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No, only the blood of Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit can cleanse us from sin.
No, only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from sin.
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
“He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” It is asked, why did not John equally say, that it is Christ alone who washes souls with his blood? The reason is, that this very washing is performed by the power of the Spirit, and John reckoned it enough to express the whole effect of baptism by the single word Spirit. The meaning is clear, that Christ alone bestows all the grace which is figuratively represented by outward baptism, because it is he who “sprinkles the conscience” with his blood. It is he also who mortifies the old man, and bestows the Spirit of regeneration. The word fire is added as an epithet, and is applied to the Spirit, because he takes away our pollutions, as fire purifies gold.
The great classic text that celebrates and announces the believer’s baptism into Christ is 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” That speaks of the Spirit’s initiating us into the body of Christ, and that happened to me when I was just twelve years old. I’d never heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but I was indeed baptized by the Holy Spirit. And now as the years have gone by, what was an objective fact has become a subjective reality in my life.
When I was baptized by the Spirit, I was regenerated, born again. I was born of the Spirit, John 3 says. What a beautiful picture. The metaphor of being born again describes a divine obstetrics because I was taken out of darkness and I was brought into light, and I began to see things.
At the same time I was regenerated, I was indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in John 14 that the Spirit “will live with you” and “will be in you.” I lost my father when I was a little boy and had a sense of being alone in this world. When I became indwelt, a sense of paternity overtook my soul, of being adopted. I didn’t know that I’d been tagged by the Holy Spirit or sealed by the Holy Spirit. As it says in Ephesians 1:13–14: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” That further gave me a sense of protection and reality, that I was tagged for eternity by the Holy Spirit when I was baptized by the Spirit.
When I was baptized in the Spirit, I was also prayed for. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” The Holy Spirit prays with groanings that cannot be uttered because he knows our hearts (Rom. 8:26).
And then, at the same time, I was enlightened. I can remember as a boy at a camp going back to my cabin, getting out my Bible, underlining in it, and having the Word come alive to me, as it has continued to come alive in my life. Now when John the Baptist pointedly said, “I baptize you with water, but [Christ] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” he was talking about the superiority of Jesus’s baptism. Water can wash only the outside, but the Spirit and fire regenerate and cleanse the inside. And so that is the great abiding reality and joy of being baptized with the Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit is making all things new and constantly conforming us to the image of Christ.
Lamb of God, our baptism is a sign that we are saved not by our own righteousness, but because we have been given the righteous- ness of Christ. Let us not make baptism the object of our trust, but look instead to the cleansing work of Jesus, beautifully depicted in baptism. Amen.