(2) It required various “baptisms” (or “washings,” Heb. 6:2), both for cleansing and in drawing near to God in service. Sometimes blood and water were involved in the process (Lev. 14:4f, for example).
(3) It promised a time when God would, with clean water, deliver the people from their idolatry and uncleanness and give them a new heart and put a right spirit within them (Ezek. 36:25-29).
ii. The fact that Christ himself was baptized must also have been foundational to the practice of baptism we are reading about.
(1) We remember that Jesus overcame John’s objections by saying, “For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
(2) When he was baptized, what followed was the presence of the Spirit and the voice of the Father expressing pleasure in his beloved Son (Matt.3:17).
(3) Both those thing, acknowledgment as children of God and the Spirit to cry “Abba! Father!” are associated with Christian baptism (Gal. 3:27; 4:6).
iii. The ultimate reason, though, for the widespread practice of baptism is that it is the way Jesus, after his cross and resurrection, commanded apostles to make disciples for him (Matt. 28:18-20).
2. “Into what then...?”
a. This question tells us that the only meaning baptism can have must come from the basis for it.
i. There is no power in it as a ceremony. It isn’t a work by which we earn something. It is not something we “get.”
ii. Baptism is something for us to “be...in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5) – that is, we submit ourselves to it in obedience to his word, depending on what he has done, believing in who he is.
iii. One who is being baptized is “calling upon the name of the Lord.”
(1) By faith in the death of Christ, he is depending on the Lord to wash his sins away (Acts 22:16).
(2) By faith in the resurrection of Christ, he is appealing to God for a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21).
(3) By faith, he is casting himself upon grace in order to be saved.
b. The connection between “hearing” (Acts 19:5) and “when you believed” (Acts 19:2) tells us that submitting to baptism must be a voluntary act of an informed will.
i. In other words, one repentance and faith are involved, and these can only come through the hearing of the gospel (consider, for example, Acts 18:9 and 16:31-34).
ii. Baptism is not a “sacrament” which imposes spiritual benefit upon a person absent any belief or penitence within than person’s own mind.
iii. No one is a candidate for it unless he has the awareness to evaluate the moral and spiritual choices he himself is making, the understanding to take in the facts and promises of the gospel for himself, and the will to turn away from sin and the intention to be ruled by the Lord.
iv. Bob Hendren described the process this way....
c. The events that follow (from Acts 19:5) tell us that baptism is a confession of the Lord which involves a pledge of allegiance to him.
i. Not only does one being baptized call on the name of the Lord, the name of the Lord is called over him!
ii. There is a separating, a going with, and a continuing (Acts 19:9, 10). It involves service in his kingdom and commitment to walk with him.
iii. When individuals are baptized, they assume a place in making it possible for other people to enjoy that same blessing – it’s the start of an adventure that may be costly and that may involve risks, but that has the promise of the Lord’s company.
3. There is one
a. As Acts 19 indicates, there is one baptism.
i. It is not the baptism of John, which was only preparatory.
ii. It is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which was predicted in order to enable the apostles to bear witness to all men.
iii. It is the baptism of the gospel of Christ for all who believe and repent, baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” – not because sins have already been forgiven, but so that they can be (Acts 2:38; Matt. 26:28).
b. One baptism makes us one.
i. It is not just an individual transaction; more is involved than private, personal salvation.
ii. There is a community aspect to it: others have been baptized in the same name, in the same way, for the same purpose.
iii. Eph. 5:26
(1) Saved people are not baptized to join a church.
(2) Believing, penitent people are baptized in order to be saved, and the Lord adds them to the church (Acts 2:41, 47).
c. We are baptized one time.
i. The disciples described in Acts 19 were baptized one time in the name of Jesus Christ. That is what saved them.
ii. They were not “baptized again” in the sense of doing the same thing over, or in the sense of doing a better job of it, or in the sense of having learned more about it. They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
iii. If people who have done that depart into sin, the way back is not to be baptized again; it is to repent and pray (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:7).
1. Baptism is intended to be a foundation of Christian unity.
a. If we are New Testament Christians, we have this beginning in common.
b. We were buried with Christ in baptism, and through faith in the powerful working of God who raised him from the dead, we were raised from being dead in our trespasses, made alive and forgiven (Col. 2:12-13).
c. Baptism is for the same reason, and in the same manner, for all of us.
2. Grace is the “why” of salvation. Faith is the “how” of salvation. Baptism represents the “when,” not the how or the why.
a. Have you been saved? When?
b. The gospel asks for us to be baptized in trusting and obedient response to what Jesus Christ has done for us all, and for us to submit to his work in this manner so that our sins may be forgiven through him.
3. “God gives all to faith; God gives all in baptism.” (G. R. Beasley-Murray)