It is written:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6).
The Apostle Paul here discusses the unity that we enjoy as God’s people in the church.
Having come from different nations (Jewish and Gentile), and having been forgiven of all sins in Christ (Ephesians 1:3, 7), we are now part of the household of God built on the foundation of Christ and the Apostles (Ephesians 2:20). We have been made friends with God in the one body-the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), by the cross of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-16).
What does this passage teach us about baptism?
First, notice the word “one” that precedes each of these statements by Paul. What does the phrase “one baptism” actually mean? The phrase “one baptism” has reference to “one baptism shared by all.” In discussing the unity that we enjoy as God’s people, the Apostle is discussing the things that we have in common together.
Arnold has well noted:
“As a basis for his appeal to unity and as a transition to his discussion of the diversity of the body, Paul makes a series of declaratory statements of common conviction among Christians of his day (4: 4–6)….The stress on unity also comes to expression in the sevenfold appearance of “one” in these three verses. Ernest Best thus rightly notes, “the effect of the repeated use of ‘one’ is to drive home his central theme, unity.”. (Clinton Arnold, Ephesians, 324 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Second, there is no doubt that the baptism mentioned here is water baptism. Several factors demonstrate this. For one thing, baptism was commonplace in the first century world among Jews, Christians, and pagans, and the medium specific was water. As such, water baptism should be assumed unless context suggests otherwise.
Furthermore, we are told that this one baptism is what brings a person into unity with the “one body.”
What is the one body?
Ephesians 1:22-23-And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Recall that in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul discussed how water baptism brings us together as one body in Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13-Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 12:13-For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
Paul stresses the same fact here.
Furthermore, this one baptism is the one which will last until the end of the world (cf. Ephesians 4:14-16). The only baptism which is to last till the end of the world is Great Commission baptism in water (Matthew 28:19-20).
The fact that the one baptism is water baptism is made evident by Arnold:
“The next to last statement is that there is “one baptism” (ἓν βάπτισμα). This probably refers to the practice of water baptism and not solely to the experience of baptism in the Spirit. 19 Water baptism was the common practice of the early church following a person’s confession of faith in Christ (see Acts 2: 38, 41; 8: 12, 13, 36, 38; 10: 47–48; 16: 15, 33; 18: 8; 19: 5), which Paul himself experienced (Acts 9: 18; 22: 16). In Paul’s teaching, the ritual symbolized identification with Jesus in his death and resurrection (Rom 6: 1–11; Col 2: 12). Paul also uses the term baptism to refer to the work of the Spirit in joining every individual believer to the body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 13). Paul’s confession of “one baptism” here probably indicates the rite as well as all that it symbolizes.” (Clinton Arnold, Ephesians, 324 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Third, since this “one baptism” is water baptism, we can learn some important lessons about Holy Spirit baptism.
Some teach that Holy Spirit baptism is for all Christians. However, Holy Spirit baptism is always shown to be a separate occurrence from Great Commission baptism (Acts 8:11-18; 10:47-48; 19:1-6). As such, Holy Spirit baptism is not for every Christian, for then there would not be “one baptism” common to all Christians, but two. Paul flatly refutes that notion. Holy Spirit baptism was primarily for the Apostles of Christ (Acts 2:1-4), the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-46), and those upon whom the Apostles laid their hands (Acts 6:1-6; 8:11-18; 19:1-6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6).
There is only one baptism that all Christians share in common: the baptism of the Great Commission.
Fourth, the “one baptism” is one that eliminates all social, ethnic, and national divisions. It unites God’s people together as members of the church of Christ. In Christ, we are one body-and we are to work together to maintain that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.