In Ephesians 4:5, the Holy Spirit reveals that there is “one baptism”. This is an interesting statement considering that when you read through your New Testament you can find a number of baptisms. The conclusion must be that there is one baptism that is essential to be pleasing to God.
In Mark, 1:4 we learn that John the baptizer was preaching “baptism of repentance unto remission of sins”. This baptism was full immersion in water (Matt 3:6), to prepare for the church of Christ (Matt 3:2). We know that the baptism of John can not be the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 for two main reasons. First, John’s baptism was in preparation for the church/kingdom and was before the New Testament went into effect (Hebrews 9:16-18). When Christ died, he nailed the Old Testament and John’s baptism to the cross (Col 2:14). Second, we know it is not the “one baptism” because in Acts 19, Paul runs into some people who had been baptized with John’s baptism after the New Testament had been inaugurated. They had to be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5).
Baptism is also used in a figurative way in the New Testament. In Matt 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-40, and Luke 12:50 Jesus refers to his death on the cross as a baptism. Baptism today is a religious word, but in the original language it means “immersion”. Understanding that helps understand what the Lord meant. He was telling the disciples that he was going to be immersed in suffering. It would be overwhelming. Some have concluded that when the Lord said, “You will indeed be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with”, that we need to figuratively immerse ourselves in the suffering of Christ. This is not the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5. Jesus used the figure of immersion to talk of the type of suffering that He, and the disciples would experience LITERALLY.
The baptism of suffering is necessary to endure “as a Christian”(1 Pet 4:16). But not every Christian is going to face that suffering. Therefore, it can not be the one baptism.
Most people in the religious community have two views of what the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is. The dispute is really surrounding this question of whether it is speaking about water baptism, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Let's notice some contrasts between the two according to the Bible. This will help us be honest in arriving at the conclusion that God wants us to. You will be benefited by turning to these passages and making notes in your own Bible.
In Mark 16:16 and Matt 28:18-19, Jesus commanded baptism in water (Acts 8:36). However, in Luke 24:49, and Acts 1:4-5 the Lord tells his disciples that they will be baptized with the Holy Sprit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not commanded, but a promise.
In Mark 16:15, Jesus gave the command of water baptism “to every creature”. But in Acts 1:5 the promise of Holy Spirit baptism is NOT given to everyone.
In Matt 28:18, The water baptism of the great commission was to be administered by man. But the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to be administered by Jesus (Matt 3:1).
In Mark 16:16, water baptism is available to all who believe the gospel for salvation. In 1 Cor 12:28-29, we see that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was limited even in the first century church.
In Acts 2:38 we see that water baptism is “for the remission of sins”. In John 14-16 Jesus reveals that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles in all truth (14:26, 16:13).
In Acts 2:38 and 8:36 we also see that water baptism was something to obey at that moment. Holy Spirit baptism was something to wait for (Acts 1:4-5).
In Matt 28:20, the commandment to baptize in water would last until the end of the age. In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 we can see that the baptism of the Holy Spirit would not last once the word of God was completely revealed.
When you go through your bible you will see only two clear cut instances of people being baptized in the Holy Spirit. That would be the apostles in Acts 2:1-4, 16, and Cornelius and his household in Acts 10,11. When you read of any spiritual gift in the New Testament we shouldn’t assume that those people were “baptized” in the Holy Spirit. Jesus administered the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whereas the spiritual gifts that others were able to do were by virtue of the apostles laying their hands on these people (Acts 8:18). And the apostles always laid their hands upon them after they were baptized in water.
On the other hand, when you go through Acts, you see over and over and over people obeying the command to be baptized in water. Look at what the Bible says about the conversions of all of these individuals and appreciate the common denominator.
Acts 2:14-47- Gospel was preached, they believed, they repented, they were baptized in water.
Acts 8:5-13- The Samaritans believed and were baptized in water.
Acts 8:35-39- The Eunuch believed, confessed, and was baptized in water.
Acts 9:17-18- Saul was baptized in water to have his sins washed away (22:16).
Acts 10:34-48- Cornelius believed and was baptized in water.
Acts 16:13-15- Lydia “heeded the things spoken” and was baptized in water.
Acts 16:31-33- Philippian Jailer- Believed and was baptized in water.
Acts 18:8- The Corinthians believed and were baptized in water.
Acts 19:1-5- The Ephesians believed and were baptized in water.
There is still only one baptism today. That baptism is the same one the Lord commanded people to obey upon their belief in His gospel. It is the baptism that does now save us (1 Pet 3:21), by allowing us to have our sins washed away (Acts 22:16). That spiritual washing comes through the waters of baptism.