By Blood And Water
The True Story and Meaning of Christian Baptism
PART 3 - Reality Baptism From The Tree Of Christ
So far, we have studied the role of water alongside blood in Old Testament ritual and sacrifice. We have also watched the intensified anointed use of that water in the ministry of John the Baptist, a Levite of the Old Covenant priesthood. Now, we want to trace the fulfilment of the entire Old Covenant ministry of water together with blood through the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world.
The central key to understanding this fulfilment is the book of Hebrews together with the testimony of the Apostle John. In consort, these writers will conclusively show us that in fulfilling all that was foreshadowed by the Old Covenant, Christ's sacrifice fulfilled not only what pertained to blood, but to water as well. In fulfilling in His own body all that natural water signified up through John, he nullified forever the possibility that natural water could play any part in removing sin.
IX. Blood and Water in the Sacrifice of Christ
Hebrews plainly tells us that no sacrifice—ie, no Old Covenant practice involving natural blood and/or water—can purify the conscience. When it comes to water, the writer notes that at best, Old Testament baptism was able to wash the physical body:
9:13 … The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer [in purified water] sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh…
From here he says the sacrifice of Messiah's own body is what alone cleanses our hearts from sin:
9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 10:5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, he says, "Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure.
This emphasis on Christ's body opens us to the question: "Of what did Messiah's body consist? Specifically, did Messiah's bodily sacrifice consist only of blood?"
The apostle John gives us this startling answer: No! Listen to his testimony:
6 This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. I John 5
Not only have we overlooked the role of water in Old Testament sacrifice, but in the Lord's sacrifice as well. This blindness to the water of the Lord's body is at the heart of the church's problem concerning the efficacy of water baptism. Now watch:
When we put the testimony of Hebrews about Christ's body together with John's testimony, we see that it is not just the Lord's blood that cleanses us, but also His bodily water. We are not only covered by His blood, but we are baptized in His bodily water!
The joining of the witness of Hebrews and John opens us now to perceive the full significance behind the final spearing of Jesus on the cross:
34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. John 19
Put together, we see beyond all doubt: The shedding of the Lord's bodily water on the cross is the Reality Baptism that cleanses our hearts and by which we realize the literal once-for-all forgiveness of sins. The pouring out of Christ's own water fulfills all that the Mosaic washings up through John's baptism signified.
X. Hebrews and Reality Baptism
The Book of Hebrews has been entirely overlooked in our understanding of water baptism. Yet it is impossible to fully understand baptism apart from it. The purpose of Hebrews is to relate Old Covenant shadows to the Realities of the New Covenant in Christ.
The writer makes clear that nothing in the sacrificial system had meaning except that it pointed to the actual body of the Messiah. What we must see is that this includes water. We need to grasp that the only reason Old Covenant sacrifice used water at all is because it is found in Messiah's own body as part of His offering for our sins.
In our opening study, we recall how Old Covenant water was specifically used to remove impurities of sin:
9 "the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin." Numbers 19
Amazingly, in his opening paragraph, the writer of Hebrews ties the Lord's body directly to the water of purification in Numbers.
1:3 When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Having opened his book with this connection, it becomes self-evident that everything the writer has to say about the Lord's sacrifice is related not just to His blood, but to His bodily water as well. Based on this, the rest of his case regarding Messiah's body takes on critical significance for water baptism. Read carefully now, noting the interpolations regarding water:
10:5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering [of blood and baptisms] you have not desired, but a body [of blood and water] you have prepared for me; 6 in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin [of blood and water] you have taken no pleasure.
7 "Then I said, `Behold, I have come… to do your will [by blood and water], O God.' " 9 [When] He said, "Behold, I have come to do your will," He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the [blood and water] offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
So, just as Old Covenant sacrifice involved cleansing by blood and water, Messiah likewise offered Himself by His own blood and His own water for forgiveness of sins and cleansing of the conscience. But the writer does not stop there:
10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit … 16 … then says, 17 "and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin [by blood sacrifice or water baptism].
Here the writer tells us that no water rite after the fact of Messiah's sacrifice can play a part in forgiving sin any more than one before the fact. No baptism before or after Messiah's baptizing sacrifice can purify from sin. This must include Apostles Baptism which follows Messiah's sacrifice (to be discussed.)
The writer then closes his case:
10:19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood [and water] of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
No natural water on earth could possibly meet the standard of this pure water!—no Old Covenant water rite—not even John's—nor any subsequent application of water by any man. The context shows that the only water referenced here is the water out of the Lord's flesh. It is our baptism into this water together with our covering by His blood that effects the cleansing, washing, bathing and sprinkling away of our sins!
Once we understand the full Old Covenant portrayal of water and blood together, how it is fulfilled in the reality of Divine Blood and Water mingled in the Lord's bodily sacrifice, and how the Lord's bodily Water is the sole source of heart purification for all time, then it is clear:
The Book of Hebrews settles once and for all the theological issue regarding the spiritual efficacy of natural water baptism.
XI. New Testament Commentary on Reality Baptism
By relating Messiah's bodily sacrifice to Old Testament baptism, Hebrews provides us the one true doctrinal foundation for understanding the nature and essence of Christian baptism. The apostles' later general use of the terms "baptism", "water", "washing," "cleansing" and "purifying" in their letters is based on this foundation.
In New Covenant Reality, almost all reference to these terms is with exclusive or primary regard to the mystical Water of Messiah's Body and its spiritual effect. Reference to natural water is nearly always incidental and adjunct to this—even in the Lord's recommissioning of water baptism (as we shall see later.)
And why not? Such was after all the Lord's way with words. Jesus took over many natural terms and assigned mystical and spirit-metaphorical definitions to them. The word "temple" is a good example of this. So is the word "cross." The Lord converted these words to speak mainly of spiritual reality. The same is true of baptism.
Using the New Testament mind of Christ to understand the New Testament scriptures, we come to see in them a beautiful uncomplicated tapestry concerning the Real New Covenant Baptism that washes away sin.
XII. The Five Components of Baptism
To better understand the nature of Christ's Reality baptism compared to all other baptisms, it helps to study baptism by its components. All baptism has five components: 1) a host who conducts the baptism, 2) a candidate who submits to the baptism, 3) an element into/with which the candidate is baptized, 4) a mode (method) by which the baptism is carried out and 5) an effect resulting from the baptism.
Under the Old Covenant, the host of a baptism was a human priest or Israelite. The candidate was also a priest or Israelite (or Gentile convert) who yielded his body for receiving the baptism. The element of baptism was natural water. The mode was either immersion or sprinkling. And the effect was ceremonial cleansing from sin.
Under John's baptism, the host of baptism was John or one of his disciples. The candidate was the repentant Israelite yielding his body for baptism. The element was again natural water. The mode was (self-) immersion. And the effect was witness to readiness to receive cleansing from sin by Messiah with the forming of a body of disciples around the repentance message.
Now—in Reality Baptism—the host conducting the baptism is the Spirit of Christ. It is a baptism performed by God Himself. The candidate is the believer in Christ who submits his heart to the Spirit to receive the baptism. The element of baptism is the Water of Christ's body, described in a variety of ways. The mode of baptism is faith. And the effect of baptism is actual forgiveness of sin, cleansing of conscience and eternal life through reborn spiritual identity.
Based on the testimony of Hebrews, the complete interwoven montage of New Testament teaching draws out the fullness of Reality Baptism's five components. Different passages highlight particular components. But together, they reveal the whole of the Spirit's mind.
Let's turn then to see the various descriptions of Reality Baptism in the apostles' writings, highlighting the different components as they appear.
[—Please note, the next two sections are highly detailed, appealing only to students seeking a full explanation of these things. If you wish to avoid the detail, you may skip these sections to pick up the story line with the commissioning of Apostles Baptism in Part IV.]
XIII. Paul's Description
Outside of Hebrews, Paul gives the most complete summary description of Reality Baptism. His discussions embrace all the components. Once we realize the mystical truth of baptism into the Lord's bodily Water, Paul's teachings on baptism "into Christ" and "into Christ's death" become plain:
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For…we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death… Romans 6
11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, …12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Colossians 2
- The Element
Paul's teaching focuses on the element, so let's start there.
This baptism "into Christ" and "into His death" is Reality Baptism into the Water that flowed from the Lord's side. In water baptism, we are baptized into water. But here, the element of baptism is Christ Himself and His death.
The Holy Spirit through Paul is not saying—as sometimes superficially interpreted—that our spiritual entry into Christ is the effect of being physically water baptized. The Holy Spirit is describing the Lord's death as the element itself into which we are baptized, then describes the intended result ("so we too might walk in newness of life.")
The key word here is "into." Spiritually understood, what we are baptized into is the actual element of baptism. (Had the Spirit meant that baptism into Christ is the result of water baptism, he would have had Paul say, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized have been baptized into Christ?" The rest of the testimony bears this out…)
- The Candidate
Paul is writing to Christian believers. So there's no question who the candidate is. But note that he speaks to us regarding our spirits, our hearts, our inner being. He is speaking to that part of us that has nothing to do with physical origin in race: "neither Jew nor Greek."
So he is not talking about our bodies. If he is not talking about our physical bodies, neither can he be talking about natural water. Natural water can only baptize physical bodies. It cannot baptize the heart. This then cannot be about natural water and physical bodies.
- The Host
Note how Paul identifies and equates baptism with "circumcision made without hands." Remember that in the final days of the Old Covenant, the performing of circumcision and water baptism together on gentile converts produced the combined concept of cleansed new Jewish identity, giving baptism and circumcision joint meaning. This is why Paul equates them.
But he says that New Testament circumcision is one without hands. Because he's speaking of circumcision and baptism in parallel, what he says about the one he is also saying about the other. Like circumcision, like baptism. The baptism therefore is also conducted "without hands."
See how this baptism into His death is "with Him." Not only does this again show we are talking about the Water at Calvary, but it is speaking of a baptism out of present time. No time-bound mortal apostle can baptize anyone outside of his own present time. Yet this baptism crosses all time. As Christ was slain "from the foundation of the world," and we were buried with Him, so too were we baptized "from the foundation of the world."
So, this baptism is not hosted by any human hand. It is baptism by God, not man.
- The Effect
Since this circumcision and baptism are spiritual, this baptism's effect is spiritual also. Paul describes the effect thusly: "you were raised up with him…so we too might walk in newness of life." Eternal life through spiritual conversion is the effect of Reality Baptism.
- The Mode
Finally, Paul notes that this baptism is received by the believer "through faith." It is not received by some physical action regarding a certain mode (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) of administrating natural water. Rather, we believe into it! We could say we are faithed into it.**********
All told, Paul is describing a baptism of the heart that crosses all time in which we are immersed by God through faith into the Water shed out at Christ's death, resulting in eternal life. This is New Covenant Reality Baptism.
XIV. Other New Testament Descriptions of the Five Components
From here, we can see the five components of Reality Baptism woven into other parts of the New Testament.
- 1. Christ's Water: The Element
The rest of the New Testament gives special attention to the element of Reality Baptism, which Hebrews has shown to be the Water of Christ's Body. But it does so using other related descriptions for that water. We've already seen in Paul's overall description his reference "into Christ" and "into His Death" as the actual Water of our baptism. Here now are other ways Christ's Water is described:
- The Water of the Word
In Ephesians, Paul refers to the mystical Water of Calvary as "the Water of the Word."
5:25 … Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.
There is no clearer single statement of Reality Baptism than this. This phrase "water with (or in) the word" is directly traceable to the Water that flowed from the Lord's side. That's because the Lord Jesus is Himself the Word of God (John 1). See how Paul sources this washing/baptism directly out of the Lord's "giving Himself up" on the cross. We know which water came from that site!
In turn, everywhere the Word of God is mentioned as a cleansing agent, it becomes directly traceable to the Water of Christ's Body poured out for us. Consider all these:
3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." John 15
17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." John 17
4 For everything created by God is good … 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. I Timothy 4
Even the Book of Revelation relates the Lord's voice (hence His Word) to water:
1:15 His feet were like burnished bronze, … and His voice was like the sound of many waters.
So it is that New Covenant Reality baptism is baptism into the Water of the Lord's Word, the same Water that flowed from Him, He being the Word.
- The Water of His Name
9 "…Baptizing them in[to] the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" Matthew 28
This phrase comes directly from the Lord's recommissioning of John's water baptism to be carried out by the apostles. We'll study this more in the next section. Here, it is just to point out that the water baptism to be externally performed "in His name" was superimposed on another more Real Internal Baptism into His Name.
The Greek word for in here also means into. To understand the importance of this subtle distinction, we have to also understand that the Greek word for baptize does not merely mean "to immerse," but "to saturate" [literally, to "pickle." See the Appendix on the meaning of the Greek word for baptism.]
What we actually have here then is a dual command—one, to water-submerge the body in (on behalf of) the Name of the Lord; two—to saturate the inner man into the Name of the Lord itself.
This internal Saturation was not achievable by the hands of the apostles (inasmuch as water cannot pickle the body). It was achievable only by their sanctifying word. While the external part of this baptism was derived from John, the underlying internal Baptism into the Lord's Name was derived from the Lord's own prayer for transferring His cleansing Water-Word through the apostles:
17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their [cleansing] word." John 17
The Lord's prayer here for the baptismal water of His word to be transferred to the apostles is the basis for His commissioning them to baptize into (the Water of) His Name.
The Lord's commission to baptize in His name signified a new outward association for anyone professing faith. But the Real Baptism into the Water of the Name was to actually effect internal identity conversion.
From this commission, Paul amplifies the effects of our baptism into the Name of the Lord:
11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. I Corinthians 6
This leads us directly to the scriptures which connect Reality Baptism to its effect.
- 2. Regeneration and Rebirth: The Effect
Baptism into the Water of Christ's Body is carried out by an act of heart leading to a spiritual effect. Certain passages together show us that the effect and result of Reality Baptism is regeneration—that is, eternal life through New Birth in Christ.
5 He saved us… by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3
This "washing of regeneration" is a restatement of the "washing of water with the word" from Ephesians 5 and John 17. The "renewing" here is a Greek parallel restatement of the washing. That is, the washing and renewing are the same act—conducted by the Holy Spirit, producing regeneration.
Knowing that the living word of God is one description for the mystical Water of Christ, Peter's teaching on the new birth confirms the meaning of the "washing of regeneration:"
23 for you have been born again … through the living and enduring [Water of the] word of God. I Peter 1
See again how the new birth comes through the washing of the water of the Word. This new birth by baptism into the water of the Word is the fulfillment of what John's baptism prefigured and its originating baptism of Gentile converts into Judaism with their declaration of being "born again."
Remembering Hebrews for a moment, it's useful to point out that this effect of regenerational washing touches both our inner man and our bodies:
22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10
The same water that sprinkles our hearts also washes our bodies, setting them apart (sanctifying them) to the Lord.
This settles the issue of baptismal regeneration. Yes, there is such a thing as baptismal regeneration. It is the regeneration of the human spirit and sanctification of the body through baptism with the cleansing Water-word of Christ released from His side, hosted by the Holy Spirit!
- 3. The Holy Spirit: The Host
Notice how Titus and I Corinthians linked the Holy Spirit to the regeneration effected by this baptism:
5 He saved us… by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3
11 You were washed, … sanctified, … justified … in the Spirit of our God. I Corinthians 6
That's because the Holy Spirit is the host of Reality Baptism. He is the conductor of our baptism into Christ—His death, Word and Name—by which we are born into renewed spiritual identity. As Jesus observed:
6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, `You must be born again.'" John 3
So we are reborn of the Spirit—by the Spirit's washing of regeneration by the Word of Christ.
But why does Ephesians 5 above speak of Christ as the host of our baptism, cleansing us by the Water of His word? Not to worry—for what the Lord Jesus does, He does through His Spirit. In purpose, there is no difference between them. (In the days of the apostles, it was quite customary for a messenger to bear the name of the one who sent Him.)
So, it is Christ-through-His-Spirit that baptizes us into His own Water as well as cleanses with His blood in order to rebirth us with New Identity infused with eternal life.
(Note: By introducing the Holy Spirit into this discussion, I must immediately point out that Reality Baptism into Christ through the Spirit is not the same as the baptism with/into the Holy Spirit by Christ—what we commonly call the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit." We will touch on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit by Christ later in this study. But I mention it now only to prevent confusion.)
- 4. Faith: The "Mode"
The only real question left is, how is Reality Baptism actually conducted? How are we baptized into Christ's Water—into Him, His death, His Word, His Name? How does this "immersion" and "sprinkling" of Christ's bodily water take place?
In the many discussions and debates focused on water baptism, we have to deal with questions like:
"Do we submerge? Or do we sprinkle? Or do we pour? Do I fall backward or forward? Does the whole body have to be covered? What if part of the body doesn't go under the water? How much water is enough? What failure regarding any of this is enough to render my baptism 'invalid'?"
But in Reality Baptism, there is only one simple action by which baptism is transacted. It is the action of the heart that surrenders itself to receive the washing of the word by believing into it. There is only one mode by which Real Baptism is conducted. It is the mode of faith. Only one question applies,
"Do you believe into the death—the word—the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
The heart action of the candidate is the only action by which Reality Baptism is conducted. It is by believing that we are baptized! Our faith is our baptism into Christ's New Covenantal Water.
Peter's testimony to the Jerusalem Council shows us that the only way candidates can undergo baptism into the cleansing Water of Christ is through the heart mode of faith:
9…He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Acts 15
(This testimony of "no distinction" ties back to Paul's testimony above of no distinction between Jew and Gentile, showing again that baptism into Christ is a baptism of the heart).
This cleansing of the heart by faith brings us full circle to Hebrews which originally told us that our cleansing by the Water of Calvary is received by faith:
22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10
See how the mode of faith is applied to both our hearts and to our bodies. It is the same Water applied to both our hearts and to our bodies, and it is applied by faith. This is New Covenant Reality Baptism. From here on out, we will also call it Faith Baptism.
- 5. The Heart and Body of the Believer: The "Candidate"
There is abundant New Testament scripture to show that it is with our hearts that we believe into Jesus, into His death, into His Name. The testimony from Acts 15 and Hebrews 10 immediately above is just a small portion of the New Testament record that
10 … with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness [ie, justification by washing—I Cor 6:11] Romans 10
The simple truth is that bodies do not believe. Hearts believe. And if faith is the mode of baptism into the water of Calvary, then it is plain that the candidate of Reality Baptism is the heart of the believer.
Think on this word from Paul about circumcision:
29 …circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit. Romans 2
Then remember from Colossians 2:11-12 above that "like circumcision, like baptism."
Reality baptism is "baptism of the heart." Putting the body of a believer under natural water by the most precise formula conceived can NEVER baptize us according to the Reality of the New Covenant.
Nevertheless, Reality Baptism does have a spiritual washing effect on our natural bodies. As we saw in Hebrews, the Lord's pure water sets our bodies apart (sanctifies) our bodies to the Lord's ownership.
XV. Summarizing the Five Components of Reality (Faith) Baptism
This total tapestry shows us that the baptism that saves and regenerates us is the baptism into the water of Christ's body, alternately referred to as "His death," "His Word," and "His Name." It is hosted by the mysterious in-working of the Holy Spirit, not by man. It is applied by the "mode of saturating faith" upon, within and throughout the heart of the believer, not by water upon the body. And it results in regeneration into a new identity in Christ, as well as in separating the body to the Lord.
Faith Baptism into the water of Christ's body fulfils everything that Old Covenant baptism could only prefigure. It especially fulfils the spiritual promise of forgiveness attached to John's baptism immediately preceding Messiah's arrival. This brings us now to the reflection of Faith Baptism cast on the pond of the Lord's people after Messiah replaced the old priesthood and its washings.
[In Part 4: Apostles' Baptism: The New Testament Reflection in Context]
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Page updated September 6, 2005