Wineskins Archive

December 7, 2013

Immersed By One Spirit (June 2012)

Filed under: — @ 1:32 pm and

By Al Maxey

You and I, as the children of our heavenly Father, have been “called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 Corinthians 1:9]. Therefore, the apostle Paul entreats this vast called out group of brethren to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” [Ephesians 4:1], “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [vs. 3].

For “Behold,” King David exclaimed, “how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity … for there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forevermore” [Psalm 133:1, 3]. If everlasting life is genuinely our goal, and not just a theological, soteriological and eschatological concept to which we give token religious lip-service, then we must be diligently and tirelessly laboring to achieve the reality for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the night of His betrayal and arrest — “May they all be one … that the world may believe” [John 17:21].

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling” [Ephesians 4:4]. Our Lord never called us to be squabbling siblings, feuding factionists, or sectarian schismatics. Rather, we were called to be a unified whole: One Body … a fully functional Family. If our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for unity among believers, and if He shed His precious blood to break down those barriers that divide men from one another, then He must have considered our oneness to be absolutely essential. Indeed, as already noted, He informed His disciples that whether or not the world believed would be conditioned upon whether or not we are unified.

So, how do we accomplish this? By forcing those around us to submit to our endless partisan perceptions and precepts? By an imposed uniformity of traditional practice? Are we unified only when everyone goosesteps in unison to the most vocal, vicious and narrow-minded among us? Is the key to harmony an iron fist?

The solution, of course, is partly in redirecting our focus. We must get our eyes off some elusive humanly-perceived pattern – derived largely from mere assumptions – and direct them toward the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a “unity of the Spirit” that will ultimately prove to be transforming, not this futile quest to force the Family of God into some form of our own devising. Our unity, therefore, is not based upon what we do, but rather upon who we are. And the force that brings this oneness to His universal Body is none other than the Holy Spirit.

I believe we too often discount the operation of the Spirit among the called out people of God. He has been given for a purpose, and far too many disciples, especially within our own faith-heritage (the Stone-Campbell Movement), have sought to utterly remove the Holy Spirit as the vital life-giving, unifying force within the Lord’s One Body. This is a grave error, and the result has been apparent to the world about us. Rather than believing, they merely mock. Who wants to be part of a dismembered, dysfunctional Body? Brethren, it is time once more to be indwelt, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul wrote to a group of believers who were struggling greatly with themselves, saying, “Just as there is one body that has many members, and all of the many members of the body are one body, so also is Christ; for we were all immersed into the one body by the one Spirit, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free men; and we all have been given to drink of one Spirit” [1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Hugo McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel]. Not a few biblical interpreters have taken the view that this passage is sacramental in nature. In other words, the baptism mentioned is water baptism and the drink has reference to the cup of the Lord’s Supper.

Frankly, I do not believe either “sacrament” is in view in this passage. Contextually, neither practice fits. Rather, Paul is speaking of the concept of unity within the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing about this reality. I really appreciate the manner in which Ken Taylor phrased this passage in his Living Bible — “Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit.” Paul is not talking about water baptism, nor is he speaking of the Lord’s Supper. He is talking about the power of the Spirit to unite us as beloved brethren in the universal One Family.

“Some have taken these thoughts as references to the Christian sacraments — water baptism and the Holy Communion. … It is doubtful that this is Paul’s primary intent. Rather, he is emphasizing <i>spiritual</i> baptism, and the communion of spiritual food and drink” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 264]. “The aorist forms argue against the view that this verse refers to the ongoing practice of water baptism and Communion, as though the physical acts would somehow make the Christians one body. If the physical rites were in view, present tense verbs would be expected” [ibid, p. 265]. John Gill, in his classic Exposition of the Entire Bible, in commenting on this passage, concurs: “This is to be understood not of water baptism.” Dr. Albert Barnes, in his monumental work Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, also agrees: “Many suppose that there is reference here to the ordinance of baptism by water.” However, Dr. Barnes notes, this seems clearly out of touch with the context of the passage. I completely concur.

I’m thoroughly convinced that the “baptism” mentioned in this passage is not some ritual or rite or sacrament, but is rather simply a use of the Greek word to convey the idea of complete “immersion” into something. That “something” into which the people of God are completely “plunged” is JESUS, and, by extension, His universal One Body. And the One who places us WITHIN HIM is none other than the Holy Spirit. Thus, by the agency of the Holy Spirit we are all completely plunged into (immersed into) the Lord Jesus, with all who are thus incorporated into Him constituting the One Body universal of our Lord on earth.

This passage, therefore, has nothing whatsoever to do with water baptism, but has everything to do with the power of the Holy Spirit to unite us with the Son of God, and in so doing to unite us with all others the world over who also have been added to Him. It is “the unity of the Spirit.” As the passage states, “we were all immersed into the one body BY the one Spirit.” This is an “immersion” effected BY the Holy Spirit, the purpose of which is to unite the many diverse parts into a unified, harmonious, functional whole body. Therefore, Paul immediately goes on to say that as a result of this spiritual “immersion,” there is no longer the distinction of Jew or Greek, slave or free, or any other such human perception of separateness. We are all now ONE by the action of the Spirit, who has incorporated (immersed) us all into Christ Jesus.

Dr. C. K. Barrett, who at the time he produced his commentary was a professor of theology at the University of Durham, points out that the intent of Paul in this passage was very practical in nature: he sought to illustrate the reality of their oneness, and that this was the work of the Holy Spirit. “The various national and social groups, and the dissident religious cliques at Corinth, have all entered into the unity of the Body of Christ, which they ought to express, and not deny, by means of their various gifts” [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 289].

Again quoting from the work of Dr. Albert Barnes — “it means, that by the agency of the Holy Spirit, they had all been suited, each to his appropriate place, to constitute the Body of Christ — the church. The Spirit had so endowed them as to fit them to constitute One Body, or to be united in one, and to perform the various duties which resulted from their union.” Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray, in his great study Baptism in the New Testament, observed, “Baptism into the one Body by the one Spirit overcomes the deepest religious and social divisions of mankind: in the Body there is no room for maintaining the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, and slaves and free; in Christ they are ‘one man’ [Galatians 3:28], and the one Spirit divides His gifts to all. The unity of the Body thus does not consist in uniformity of character and function, on the contrary Paul is about to explain how the very idea of a body presumes the necessity of members with different functions; but these differentiated functions are possible because the Body is a unity, informed by one life and inspired by one Spirit” [p. 171].

There are a couple of companion passages that I strongly believe provide us some additional insight into the thinking of the apostle Paul on this matter. “For as many of you as were immersed into Christ clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all united in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:27-28, Hugo McCord’s Translation]. Many translations render the final phrase: “For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is essentially the same message as that found in 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Paul is stressing our oneness: a unity of diverse brethren which comes from the immersion by the Holy Spirit of these diverse elements into spiritual union with Jesus Himself, thereby making of us One Body. When the Spirit plunges us into Him, we are thereafter fully “clothed” with Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated “clothed” is enduo, which signifies “to be arrayed, invested; to be clothed with.” The Analytical Greek Lexicon states, “to be invested with spiritual gifts, graces, or character” [p. 138]. When the Holy Spirit plunges us completely and intimately into Jesus, we are so utterly immersed in Him that we are daily thereafter increasingly transformed into His character, overwhelmed with His grace, and endowed with His gifts. It is this immersion of which Paul speaks, not> the rite of water baptism. It is an immersion performed by the Spirit of God that incorporates us into the Son and thus not only unites us with Jesus, but also with all others who have been thusly incorporated by the Spirit into the Son.

Therein is the basis of our unity and oneness! Paul tells us that when this is our reality, we, in effect, have cast off our “old man” and have “put on the new self” who is being transformed into the very image of the One into whom we have been immersed — “a renewal in which there’s no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” [Colossians 3:10-11]. It is an “immersion” we dare not deny, and dare not diminish, both of which I believe we do when we seek to restrict the meaning of this term in these passages to the rite of water baptism.

Does this perception in any way whatsoever diminish the place of water baptism as a visible demonstration of faith; as an evidence essential to our faith response? Of course not. I am in no way whatsoever suggesting such a thing. I am merely suggesting that perhaps we have misapplied the above passages in our zeal to prove a particular doctrine and practice that, frankly, if one is not careful, can be easily given improper emphasis and thereby abused.

Water baptism most definitely has its place in the process that leads us to and evidences our union with Christ Jesus. I fear, however, that too many for too long have elevated it to such a place of distinction that the work of the Spirit has been all but forgotten, if not replaced altogether. This is dangerous, and such a practice really needs to be challenged. There are many uses of the term “baptism” within the pages of the New Covenant writings. Thus, it is totally fallacious to assume they all have reference to water baptism.

Jesus, by way of a singular example, spoke of a baptism He would soon experience, and which many of His disciples would experience as well [Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50]. This was an “immersion” into suffering and death which had nothing to do with the rite of water baptism. Thus, let us always remember those three essential rules of biblical interpretation: context, context, context!

It can prove to be a life saver … literally!

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