Baptized By the Holy Spirit Into One Body

Dr. Brian Allison

We have often witnessed the act of Christian baptism. Christian baptism is not an act which is meaningful or significant unto itself. When we think of the act of baptism, we ought to keep in mind that it carries spiritual significance. The act points to a spiritual reality beyond itself. It is similar to the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper points to a reality beyond itself; it points to the fact that believers collectively are partaking of the benefits of the death of Christ. It points to the fact that believers have entered into a covenant community and commune together with God. Accordingly, as we partake of the cup and of the bread, we demonstrate our spiritual oneness in Christ.

With the act of baptism, one simultaneously identifies himself with a local church. It indicates membership into a visible body of believers; but more than that (as alluded to), the act of baptism presupposes a spiritual transaction. The physical act implies that there has been a preceding experience of spiritual baptism, that is, a spiritual regeneration, through which one has been brought into an experiential, spiritual union with Jesus Christ. Now, in being spiritually united with Jesus Christ, one is simultaneously spiritually united with other Christian believers who themselves are spiritually united with Jesus Christ. This truth is similar to the situation in which one is born into a family. He who is born into a family sustains a twofold relationship – there is a special relationship sustained with the parents who gave birth to him, but there is also a special relationship sustained with the other children who have been born from that same set of parents.

Accordingly, on the one hand the believer is baptized with the Spirit, that is, he or she is spiritually regenerated and spiritually united to Jesus Christ; and, on the other hand (which is part of the same spiritual transaction), the believer is baptized by the Spirit into the universal Church, the body of Christ. It is this latter work of the Holy Spirit that we will consider in this article.

There is One Spiritual Universal Church

We read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." Let us first consider the fact that there is one spiritual universal Church – "we were all baptized into one body." There are many denominations and, certainly, many local churches; but this Scripture teaches that ultimately there is only one Church – one spiritual body consisting of all true believers. These believers are identified as the elect of God. Throughout the ages, different ones have been added to the one body – those who have truly repented of their sins and have truly put their faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Ethnic, racial, and cultural distinctions are inconsequential to entrance into this one body. Social, economic, and educational distinctions make absolutely no difference with respect to participating in this one body – "whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free."

It is not a matter of qualifying for, or earning access to, this one body. Rather, it is a matter of knowing God's grace and expressing genuine faith. No one is more privileged or advantaged because of his or her status, pedigree, or personal history. Accordingly, in Christ, we all have the same spiritual footing, although we do assume different roles and functions, ministerially speaking. Again, we have the analogy of the family. The siblings of the family have the same status; they receive the same privileges (or at least they should, all things being equal). One family member is not treated any better than another, and so it is in the Church of Christ. There is spiritual equality. For instance, we read, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Ga. 3:26-29).

Do you see what this truth is implying? You can be identified or associated with a denomination or with a local church, and not be identified with the spiritual universal Church, the one body of Christ. Ideally, those who have become identified with a visible or local church are those who also participate in the one universal Church. But that is not always the case, nor should we necessarily expect it. Now, one may be identified with a local body of believers through different ways. For instance, one may become identified with a local church through family or parental association. Maybe your mother or father brought you to church when you were very young, and now you are used to attending church. Thus, church has become a significant part of your life. But that in itself does not make you a member of the one universal Church. Or, one may become identified with a local church through association with, and becoming involved in, church programs. For instance, various churches sponsor 'The Twelve Step' program for alcoholics, as a community service. Or, one may become identified with a local church because he or she has some deep and peculiar needs. For instance, through destitution, one may seek physical aid from a church which manages a food bank.

The Spirit Brings One into the Universal Church

One becomes identified with the one spiritual universal Church by the Holy Spirit of God – "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." It is the Spirit, and only the Spirit, that brings one into the spiritual universal body of Christ. Again, when one is spiritually regenerated, he becomes spiritually united with Christ, and therein he is spiritually united with other believers. This momentous transaction is a spiritual one, as opposed to a sacramental, ritual, or formal one. So, Charles Hodge (1797-1878) writes in his Commentary, "This passage, therefore, not only teaches us the nature of the Church, but also the principle of unity. It is one...in virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all its members." When you have been born again of the Spirit, incorporated into the body of Christ, you receive the indwelling Spirit; and it is that Spirit that constitutes the objective and experiential unity between you and Christ, and between you and fellow believers. Unless you have been immersed into the body of Christ by the power and the work of the Spirit, you are not a bona fide member of the body, regardless of your affiliation or association with a particular local assembly of believers.

Practically speaking, the Church is essentially a spiritual entity. Sad to say, at various times throughout history, the Church has portrayed itself as a political entity, rather than a spiritual one. A case in point is the different churches which aligned themselves with the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. At various times, the Church has portrayed itself to be primarily a social welfare entity. We think of the contemporary Liberal theological trends and emphases in some of the developing countries and the indigenous churches' goal of meeting the physical and economic needs of the masses. Now, to be sure, the Church should be involved in meeting the social needs of people, but the Church ought never to forfeit its spiritual mandate in its attempt to prosecute social improvement and reconstruction. Further, at times the Church has portrayed itself as a small business (even as a big business) entity, at the expense of being primarily a spiritual one. Various mega-churches have mall-like complexes in which are such conveniences as physical fitness centres (which provide aerobics classes), personal grooming salons, etc.

The Church was never called to mimic the commercialism of the world and to conform to the consumerism mentality. There is too much compromise in the Church today. Many are too concerned about presenting the Church as 'consumer friendly,' succumbing to a 'needs oriented' philosophy, and thereby removing the offense of the cross. Many are giving in to expediency and pragmatism, and subsequently have lost the focus, purpose, and calling of the Church. The Church, as a spiritual entity, is called to declare the truth of Jesus Christ and to call people to repentance and faith in Him. The Church, as a spiritual entity, is to instruct its followers in the way of holiness, calling those followers to obedience and spiritual transformation. The Church is not primarily to be a political arm; or some kind of economic mechanism; or some kind of social welfare outlet. The Church has its primary task of prosecuting and facilitating reconciliation between God and the world, presenting the truth of God and calling people into a relationship with Jesus Christ; summoning them to the obedience of faith and the keeping of His Word and commands.

The Whole Universal Church Partakes of the Spirit

Those who have been brought into that one, spiritual universal Church by the Holy Spirit have personally partaken of the one Spirit – "And we were all made to drink of one Spirit." As bona fide members of the body of Christ, we all share in that one life of the Spirit. We do not simply sustain an objective relationship to the Spirit, but we are in the Spirit and thus share the life of that Spirit. To drink of the Spirit is to experience the Spirit's ministry through which we receive God's grace. Moreover, to drink of the Spirit is to experience the Spirit's manifestation by which we exercise spiritual gifts. This one Spirit makes Himself known in us and through us, in virtue of His indwelling.

The life of the Church, the life of the individual members of the Church, are rooted in, and sustained by, the Spirit. The practical, simple conclusion is this: if there is no Spirit, then there is no true Church. The Church is not simply a gathering of people who hold to some creed or who adhere to some tradition or who acknowledge some ecclesiastical structure of authority. No, the Church consists of those who have been spiritually summoned out of the moral decay and depravity of this world, vouchsafed new 'hearts,' and assembled for fellowship with God. The work and activity of the Spirit has birthed, and now sustains, the Church. Accordingly, you may have a proficient organization, you may have a grand infrastructure, you may have great managerial efficiency, and yet not have the Church. The Church is not so much a well-oiled administrative machine, as it is a vibrant, living organism; and that is why the Scriptures use the language of the 'body of Christ' for the Church. The body of Christ consists of living members, possessing the very life of Christ, through the life-giving Spirit. We read, "But to each one [of the spiritual universal Church] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good [of the body]" (1 Cor. 12:7). Of course, this manifestation is realized through mutual ministry by the members in the local churches. Further, we read, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). Every true believer has received a spiritual gift in order to minister to fellow believers. These gifts are given according to the Spirit's decision, and not according to human decision. If you are a part of the one spiritual universal Church, you have the Spirit; He indwells you and you are drinking – personally partaking – of that one Spirit. You should know His grace in your heart. You should know the reality of spiritual giftedness in your life. You should know the glory of living in the Spirit.

Every member of the universal body of Christ is a vital part of that body. As every member contributes and does his or her part, the Church functions well, with the goal being the edification of the body. We are to minister to one another the grace of God, exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Accordingly, as a true member of the Church of Christ, participating in a local assembly, you have an obligation and responsibility to minister in that local assembly. God did not save you and give you His Spirit in order for you to be independent and for you 'to do your own thing.' No, God gave you His Spirit, in response to your repentance and faith, in order to be vitally connected with His Son, Jesus Christ, and to be vitally connected with His people, for their spiritual good. He gave you His Spirit, not exclusively for your own profit, but for you to minister to His body. Unless you have this outward focus, unless you have this ministry focus, unless you are exercising your spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, you must question whether you even have the Spirit. He indwells you for personal growth and maturity, as well as for the growth and maturity of other believers. He fills you with Himself for the sake of the body, to the end that the body of Christ might spiritually grow up into the Head, even Christ, as a mature body.

We need to be thankful that God has given us His Spirit. Today, on Thanksgiving Day, we are thankful for many things – thankful for the physical blessings, thankful for family blessings – but we also need to be thankful for spiritual blessings. You are a true believer because of the grace of God. God has chosen you and has given you His Spirit. God has brought you into that one universal body. Praise His holy name! It is God who has taken you, a creature of the dust and has made you a son or daughter of the Lord Most High. He not only saved you, but has been pleased to come and indwell you, and to make you His living temple. We should indeed be thankful. As you think of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to think about the goodness, grace, and love of God because He has spared you and has made you one of His own, stamping you with the mark of authenticity and ownership in His Spirit. You belong to Him and He belongs to you for time and eternity. Praise the Lord!