Three Biblical Baptisms

by Rick Shrader

I confess three types of baptism:  that of the Spirit given internally in faith; that of water given externally through the oral confession of faith before the church; and that of blood in martyrdom or on the deathbed. . . . John names these three baptisms with which all Christians must be baptized “the three witnesses on earth.”1

Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Short Justification”, 1526

Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Finally, we must not forget that the world is on fire.  We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well.  We live in a post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God.”2 How is it that we keep ourselves and our children from being consumed, in biblical terminology “overcome,” by the world?

John wrote that faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn 5:4).  The word always translated “victory” is our popular name Nike.  She was the goddess of wingless victory, the one who fought the battles for Greece at Zeus’ command.  Her temple can still be seen today on the Acropolis in Athens.  Today’s Nike says, “just do it!”  But is it sheer determination that will give us victory over the world?  The whole world wants to “be like Mike” but not too many want to be like Jesus!

The apostle John wasn’t impressed in his day with slogans and mythological stories when it came to overcoming the world.  He writes, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:4-5)  Paul wrote, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors (literally “hyper-Nike”) through him that loved us” (Rom 8:37).

Where is such Christian victory today over the world, the flesh and the devil?  Why is it today that one who claims to have this faith can be overcome by the world at the first sign of temptation, the first test of stewardship, as soon as the Tempter demands?  According to John in this fifth chapter of his first epistle, the victory is in the 3-fold witness of Jesus Christ that He bore while on earth and which we as His followers bear, if we are to overcome as He overcame.  “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” (vs 10).  John calls the witness of Christ, “the spirit, the water and the blood.”

In the opening quotation, from one of the greatest Anabaptists who lived and died for Christ, Hubmaier gave a very common understanding of the believer’s 3-fold identification with Christ.  This was their way also of reconciling the “one baptism” of Eph 4:5 and the “baptisms” of Heb 6:2.  John says, “these three agree in one” (1 Jn 5:8).

The Baptism of the Spirit

Though some later Baptists have had trouble with this terminology, I find early Baptists did not and many today use it beneficially.  From the day of Pentecost, believers have been placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit’s operation (further discussion would iron out finer details).  I believe 1 Cor 12:13 does mention this baptism by the Holy Spirit which happens to us at salvation.  It is our identification with Christ’s own resurrection back to life.  At the moment we believe we are raised to walk in this new life with Him (Rom 6:3-5).  In Christ’s work for us, His resurrection bore witness of escaping the corruption that is in the world.

In John’s fifth chapter, this baptism is placed first in verse 8 because it is the first witness we bear and our first identification of a new life.  Our salvation experience testifies to a lost world that there is hope of overcoming the world’s corruption.

The Baptism of Water

The second identification we have with Christ is in water baptism, where we show His death, burial and resurrection all in one picture.  At Christ’s baptism He bore public testimony to His sonship and started His public ministry of proclaiming that sonship.  So at our water baptism we bear public testimony of a regenerated and changed life.  It is the most powerful medium for preaching the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.  It testifies of an old life being buried and put away for good.  It testifies of a new life that will overcome the corruptions of this present life.  The faith that overcomes the world is one which makes this identification and follows through with its symbolism into real life.

The Baptism of Blood

Jesus finished the work of God by His shed blood on the cross.  His bodily resurrection was proof that He was the One worthy to be such a sacrifice.  When He asked His disciples if they thought they could be baptized with the same baptism (Mk 10:38), they knew He meant the baptism of blood, or martyrdom.  Baptists have known this testimony well.  Many believers have been called upon by God to identify with Christ with their very lives.  How could we do less, in light of what His death accomplished for us?

Though death is a sure way to overcome and escape the corruption of the world, we can have a smaller part in the same by bearing our cross for Christ’s sake every day.  But we must have the same mind-set.  We must desire and be willing to part with the world in every area of our lives, to live out our crucifixion with Christ, if we will ever escape the world.

This is our Faith

John writes, “This is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.  He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. . . . And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn 5:9-11).  Menno Simons, in 1539, wrote, “Oh no, outward baptism avails nothing so long as we are not inwardly renewed, regenerated, and baptized with the heavenly fire and the Holy Ghost of God.”3 Bernhard Rothmann, in 1533, wrote, “Whenever the believer in baptism sincerely forsakes the old sinful life and accepts the new in Christ Jesus, baptism is like a betrothal of the believer to Christ.  It means that, cleansed from all sin, he surrenders himself to Christ and pledges to live and to die according to his will.”4 We can say with John, he “overcomes the world.”

1. Walter Klaassen, Ed., Anabaptism in Outline (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981) 166.
2. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 1992) 90.
3. Klassen, 188.
4. Ibid, 177.