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Baptised by the Spirit

January 2004 | by Stan Evers

There are different views concerning baptism in the Spirit, even among Reformed Christians. Some see this baptism as synonymous with conversion, while others interpret the baptism in the Spirit as a subsequent experience, giving assurance of salvation and power for service.

The key text in this debate is 1 Corinthians 12:13: ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit’ (NKJV).It is my aim in this article to examine this disputed text.

Every believer

Paul wrote these words to all the believers at Corinth. Notice the twice-used word all: ‘all baptised … all made to drink’. Who are the ‘all’ in this text? They are all the members of the church at Corinth – not just some of them.

These believers are described in 1 Corinthians 1:2: ‘To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours’.

These words are an excellent definition of every Christian, whether living in the first century or the twenty-first. Furthermore, it seems clear that Paul expected other churches to read his letter, because it is also addressed to ‘all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord’.

In God’s sight the Corinthian believers were already ‘sanctified’ and therefore ‘saints’ (1:2). Yet they were divided into factions and even allowed a believer guilty of incest to remain in membership!

The conduct of the Corinthians at the Lord’s Supper was a disgrace. Believers squabbled like children over spiritual gifts. Some even denied a physical resurrection of the body at Christ’s return.

Despite this, Paul still calls them ‘saints’, and commands them to repent and live up to their status as those set apart for God’s glory (see 1 Corinthians 6:11, 20).

Baptised

Sadly, too many of the believers in Corinth were ‘unsaintly saints’ and in need of a strong rebuke from the inspired apostle. Nevertheless, every true believer in the Corinthian church had ‘by the one Spirit’ been ‘baptised into one body’ and ‘made to drink into one Spirit’.

Clearly, in 1 Corinthians12:13, the apostle was not writing about an experience after conversion to lift the Christian to a realm of victory over sin and never-ending joy.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 12:3, we have a further description of these believers at Corinth: ‘no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’.

This implies that all who are ‘born of the Spirit’ will also confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of their lives. As such, he demands our absolute obedience.

Sadly, some of the Corinthians were not submitting to Christ’s Lordship in their lives and in the church. Nevertheless, Paul says that even these rebellious Christians had been incorporated into Christ’s body ‘by one Spirit’.

Furthermore, the word ‘all’ in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is amplified by the statement, ‘whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free’. These four terms would cover every person in the Roman Empire.

United

Every Christian, therefore, whatever his or her status in society, is ‘by one Spirit … baptised into one body’. The baptism in the Spirit unites believers – racial and social distinctions are no longer important in the church of Jesus Christ.

The parenthesis – ‘whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free’ – forms a link with Joel 2:28-32, the prophecy (fulfilled on the day of Pentecost) that the Spirit would come upon ‘all flesh’ (Acts 2:17-21).

The theme of 1 Corinthians 12, therefore, is clearly the unity of the church, the body of Christ; hence, the repeated use of the word ‘same’ in verses 4-11. The one triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – gives gifts to Christ’s one body, the church.

There are different ministries and various gifts, but there is only one Holy Spirit and only one body (vv. 4-12). We also notice that Paul uses the word ‘one’six times in two verses (vv. 12-13).

The apostle is at pains to teach these divided Corinthians that there is no elite within Christ’s body. Every believer has been baptised in, and has, the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s picture in verses 14-27, of the church as a body consisting of many essential parts, also highlights the twin themes of unity and diversity.

It is this concept of the one body of Christ that distinguishes the New Testament church from the Old Testament church.

Filled with the Spirit

Furthermore, Paul’s words are a statement of fact. Look carefully at what he says: ‘We were all baptised … have all been made to drink’. The apostle points back to a once-for-all event in the past; he does not command the Corinthians to seek an experience in the present.

At the time of conversion, each individual Corinthian believer was ‘baptised into one body’ and ‘ made to drink into one Spirit’ (to ‘drink’ suggests a living experience of the Spirit). John Stott comments: ‘The being baptised and the drinking are clearly equivalent expressions’.

The point has often been rightly made that there is no command in the New Testament to seek the baptism in the Spirit because the Holy Spirit baptises us into the body of Christ at conversion.

Nevertheless, we should not overlook the command in Ephesians 5:18: ‘Be filled with the Spirit’. The context of this command reveals that the Spirit-filled life leads to practical godliness in the local church, the family and the workplace. It also enables us to put on our God-given armour, that we might stand firm against the devil and his dark forces.

Which baptism?

Paul writes ‘by one baptism we were all baptised’,but which baptism does he mean? Paul’s words echo John the Baptist’s prediction: ‘I indeed baptise you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3:16).

We learn from John’s words that there is a distinction between water baptism and Spirit baptism. The Spirit baptism places us into Christ’s body, the church. Water baptism is a public declaration that we are in Christ’s body.

One body

Paul’s words, then, are about becoming part of Christ’s body, his church. Our text tells us two facts about Christ’s body. Firstly, it refers to the formation of the body: ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body’.

We are not Christians if we are not members of Christ’s body. Baptism by the Spirit places us in the body of Christ, and in so doing actually creates and builds the one body, or church.

If there were more than one Spirit baptism, there would be more than one church, and Paul’s whole point about unity would be destroyed. ‘He is using the doctrine of baptism with the Spirit to show the unity of all believers in the Body’ (John MacArthur).

To divide off from the body an imagined spiritual elite, who have what the rest do not, is to violate Paul’s teaching in this verse.

Secondly, the text tells us about the filling of the body – we ‘have all been made to drink into one Spirit’.Baptism in the Spirit not only places us into Christ’s body – it also places the Holy Spirit in us!

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit in him for ever, according to the teaching of both Christ and Paul: ‘I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may abide with you for ever’ (John 14:16); and, ‘if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his’ (Romans 8:9).

Drinking

The word ‘drink’ echoes Jesus’ own words in John 7:38-39. ‘The picture is that of desperately thirsty people who are given water and whose lives are saved. Paul stresses that the survivors share their restored life and that the church is essentially one because every member is indwelt by the Spirit’ (Peter Naylor).

Are we thirsty to know more of the power and presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives?

What is our conclusion? Just as baptism in water ideally takes place at the beginning of the Christian life, so baptism in the Holy Spirit is the first stage of our conversion to God – it puts us into the spiritual body of Christ, the church.

It is through the baptism in the Spirit that Christians ‘know that they belong to Christ and to the saints’ (Naylor).