“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you…”
See 1 Corinthians 1:14
“Who were you baptized by? Because I was baptized by Peter!”
“Oh yeah, so what! John was closer to Jesus, he said so himself, and I got baptized by John!”
“Ha! Peter and John are not as great as Paul! Paul is coming to town, and he will be the one to baptize me!”
The early church bickered over something as silly as “Who baptized whom?” The people in Corinth actually believed it mattered who dunked them in water. For this reason, Paul had some sharp rebukes:
“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Corinthians 1:14)
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (See 1 Corinthians 1:17)
Now don’t you think if water baptism saved a person, Paul would have never penned these words? He would’ve been crystal clear: “You need to be submerged in water to become a Christian.” Yet he never said such a thing. In fact, he said we receive the Spirit by hearing with faith, not once, but twice in his letters:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
“This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2)
Paul understood that going under water was a symbolic action of our spiritual death, and that it didn’t cause our spiritual death–which is required to be saved (see Romans 6:6, Colossians 3:3, Galatians 2:20). He knew that being placed into water was an expression of what actually happened to our spirit–which was placed into Christ’s Spirit, the millisecond we first believed He forgave us. Paul also recognized that coming up out of the water was a celebration of our new spirit being birthed to life!
Water baptism is a wonderful thing! Just the same as throwing a birthday party is a wonderful thing! But we are not being born again and again each year when we celebrate our physical birth, just the same as we are not being born again and again spiritually when we get in the hot tub at church or submerged in the river. These are beautiful events, but they aren’t causing anything supernatural to happen.
In 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul thanks God that he didn’t baptize anyone except for two people. He said Christ didn’t send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 1:17). So obviously, as Paul said to the Romans and Galatians, it is hearing the gospel which allows people the opportunity to be saved, not water submersion.
Regardless of this New Covenant truth, there’s a group of individuals who make the claim that if a person doesn’t get water baptized then they’re not a true Christian. As a result, some of their patrons get baptized multiple times in an attempt to someday feel something, but they never do. “This time I hope it works.”
Others have been led to believe that if they’d just been baptized “properly” they’d never sin again; or they need to be baptized again and again to wash away more sins. This is called “water baptism righteousness” and such a quasi-grace theology can never be retrofit into the gospel for a reason: it’s not the truth.
I don’t want to be misunderstood, I highly recommend all believers celebrate their new birth with a water baptism. I was saved since the 1980s but did not get baptized in water until 2015. It’s never too late to throw this birthday party. But be sure to know something paramount to this wet festivity:
No amount of liquid in all the universe could ever wash away our sins. Only our one-time realization of knowing Christ has forgiven us can accomplish this feat.
Water baptism is a celebration! Again, it’s like a birthday party! It’s a day of honor of looking back on when we were born, but it’s not the actual day we were born unless our day of water baptism was the day we first believed!
Hopefully you’ve not had to deal with water baptism legalists, but sadly many have. Grace-confused church leaders accuse people of being sub-Christians, or not Christians, if they aren’t publicly bathed in their holy water. So where is this confusion coming from? Like most legalism fungus on our planet, it grows from overlooking Scripture in context. A majority of poor scriptural exegesis can be blamed on contextual disorientation. This is why when we study our Bibles we should ask ourselves some simple questions to establish a frame of reference for each book:
“Who is this written to and why?”
“Who is the author, where is the author, and why?”
“Is the Old Covenant being referenced or the New? Or is this a comparison of both?”
“Is this passage written to a believer or non-believer–or Jews, Gentiles, or both?”
“Is this book recording the actions of the apostles and patriarchs, or is this doctrine according to the New Covenant?”
“What was going on in this particular church at this point in time in history?”
“Was Jesus bringing to light the hypocrisy of the Mosaic legalists, or comforting those who saw Him as Messiah?”
“Is this symbolism, Law, or advice for godly living?”
“Was Jesus just asked a Law-based question, or a grace-based question?”
And for this devotional:
“Is this referring to water baptism or spiritual baptism?”
Just the same as confusing Moses’ commandments with Jesus’ commandments–that is, each time we see the word commandment in the Bible–we can easily do the same with the word baptize. Water is not always the context. Sometimes the passage is about the actual Spirit of God.
But first, let’s back up and define baptism. The word baptize means: to place inside of. With the true comprehension we can decipher whether each passage in the Bible is describing a person’s physical being or spiritual being:
Unfortunately Satan has added even more confusion to baptism in our churches. Some divisions–*ahem* I mean, some denominations make the claim that spiritual baptism happens twice; as if God couldn’t get it right the first time, or that we must speak in tongues to “achieve it.” Yet Paul said, “Not all speak in tongues, do they?” (See 1 Corinthians 12:30).
Don’t you think that if Paul believed this spiritual gift was required for every Christian he would have written an entire epistle on just tongues? I sure do. But instead, he downplays speaking in tongues, even saying prophecy is much greater of a gift (see 1 Corinthians 14:5). So why isn’t this group of people teaching that prophecy is required for a supposed “second baptism” rather than tongues?…That rhetorical question answers itself.
Has tongues and prophecy gone away? No. None of the gifts have disappeared, they’ve simply been mistaught as to what they really are. I’ll explain, but first, to test whether or not a person finds their identity in Christ alone–rather than a gift–simply question them over the subject of tongues and/or prophecy. Most who find their worth in spiritual gifts and church status will become enraged. Some will even threaten you with hell, as if they have the power to send you there. That, or they’ll revert to insults and belittlements. Some will even laugh at you because they have no true defense based on Scripture being read in context. Yet others choose a passive-aggressive demeanor or the country club silent treatment because they are “more holy” than you and their gifts “prove” that.
“So be gone. You’re not welcomed here.” They’ll say with a chuckle. “I’m not having a Bible conversation with you. Don’t you know who I am? I’m chosen and the elders have verified that.”
But this is exactly what adding to the gospel does. Our egos get punched in the mouth and our feelings get hurt, so we revert into defense-mode. Saltiness is then the flavor of choice, as we don’t know what to say or do. When the Cross is presented as all that’s needed, legalistic demons go haywire, pestering the most eccentrically-minded men and women of our churches. I say this with kindness: a supposed first baptism and then second baptism makes no sense at all according to the Bible. Paul told the Romans if they don’t have the Spirit of Christ then they don’t even belong to Him. Once is enough, just look:
“And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (See Romans 8:9)
Is this not clear? How are we going to be saved once without His Spirit? C’mon. God is not giving us His Spirit in portions, we receive His Spirit instantaneously in full from the moment of belief in Christ’s ability to forgive us. We don’t achieve His Spirit by way of foreign language speaking, which is exactly what tongues is, according to Acts 2:6-11. Biblical exposition of this gift easily reveals the truth of tongues: speaking a language from a country in which we do not naturally know. Why? So foreign people can hear the gospel in their native tongue and then believe in Jesus so they can be saved.
This gift doesn’t cause the Spirit to join us, but instead is a sign He has joined us. That is, if you’ve received this particular gift of foreign language speaking–but not all do (see 1 Corinthians 12:30). What gift do we all receive evenly? Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13, Romans 5:5). Expressing this love in many different facets is the true will of God (see John 15:17, Galatians 5:22-23). Not tongues, not prophecy–nor other gifts which are many and diverse but love.
Further, foreign language speaking–tongues–is a sign to the unbeliever and not the believer (see 1 Corinthians 14:22). This is why it’s not necessary for salvation or a “second baptism” of the Spirit. Just think about it. For those who hear tongues–so that they can be saved by hearing–some of them don’t even have a tongue or a voice-box. Will God not give His Spirit to them if they believe, even though they can’t speak? Of course He will! The tongues law has got to go!
So where are certain people getting this theology? A second baptism by way of tongues? Unfortunately, through poor interpretation of biblical text. Let’s look at the passage they’re using. Luke records an event in the book of Acts, chapter 19, which involves baptism and speaking in tongues. Please pay close attention to what I’ve underlined for context:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied. (Acts 19:1-3)
Let’s stop right there for a moment. Whose disciples were these? John the Baptist’s not Jesus’. Do you see it? They had no clue who Jesus was, so they had no clue who the Holy Spirit was. John’s baptism was according to the Law, Jesus’ was according to the Spirit. They had not even heard about Messiah and were following John (remember, Paul said it is by hearing with faith we receive Him).
These disciples of John had only been taught Mosaic Law, which was John the Baptist’s entire ministry and not Jesus’ (see Mark 1:4, John 3:30). These people were not Christians–yet. John preached 613 Thou Shalts, which were handed down from Moses, including the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 4:2). Jesus preached two commandments, believe and love (see John 13:34-35, 1 John 3:23).
Now, if you see these people as Christians–rather than followers of John the Baptist–the error of a second baptism definitely seems plausible. However, they were about to hear of the Christ whom John prophesied about, then they’d believe, then a celebration of water baptism happens. Let’s continue:
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:4-6)
Don’t forget, John’s water baptism before the Cross was a symbol of behavior and attitude repentance–according to Moses’ Law infractions–which is the exact baptism they had heard of and not the baptism of the Spirit. They were now being informed about Pentecost, about the Spirit’s baptism which was available for everyone. This is why Paul asked this very question and then went on to explain they have to believe in Jesus now and Moses no more. They had to repent of unbelief in Christ in order to receive His very Spirit. Once they did–which was believe first–they were baptized in water to celebrate after.
I understand some questions might be posed to what I’m saying, “Matt, but what about the part of this passage when Paul placed his hands on them? Why would he do such a thing? And do I need to lay my hands on people so they can receive the Spirit?”
To answer that, I’ll ask some questions too. What if–and this sounds a little stupid–what if Paul didn’t have hands? Or arms? Would they not have received the Holy Spirit? If Paul’s two hands had some magical power, why didn’t he just go down the city street touching people and turning them into Christians?
Do you see the silly rationale of touching someone so they can “take possession of” the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Maybe–and I’m still being facetious here–after having hands laid on them, they’d fly across the room and squiggle on the floor in order to “get” the most of Him. Or maybe, week after week they’d need to go find Paul so he can zap them again so they can receive the Spirit again because they lost fellowship? With such super powers, why doesn’t Paul touch a tree and make it born again, and their family dog too while he’s at it?
I jest, but this is a real demonic rabbit trail our minds can go down when we witness non-gospel stuff passed down from our relatives, or assume a recorded event in Acts is doctrine for salvation. Truth be told, if we’re going to do that, why stop at tongues as proof of salvation? Why not require someone to have a flame above their heads too? (See Acts 2:3). I mean, this happened to the apostles, so why not teach someone “how” to do this at flame school? Maybe have an online course or go deeper into training by way of a cell group? But no, we cherry-pick a single gift and then run off with it like a madman while lying to people about it.
Even more, if Acts is doctrine rather than recorded actions, why aren’t churches littered with dead bodies when the plate gets passed around for tithing on Sunday? Lying about money should be causing people to drop dead (see Acts 5:1-11).
We have many epistles loaded with doctrine. Acts is just that: “Acts of the apostles.”
Just like with the Law of Moses, we, as New Covenant believers, like to use Acts as a doctrine buffet line. We take what we like and leave what we don’t, then we get mad when we’re called out on stuff. The reality is, the apostles were getting their theology in order all throughout this book, just the same as we do, when we first begin to understand the power of the Cross. I still email and text my colleagues, in regard to the New Covenant, as I read through Scripture. Like the apostles were doing, I want to be sure we’re all on the same page about the message. Every single one of us is learning and growing, it’s a process in our minds. As the original group of Christians went through the same maturing phase as you and I, Luke wrote it down in Acts as Paul informed him of what had happened. These are recorded events, a history book–very valuable, but not doctrine. Should it be in the Bible? Yes! But again, we must read it in context for what it is.
If we want to know what the apostles truly figured out after Acts, we have many letters to subsequently go by. James, John, Peter, Paul, Jude–read what they wrote to the churches for what the Spirit taught them over time. Looking to Acts for doctrine would be the same as looking to brand new Christians for doctrine. Maturation phases are vital to expressing the truth of the New Covenant clearly.
Let’s go back to tongues for a moment. I need to emphasize that tongues is an evangelistic gift of speaking foreign languages so unbelievers can hear and believe. Why do you think the gospel was able to spread so quickly? Paul was an apostle to foreign language speaking people–we Gentiles–this is why he spoke in tongues more than anyone else (see 1 Corinthians 14:18). He went from town to town preaching in the local language about Jesus.
If we look up tongues in Acts 2:6-11, it’s easy to see that human dialect in which we do not naturally know is the context. Tongues is not repeated syllable babble or tick-tock-bing-bock talk meant to make us look cool. Even more, God doesn’t need to hear us pray in tongues because He knows all languages; and not once are New Covenant believers instructed to pray in tongues privately. Tongues is actual words spoken in Spanish, German, Russian, English, Vietnamese–any language of this planet. Paul had to put a reign on the latest episode of Tongues Gone Wild in 1 Corinthians 14 as he said:
“Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” (See 1 Corinthians 14:9)
If you read this entire chapter, even back then, this spiritual gift was being misconstrued in church. Yes, speaking in tongues is a real supernatural gift, but it is only for non-native-language-speaking guests to hear their language. When brother Bob randomly barks nonsensical stuff in the middle of service, that isn’t tongues. Even more, someone supposedly interpreting brother Bob’s chatter, that isn’t interpretations of tongues.
With all due respect to brother Bob and his interpreter, this is a generational, passed-down incorrect learned behavior, based on bad Bible studies. Those who speak tongues speak foreign languages they’ve never known. Those who interpret tongues, speak that actual foreign language, or they have the gift of translating it into your language so you can understand it. Read all of 1 Corinthians 14 and this is simple to see. For an even deeper look into the gift of tongues, check out The Truth About Speaking in Tongues from my book 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3.
I want to touch up on one more thing about laying hands on others. Laying our hands on someone is simply laying our hands on someone. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. I know that when I lay my hands on someone and pray for them, or hug them, or put my hand on their shoulder, it’s a comforting thing. It’s not me transferring any power. Instead, I’m relaying without words, “I’m here with you.”
What about prophecy? These men in Acts 19 also prophesied after receiving the Spirit of Christ. Great! But what is prophecy? Old Covenant prophecy foretold the future–the future about the coming Messiah. Now that Christ is here, future-telling is not necessary from anyone because Jesus coming to earth has been completed. His first trip, anyway.
The author of Hebrews explains how we no longer need people to prophesy as they did according to the Old Covenant:
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
New Covenant prophecy is not crystal-ball reading or scanning the crowd and pointing people out. It’s simply edification, encouragement, and consolation. It is building others up with our words!
The Corinthians were educated on this topic by Paul:
“But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” (1 Corinthians 14:3)
Encouraging people is a gift! Being a shoulder to cry on is a gift! Empathy is a gift! This is New Covenant prophecy! I understand these words will chop off the legs of legalistic gift demons galore, and that is my intent. Like a 50-cal on the battlefield, the armies of hell stand no chance when we begin to decipher what supernatural gifts actually are. The forces of hell want us to define ourselves by our gifts, but God wants us to define ourselves as His children.
Many will stand up and walk out on these truths of tongues and prophecy while absolutely fuming because my words threaten who they think they are. They’ve been admired way too many times over these gifts, so how dare I inform them that these gifts don’t define them? But once they burn out on how amazing their gift is they too will fall off into the chasm of God’s bottomless grace. Hopefully, anyway.
Friend, I speak from experience as I too used to see my gifts of writing and communication as my true identity. When someone’s opinion threatened this I became enraged or depressed. Now I see opinions as simply opinions rather than a hazard to who I really am. It’s fine what others think, I think stuff too. As a result of having my worth now centered on Christ alone I can actually respond to poor opinions of me with gentleness and respect, or not say anything at all because I’m still secure.
This is exactly why Jesus wants to teach us who we truly are. Nobody can threaten our identity when we know our identity.
This brings us around the horn to understanding how baptism saves us, and also, how we can comprehend the gifts some of us receive after spiritual baptism. Not everyone receives the same gifts and that’s okay. Receiving the Spirit is what’s most important. So get water baptized if you haven’t and celebrate your supernatural birthday! But don’t get baptized in water to earn anything from God. That’s impossible.
I want to look at two last rebuttals in regard to water baptism for salvation because I know someone will email me if I leave this out. In John 3, Jesus explains to a religious man how we are born first by way of the water sac in our mother, and then second our spirits are reborn by the Spirit. Some will attempt to use this passage as evidence of Jesus saying we need to be water baptized but that’s not the context at all.
When Jesus was speaking of being born of water and spirit, Nicodemus couldn’t fathom such a thought. This is why he asked how a person could possibly be born from their mother a second time. Mom. Momma. Mother. This is the water Jesus was talking about being born from–her womb. He wasn’t referring to our bodies being dunked in a water hole or an oversized bathtub behind glass at church.
For water and spirit, Christ is explaining our one-time physical birth and then our second spiritual birth:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
Do you see the difference? Flesh is water–the embryonic pouch we live in for nine months. When we come out of Mom this has happened (Flesh gives birth to flesh). Our second birth is a supernatural birth which comes by way of believing Jesus for forgiveness. Like wind blowing, you can’t see this when it happens (Spirit gives birth to spirit).
This information authenticates that water baptism is not necessary for salvation, but instead, being reborn in spirit by faith is necessary. I understand this will anger some because of what they’ve been taught–this is not my intent. Yet, I’ll still hear, “Matt, you are lying! You will answer for this and rightly burn in hell!”
This person’s rude quote I’m presenting is no exaggerating straw-man. Those actual words have been messaged to me many times over this subject. Do you see how infuriating such a matter can be for those who don’t understand the power of the Cross? Very. Like uncaged birds, scruples and stability fly out the window as they yell, “Even Jesus Himself was baptized! It is required for the forgiveness of sins!”
Friend, I’m sorry, but Jesus had no sin to be forgiven of. He was perfect in every way. The contextual reason for Jesus being baptized was because it was foretold about in Scripture as a part of the Law needing to be fulfilled. Sure, His baptism was a shadow of what was to come for all of us after the Cross; but, He said it was “fitting” that His own baptism be done in order to fulfill all Jewish prophecies pointing to His righteousness:
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (See Matthew 3:15)
“But wasn’t Jesus already righteous?” you might ask. Absolutely, I’d answer. Therefore, He was fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law for those under the Law, Israel. The Jewish race. He had to do this before He went to the Cross so He could redeem those under the curse of the Law (see Galatians 3:10,13, 4:4-5).
Let’s look at one last passage about water baptism in which some will say is biblical data for salvation requirement, 1 Peter 3:20 and 21:
“to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ“
Peter uses the example–the symbolism–of the water which flooded the earth in the time of Noah as the symbol of the Holy Spirit flooding the earth after the Cross. It saved Noah and his family because they were safe in the ark, just the same as the Spirit now saves us because we are safe in Christ. Do you see that? However, Peter quickly attempts to clear up what he’s just penned. He informs his audience that he isn’t referring to being outwardly cleaned by water for salvation–as in water baptism. Interrupting his own sentence to emphatically insert, “not the removal of dirt from the body,” making sure they understand salvation comes only “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Peter knew full well that he could dunk an unbeliever in water for twelve straight hours while yelling, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” and such a person would never receive the Spirit of Jesus. It is by grace we are saved, through faith. There’s nothing we can do, or not do, to earn our saving. It’s a free gift:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
So today, my friends, know this: There is currently a person in heaven who lived a horrendous life of crime, yet he never confessed a single sin to a priest, he never took communion, nor paid alms. This person was never prayed over by church leaders and doused with oil, he never spoke in tongues, he never prophesied nor cast out a single demon. This individual also did not walk an isle. He didn’t lay anything at the altar. He never raised his hand in the crowd while others had their heads bowed and eyes closed. Nor did he do mission trips or tithe to the penny in order to be blessed by God more abundantly. Lastly, this person was never baptized into water, but right now, this moment, he’s enjoying paradise with Jesus. The thief who hung on his own cross next to the Cross, what did he do to be saved?
He became obedient from the heart.
He was reborn in spirit by a one-time faith.
He believed Jesus was innocent and that he was not.
This is what saves.
If you’ve not done so, please believe today. Be saved my friend. Believe Jesus.
(See Luke 23:39-43, Romans 6:17, Hebrews 7:25, 10:10)
A prayer for you: Hi Dad. I’ve really enjoyed writing this devotional over the past few mornings. As I’ve sat here for hours, it felt like minutes. This special time of the day in which I spend writing is such a wonderful gift you’ve given me to enjoy. I really DO enjoy it! Thank you so much! And thank you for opening up my mind to the truth of water baptism, tongues, and prophecy. Thank you for this relief in my mind. Please teach me more about how to express these truths in an easy, graceful way. I don’t want to come across as insensitive to those who are stuck in this type of legalism, so please do this through me. I know you will. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For some, what they’ve just read has helped them. But for others, it might have angered them. For the latter, please teach them that faith always comes first, before anything else, to be saved. In regard to water baptism, there’s an account in Acts 8:36 about an eunuch who had just believed in Jesus and then came upon some water. He was so excited AFTER believing, he said to Philip, “What prevents me from being baptized?” and then Philip did just that! Nothing prevented him because he was saved! He wanted to celebrate! Baptism, both physically and spiritually, is a wonderful thing to commemorate! We thank you for both! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Get your copy here!