"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). Paul says that there is "one baptism." How can that be, since we have already looked at several baptisms? Are they all one, and if so, how are they one?
In a very simple way, I believe we can say that there is "one baptism" in the same way that there is "one faith" or "one God." There are not many ways to God. There is only one name under heaven by which we may be saved. There is only one salvation, and therefore there is only one baptism: that is, baptism with the Spirit into union with Jesus.
However, I think we can expand the meaning a little to see that all of the baptisms we have been discussing are in a sense "one baptism." They are different aspects (and come at different times) but they all point to Jesus and the foundation baptism that He underwent. Consider the various baptisms as follows. John's baptism was a preparation baptism, preparing the people to receive Jesus. It was used to announce the true Baptizer and the "one baptism." The baptism that the disciples performed was really a continuation of the baptism of John. It was also a baptism of repentance. The main difference was that Jesus was with them, but it still prepared the hearts of the people for Jesus. The baptism of Jesus at Calvary is the foundation baptism, because in this baptism Jesus paid the price of our sin and secured our salvation. The believer's baptism today is a testimony that we have believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and the baptism with the Spirit by Jesus is the central baptism for us that brings us into union with Jesus and His baptism. Are not all of these "baptisms" simply different aspects of the "one baptism" or the "one faith" in Jesus our Lord?
However, I think the most important point to be seen is that in God's mind there are not "two baptisms," namely: 1) water baptism, and 2) Spirit baptism. In God, these are one. Many men have often divided these in a wrong way; thus, many today depend on the fact that they have been water baptized, but they have not known Spirit baptism. They are depending on water baptism, thinking that by submitting to that baptism they are thus brought into union with Christ's death and resurrection. I believe this is the most deadly error. It is like partaking of the elements of the Lord's table and thinking that by doing so we are literally eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood.
The elements of the Lord's table have meaning in the testimony of God if they represent the actual spiritual condition of the member. But "eating of the flesh of Jesus and drinking of His blood" are spiritual issues. The words of Jesus are "spirit and life." If the actual elements of the Lord's table are not used for some reason, their testimony and purpose will be lost. But not remembering the Lord in this manner does not change the condition of the heart (unless it is direct disobedience to God's command). The spiritual condition of the heart is essential, and outward elements have value to God only as they represent the spiritual reality.
In the same way, water baptism is a symbol of a heart condition before God. As has already been stated, it has value to both believer and God as it is done in faith. But just entering into water baptism as an act in itself has no value to God. Actually, if it is done for the wrong reason (i.e., thinking that this act unites us with God), it will have a negative effect because it creates a false security. As I already said, I feel this is the most detrimental condition. God intended that water baptism and Spirit baptism should go together. I think they normally will, if the message is proclaimed properly.
Another example of an outward sign is the sister's head covering. A sister puts a symbol on her head as a testimony of her heart submission to God and her place in God's creation. But I think we can all agree that just putting a symbol of authority on her head does not make her submitted in her heart. The symbol only has meaning if the heart condition is true. If for various reasons she does not wear the symbol (i.e., ignorance, wrong teaching, etc.), the value of the symbol will be lost. However, absence of the symbol does not affect the heart condition (unless, of course, the symbol is rejected in disobedience after light has come). The symbol has value if done in faith, but the most important issue is the condition of the heart.
Let me quote a scripture from 1 John for our consideration. "This is He who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one" (1 John 5:6-8).
I think it is clear that when John refers to the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit in heaven, he is speaking of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He says that these are one. But what does he mean by the "three that bear witness on earth"? He says that Jesus came by water and blood. Where was Jesus introduced? Was it not at the baptism of John (water)? We have already said that the real baptism that Jesus underwent was at Calvary (in blood). This opened the way for Pentecost (a baptism in the Spirit). John says that these three (Jordan/water, Calvary/blood, and Pentecost/Spirit) agree as one. In other words, they are three parts of one baptism.
One other thing to notice here is that it is the Spirit who connects heaven and earth. As we have already emphasized, God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the realm of God, that we may have true fellowship with Him. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be spiritual and we cannot worship God as He has designed. Natural ability cannot help. It must be by the ability that only God can give, and Jesus died to give us that ability.