Intro: As you may remember, our sermon theme this month, from Ephesians 4:5, is “one baptism.” Last week we discussed baptism from the perspective of its importance to salvation and its place in the preaching of the apostles. We noticed that the command to be baptized in water was consistently linked to salvation in the preaching of the apostles. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”.
If there is only one baptism (and it is essential to salvation), how many times does one need to be baptized? Is there a time or need for one to be re-baptized? This is a question that often comes up in a personal study with someone who has been baptized in the past. It is also often a question that comes with a lot of emotions and personal opinions. I want to take a look at what the Bible says.
I. The Preaching of Apollos.– The majority of the text in the book of Acts focuses on the travels and preaching of the apostle Paul. We often categorize his history into 3 separate “missionary journeys, all commencing from the city of Antioch of Pisidia. – Acts 8:22-23 – And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.23 After he had spent some time there,he departed and went over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.
A. At this moment in the text the scene changes. We are leave Paul and Silas and are introduced to a preacher named Apollos at Ephesus. Acts 18:24-28 – 24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
1. Apollos was from Alexandria and came to Ephesus. He was a learned man with a very thorough knowledge of the O.T. Scriptures. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord, spoke with great fervor, and taught about Jesus accurately. However, there is one problem: he only knew about the baptism of John.
2. The text goes on to tell us that two disciples named Aquila and Priscilla, heard him preach. They recognized the deficiency of his lessons, and took him into their home and explained to him the way of God more accurately. We were first introduced to Aquila and Priscilla back in chapter 18. They were Jews who had come from Italy when Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:1-4). They learned under Paul’s teaching at Corinth for 18 months. They taught Apollos about Jesus, but they also teach us some things as well.
a. They invited Apollos to a private setting and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Notice that they did not disrupt the synagogue meetings of label Apollos as a false teacher. They did attempt to censure his preaching, or even set up a public debate. They simply took him aside and discussed the matter. While Apollos was teaching Jesus correctly, he was not teaching the method of salvation correctly. So this was a serious issue. Yet, the proper way to engage the problem was to approach the teacher personally and rationally.
b. Apollos received the instruction of Aquila and Priscilla, and God continued to use him to expand the gospel message.
II. Paul in Ephesus- at the beginning of Acts 19, the narrative returns to Paul–Read Acts 19 – 1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all.
A. Paul encounters some disciples at Ephesus that causes him to question them about their baptism. But that was not his initial curiosity. He asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. I submit that he noticed the absence of visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s work among them, such as miraculous gifts. It would seem strange for Paul to ask if they had received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, bur he would have noticed the absence of spiritual gifts among them.
1. They respond that they had not heard that there is a Holy Spirit. This complete absence of even the knowledge of the Holy Spirit prompts Paul’s next question: “Into what then were you baptized?”
2. They respond, “into John’s baptism”. (this would point to the teaching of Apollos before he was instructed more fully). Paul explains that John’s baptism was for repentance, looking toward the one coming after him, Jesus. Upon hearing their answer, these disciples are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. After their baptism, Paul lays hands on the disciples and the Holy Spirit came upon them, giving them the gifts of speaking in other languages and prophecy.
III. The Need for Re-baptism – This is the only example in the NT of someone being baptized again. Why did Paul re-baptize them? To answer this question let us consider the baptism of John.
A. John’s baptism: Luke 3:2 – the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,
1. John’s baptism was from God, was preceded by the call of repentance, and was for the remission of sins. The text also tells us that John had success: Matthew 3:5 says, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Luke adds that crowds were coming out to be baptized by him. And, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” (Luke 3:7, 21). Just like the baptism of apostolic preaching, John’s baptism was immersion in water (Jesus came up out of the water (Mk. 1:10)
2. We notice that the baptism of John and baptism in the name of Jesus were similar in many ways. Why then, did Paul re-baptize these disciples?
B. Some False Reasons: Consider first some false reasons for their re-baptism.
1. Location: Paul did not baptize them again because they were baptized in a different place. It did not matter that these people had been baptized in the wilderness where John was preaching. It was not necessary to be baptized in the pools of Jerusalem or in the Jordan River. Where a person is immersed in water does not matter. It does not matter if one is baptized in a pool, spa, canal, baptistery in the building of a denominational church of liberal church. Paul does not ask them where they were baptized. This is not the issue.
2. The Baptizer: Consider that Paul does not ask “who baptized you.” We may have expected Paul to say, “You have not heard of the Holy Spirit. Who baptized you?” But the person doing the baptism is not at issue either.
a. If the baptizer is an issue then we would have to trace the baptizers all way back to the apostles, or have some way of being absolutely certain that the one doing the baptizing was a true Christian, and one who baptized him, and the one who baptized him, etc… There is no ordained clergy who have been given credentials to baptize people. This is not the issue. The religious and spiritual beliefs of the baptizer are not important.
3. The Words Said: Paul does not ask them what was said at their baptism. There are some today trying to make a distinction between being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. There is not a set formula of words to be said at baptism, else such a formula would have been commanded exclusively by our Lord and his apostles.
C. The Real Reason: Why were these disciples re-baptized? Read again Acts 19:4 – Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
1. At the time of their baptism their faith was in the coming of a future Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would come and usher in the kingdom, providing for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus had now come, died on the cross, and been resurrected. Their baptism, therefore, was based upon an improper faith. They were baptized, placing their confidence in a day that had already come. The baptism of John was insufficient, as it was connected with an incomplete faith in Acts 19. [John’s baptism lacked the understanding of the Holy Spirit as well]
D. Is there an application today? I believe its application is to the many people who have been baptized, even in the proper form, but not with not with the proper objective message.
1. There are some who have been baptized, but have been taught that they were saved before they were baptized, at the point of their first faith (sinner’s prayer). Just as these disciples in Acts 19 believed that forgiveness would come later with the Messiah, we have many today who believe they have been forgiven prior to baptism. If it was an issue with them, it must also be an issue with the baptism of many today.
2. There are some who have been baptized by their parents as an infant. But as an infant, one is unable to believe in Jesus Christ and understand the purpose of their baptism (forgiveness of sins). According to the example of Acts 19, it is necessary for these people to be baptized with the proper faith. Infant baptism is not scriptural baptism in its purpose or method. But it also is not connected with a proper faith.
3. Some may have been baptized out of peer pressure when they were young. They may not have understood the reason for baptism at the time. There is clear teaching that baptism must be preceded by a proper heart and faith.
4. Proper, biblical baptism, is more than just being immersed in water. This is Peter’s point in 1 Peter 3:21. – baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God [a]for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,<
a. God is always concerned with the heart, as it performs the act. Faith without acts of obedience is dead and vain. Also Acts of obedience that are not done with a sincere and proper faith are useless. What we believe during the act is very important. What our hearts are doing while we sing is crucial to acceptable worship. We are told to sing, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. What we are thinking in our hearts while we partake of the Lord’s Supper is very important. This is why Paul commanded that we examine ourselves to ensure we partake in a worthy manner.
b. In the same way, it is what we believe in our hearts when we are baptized that is important.
1) We must believe that we are asking God to take away our sins and that they are being removed in baptism.
2) We have to have a repentant, submissive heart when we are baptized.
3) The other things we discussed do not matter, but our faith and our belief concerning our baptism absolutely matters. I believe this is the problem with the disciples in Acts 19. They did not believe their sins were being removed by the blood of Jesus. They believed their sins would be removed in the future when the Messiah came.
Conclusion: Another important implication of the event of Acts 19 is the importance of baptism. If baptism is optional, then Paul would not have re-baptized them. Their baptism was as essential as the reception of the Holy Spirit. If faith alone was sufficient, then their re-baptism was not needed. We see again in the book of Acts that baptism is the method God uses to unite us to the death and resurrection of Jesus to wash our sins away.
(adapted from a sermon by Brent Kercheville)