Despite the functional diversity of individual believers within the church, the church has unnatural unity. How does this happen? How are people of diverse giftedness and ability and background and status unified together in one body? Verse 13 of 1 Corinthians 12 tells us:
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
The way people of vast diversity are unified into one spiritual body is by means of Spirit baptism. Now, we need to consider very carefully what Spirit baptism is because there is a lot of confusing and incorrect teaching today on the subject of Spirit baptism, and if we misunderstand what Spirit baptism is biblically, we will misunderstand the nature of the body’s unity here in our text.
Thankfully, this verse is actually the key verse in all of the New Testament for understanding the nature of Spirit baptism, so we don’t have to go any further than this verse to come to a good understanding of what it is. Notice a couple of things right with what Paul says here. First, who are the subjects of Spirit-baptism? Paul says we all were baptized. Who are the “we all”? All Christians. If you are a Christian, then you have been Spirit baptized. Spirit baptism is not limited only to apostles or to super-Christians or to any subgroup within the body of Christ. We all were baptized in the Spirit.
Second, when does Spirit baptism occur? Well what is the tense of the verb here? We all were baptized. It is past tense. So Spirit baptism occurred sometime in the past for all Christians. And the fact that Paul can say that “we all were baptized” must indicate that Spirit baptism occurred at the moment of our salvation. If Spirit baptism took place some time after salvation, then Paul would not be able to say “we all were baptized.” Paul did not say “some were baptized,” and he did not say “we will be baptized” or “we might be baptized.” Paul said, “we all were baptized.”
This also means that Spirit baptism happens one time, at the moment of our salvation, and it never happens again. This is true of all believers from the moment of their salvation for all time. And it also means that Spirit baptism is not something that we need to seek for, pray for, or actively receive somehow. All Christians were baptized in the Spirit the moment they put their faith in Christ. Spirit baptism is something like justification; it happens the moment we are saved, it’s not something we feel or pursue; it’s simply something that occurs as a result of our faith in Christ.
And that leads us to the nature of what Spirit baptism is. Paul says here that we all were baptized in one Spirit. So the Spirit of God is like the water with which we were immersed—the word “baptize” literally means to dunk—we were all dunked with the Spirit at the moment of our salvation; in fact, Paul continues that analogy of the Spirit and water at the end of the verse when he says, “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The Spirit is the water with which we all were baptized.
Now the one question about Spirit baptism that this verse does not address is who is the one doing the baptizing? But we do have an answer to that elsewhere in the New Testament, and the earliest and perhaps best way we can answer that question is to look at the first chapter of John’s Gospel. In verse 33, John the baptizer says, “I myself did not know him”—referring to Jesus Christ—“but he who sent me to baptize with water”—the word translated “with” there is the same preposition in 1 Corinthians 12:13 translated “in” the Spirit—“he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with”—same preposition—“the Holy Spirit.” So John the Baptist is predicting Spirit baptism, and he specifically tells us who it is who would do the baptizing. Who is it? Jesus Christ baptized all of us with the Spirit at the moment of our salvation.
Now this, of course, leads us to the final piece of a complete understanding of the nature of Spirit baptism, and that is its results. What happened to us when Jesus Christ baptized us with the Spirit at the moment we trusted him for our salvation? First Corinthians 12:13 specifically tells us, and of course this is the main point of the whole thing! What happened to each one of us who has trusted Christ at the moment we were saved? At that moment, Jesus Christ immersed us with one Spirit into one body. So Jesus is the baptizer, and the Holy Spirit is the water, and the body of water, or the pool, or the lake into which we were all baptized is the body of Christ. Through Spirit baptism we are made one with that body.
And this is exactly why unity within the body of Christ, in spite of the vast diversity of each of us as members of that body, is even a possibility. This is a supernatural occurrence. It is not natural or normal in the regular course of life for people of such diversity to be unified, but because with one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, we are one!