Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.  For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.

 
 
 

Going to Jesus

Spiritual Light

Chapter Three:

Conversion and Baptism

John David Clark, Sr.
© 2008

Instructions in the Faith for Spirit-filled Believers

"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."

 

Picture of John Clark Sr.Jesus earnestly prayed that the Father would make us all one, and yet God's people are divided by conflicting doctrines and traditions into a thousand different sects.

This book is the result of four visitations from the Lord Jesus to me over approximately four years, beginning in the summer of 1975. The first time that the word of God came to me, it was as if I had been sitting in darkness my whole life, without knowing it, and suddenly someone turned the light on. I think you will feel enlightened as well, as you read this book. Prepare for an adventure in faith.

Book Contents
Introduction
Introduction
Chapter 1
The Third Commandment
Chapter 2
The Sacrifice of Christ
Chapter 3
Conversion and Baptism
Chapter 4
Salvation and Works

Download pdf version:

My Credentials for Writing Chapter Three:

Conversion and Baptism

For consecutive evenings in early 1978, after coming home from work, I was driven by the Spirit to study the Scriptures and to write. I do not remember what the subject was on the first night, but on the second night, I felt led to write on "The Smoke and the Glory". It was an examination of the effect God's glory had on men when it filled Moses' tabernacle and again, later, when it filled Solomon's temple. Then, on the third night, I felt impressed to research and write on the relationship of conversion with baptism. After being engaged for a couple of hours or so with my study, the Lord opened up my understanding, not merely about baptism and conversion but about Paul's passionate view of the subject. What the Spirit showed me was that the perverse doctrine that Paul spent his entire life opposing is the very doctrine held most dear by many of God's children now.

Paul earnestly warned the saints not to think that one must be in covenant with God before receiving the baptism of the holy Ghost, that one does not even belong to Christ until he is in possession of the holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9b). In spite of Paul's mighty effort, however, the doctrine he hated is promoted as gospel now among the people of God.

Will we ever be free of it? Hopefully, what you read now will help you as you make your own life's journey toward the "liberty of the sons of God."

Chapter Three
Conversion and Baptism

Two Gospels

"And he said to them, Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who believes not will be damned."

(Mk. 16:15-16)

". . .when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water, the like figure where unto baptism does also now save us."

(1Pet. 3:20-21a)

From the above Scriptures, we can see that salvation will be given only to those who have been baptized. But the question that must be answered is this: "Is the baptism required for salvation a baptism with water or the baptism of the holy Ghost?"

The earliest saints (who were nearly all Israelites by birth) practiced two baptisms. They baptized the penitent with water, with instructions to expect the holy Ghost baptism to follow. Peter's message to the Jewish multitude at Pentecost was the norm: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

But the apostle Paul taught a doctrine he claimed had been revealed to him personally by Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12), a doctrine which excluded water baptism. He taught that, as far as salvation was concerned there was only one baptism (Eph. 4:5) and that this one baptism was the baptism of the Spirit (1Cor. 12:13). The few water baptisms Paul did administer bothered him ("for Christ sent me not to baptize"), and he regretted ever having been involved with them (1Cor. 1:14-17).

The apparent contradiction of Peter's message with Paul's is only that. Apparent. Neither Peter nor Paul was wrong at the time and in the places they ministered. The key to seeing the harmony of their teachings is to see the different peoples to whom Peter and Paul were sent.

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:7, "the gospel of the uncircumcision (Gentiles) was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision (Jews) was unto Peter." Peter's message of the need for water baptism was for the Jews only.9 In fact, the entire faith of Jesus was withheld from Gentiles by the earliest believers. God even had to repeat a shocking vision to Peter three times before Peter would even consider traveling to a Gentile's house to preach (Acts 10).

The Broader View

The doctrine of conversion for Gentiles was a complicated one before Paul had his revelation. In order to receive the Spirit they were expected, first, to become Jews by circumcision, submitting to the Mosaic Law, and, in a spirit of repentance, be water-baptized in Jesus' name. Only then were they to receive the Spirit baptism. This is what all earliest believers taught, and for that earliest time, it was true.

The distinction between Jew and non-Jew, and the one ceremony that represented all ceremonies, was circumcision. The genealogical line of Abraham was distinguished by circumcision, and the Gentiles, being outside that line, were disqualified from the very availability of Christ. The promise was to Abraham's seed, not to other peoples. The earliest Jewish saints believed - and it was true in the beginning of the New Testament - that if the Gentiles became Jews by receiving ritual circumcision, then they were candidates for the message of the gospel and could receive the Spirit. Gentiles were considered unworthy to have Christ preached to them. Only Jews were ordained to hear the gospel. And again, at that earliest time in New Testament history, that was true (cp. Acts 3:25-26; 13:44-46; Rom. 2:9-10).

Without a revelation from God, the Jewish community of believers could not have believed anything else concerning Gentiles. After all, Jesus himself said that he was sent only to the house of Israel (Mt. 15:24; Rom. 15:8). When a Gentile woman came to him, begging for help, he refused at first to speak to the poor woman, and when he did speak, he called her a dog (Mt. 15:25-26). Moreover, when he sent the disciples out, he strictly commanded them not to go to the Gentiles (Mt. 10:5). The disciples, without any doubt, understood his later command to go to "the uttermost part of the earth" to mean that they should preach only to Jews and Jewish converts who were scattered throughout the nations of earth. So, in the earliest New Testament era, the doctrine concerning Gentiles was clear and firmly fixed.

It was at this time that Peter had his visions from God and was led by the Spirit to preach Christ to a household of Gentiles. And when God's holy Spirit descended on those Gentiles (those "dogs", to use Jesus' term for them), the six companions of Peter, all Jews, were utterly dumbfounded:

"And they of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God."

(Acts 10:45-46)

Here at Cornelius' house, God not only by-passed the heretofore required water baptism, He had by-passed the entire Law of Moses! Moreover, He had by-passed the very thing that made the Jews a distinct race of men - circumcision! God had given His precious holy Spirit to "dogs"! Up to that moment, the body of Christ was exclusively Jewish. Every person who had received the baptism of Christ had either been born Jewish or been converted to Judaism; but at Cornelius' house, God was showing Peter and the household of faith a new and amazing thing.

Peter, James, John, and the other leaders in the body were spiritually discerning enough to recognize the meaning of Cornelius' baptism (cp. Acts 15:1-11). Their previous message had not been in error. Christ had to be preached first to the Jews (cp. Acts 3:25-26; 13:44-46; Rom. 2:9-10); therefore, if Gentiles were to receive Christ, it was necessary, in the days immediately following the day of Pentecost, for them to become Jews. But when more and more Jews refused to obey the gospel, God by-passed them altogether to reach the Gentiles with His grace, baptizing them into the body of Christ without requiring them to be Jews by submitting to the Law God had given the Jews.

But the recognition on the part of these few leaders that God would baptize Gentiles by the Spirit into the body of Christ did not resolve two crucial issues. First, it did not change the fact that Peter, James, John, and the other leaders were sent only to the Jews. By acknowledging the work of God upon the Gentiles, those apostles were not thereby sent to the Gentiles. Second, their recognition of God's work did not settle the question for others in the body. A sizable portion of Jewish believers either could not or would not have fellowship with any Gentile unless he submitted to the Law, no matter what Christ had done for that Gentile (cp. Acts 15). Clearly, as one elderly mother in Christ used to tell me, "God needed another man." And the man He chose was Paul.

Circles

For three years after his Damascus road encounter with Christ and subsequent spiritual baptism, Paul spent his time in deep prayer and study in the Arabian Desert region (Gal. 1:15-18). Having discovered himself warring against the truth of God because of the understanding he had received from human instructors, he refused to seek the counsel of men, be they rabbis, apostles, or whatever. He had learned, as no other man had learned, the vanity of dependence on tradition, however long established, or wise men, however revered and capable. He had learned that he must receive his instruction from God or run the risk of discovering himself opposing, in devotion to God, God's own truth. And when Paul did begin to proclaim the gospel, his message not only challenged sinners but it also challenged the spiritual fiber of believers. If angels had been a part of the believing community, Paul's astonishing gospel would probably have challenged them as well. As for Paul, he uttered a curse upon any creature in heaven or earth who would dare teach anything contrary to his doctrine (Gal. 1:6-12).

The earliest believers had from the beginning known that only those Jews who believed in Jesus would be saved from the coming wrath. The end result of an unbelieving Jew, they knew well, would be the same as the uncircumcised Gentiles. But they steadfastly affirmed the distinction, as the Scriptures and Jesus himself had done, between the Gentiles and the chosen people of God, to whom, alone, the promise of the Messiah was given. They would have drawn a picture like this:

Circles

But Paul's revelation was that there was no longer any distinction in God's sight between Jews and Gentiles, for "all have come short of the glory of God." Outside of Christ, all were sinners, and the only Jews that now existed in God's sight are those who had been circumcised in heart by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28-29). Paul's diagram would have been like this:

Circles

Paul commanded his converts to cling to this simplicity of Christ (2Cor. 11:2-3),

"for he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God."

(Rom. 2:28-29)

The earliest believers could easily receive Paul's teaching, "for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body," but many of the same people staggered at the rest of his sentence: "whether we be Jews or Gentiles" (1Cor. 12:13).

Add to this, the fact that Paul taught that Christ is the end of the Law, and you can imagine the opposition Paul faced from within the ranks of the Jewish believers, besides the usual hazards of a missionary evangelist preaching a crucified and resurrected Lord.

In practically every one of Paul's letters, this issue is mentioned. In some of them, it is Paul's major concern.10 The following lengthy excerpt from the letter to the Gentile assembly at Ephesus is an excellent example of Paul's declaration of the Gentiles' privilege to receive Christ, and, as it is often the case, what Paul does not say (in brackets) is as instructive as what he does say:

"Wherefore, remember that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh (who are called 'Uncircumcision' by that which is called 'the Circumcision' in the flesh made by hands), that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [Paul intentionally omits anything else] you who sometimes were far off [from God] are made nigh by the blood of Christ [another intentional non-reference to the Law]. For he is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [the Law] between us, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain [Jews and Gentiles] one new man, so making peace, and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body [the body of Christ, not the nation of Israel] by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby, and came and preached peace to you which were afar off [Gentiles], and to them that were nigh [Jews]. For through him we both have access by one Spirit [and nothing else] unto the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit [alone].

For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles [had Paul not preached a gospel for the Gentiles, the Jews would not have caused his arrest in Acts 21], if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me toward you, how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote before in new words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs [with the Jews], and of the same body, and partakers of His promise [to Abraham] in Christ by the gospel. Wherefore, I was made minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."

(Eph. 2:11-3:8)

Try to imagine the radical nature of Paul's doctrine to the orthodox ear of his time. To the earliest believers, almost entirely Jewish, the Gentiles were "dogs" (in Jesus' words), considered to be so unclean that they were unfit even to eat with or visit. Yet Paul was declaring, contrary to everything he or other Jews had ever been taught, that spiritually "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek" (Rom. 10:12a). For Paul to say that these uncircumcised foreigners were now one with the saints of Christ, "fellow citizens" of God's kingdom, and partakers of Abraham's blessing, was the purest heresy, even blasphemous, to most Jews, including Jewish believers. They would have considered Paul's doctrine to be demeaning to their God-given heritage and contrary both to the Scriptures (as they understood them) and the example of Jesus himself, who preached only "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

The promise of God was to Abraham and to his children, and for Paul to claim that God had sent him to the heathen to preach Christ seemed heretical and utterly indefensible. But God had revealed to Paul that Abraham's children were not those that came from his flesh but those who demonstrated the same kind of faith Abraham had. And if those who had faith happened to be uncircumcised, what of it? Paul pointed out the indisputable fact that Abraham was justified by faith while he himself was still uncircumcised (Rom. 4:9-10). Paul further explained that Abraham

"received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they be not circumcised, so that righteousness might be imputed unto them also, and the father of circumcision to those who are not just of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised."

(Rom. 4:11-12)

God is the one who persuaded Paul to believe that the only children Abraham had are those who have faith in Christ. Some of Abraham's physical descendants did have faith, but those who did not were not his children (cp. Rom. 9:6-8). Jesus hinted at this truth during a heated exchange with certain Pharisees:

"They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said unto them, If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; Abraham didn't do this."

(Jn. 8:39-40)

The Jews of this period considered any uncircumcised man to be permanently separated from the blessings of Abraham, and they cannot be condemned for thinking so. Jewish believers also understood the standing of Gentiles before God to be that way, based on their understanding of Jesus' ministry, certain Old Testament Scriptures, their traditions, and the fact that God, up to that time, had given the promise of the holy Ghost to no one but Jews who loved and kept the Law.

But when God, first of all, baptized Cornelius and his household with His holy Spirit, and then sent Paul to declare that Abraham's heirs were those of every nation who demonstrated Abraham's kind of faith (Gal. 3:6-9), a new light began to shine in the world.

Before that time, Gentiles had been taught that if they wanted to receive the baptism of the Spirit, they must first be circumcised (i.e., become Jews) and submit to all the ordinances of the Law of Moses, including John the Baptist's water baptism in Jesus' name. But God's revelation to Paul, and to Peter at Cornelius' house, was that all God required of Gentiles in order for them to receive the promise of the Spirit is obedient faith in Jesus. It was a gnat which many a Jew had great difficulty swallowing. For Paul to teach that Cornelius and other redeemed Gentiles were Abraham's children, while many Jews were not, was the sheerest nonsense to them, completely contrary to all truth that God had revealed up to that time, as they understood it.

Same Wrong Message

In the light of these things, consider the traditional doctrine among Pentecostal believers today concerning the baptism of the holy Ghost. As a whole, most of them are adamant that sinners must be converted before that baptism may be received. Some Pentecostals insist not only on conversion preceding Spirit baptism, but on an additional experience they call sanctification that is received between conversion and Spirit baptism. Still others, such as those of the "Oneness" faith, insist that water baptism is required before one should receive the holy Ghost baptism, just as the very earliest believers did.

So, the message that sinners receive from the body of Christ today is practically the same message that Paul spent his life in Christ opposing. That erroneous message is that sinners must become God's people in order to qualify to receive the holy Ghost baptism. Standard doctrine today among Pentecostals concerning Spirit baptism is that it is only for God's people, only for those who have already been converted. But the revelation that burned within Paul's soul was that the holy Ghost baptism was not for saints, that this baptism cannot possibly be for people in the kingdom of God, for it is by the baptism of the holy Ghost that people enter into the kingdom of God. The baptism of the Spirit cannot follow conversion for it is conversion! It can only be for people outside the body, for no one inside the body is without it.

Even at present, after so long a time, God's people are still drawing circles around the baptism of the Spirit which God has not drawn, leading sinners through all sorts of admissions, confessions, and initiations before instructing them to seek the baptism. And God is still surprising those who cling to such things, as He surprised Peter's companions at Cornelius' house, by baptizing people into the body of Christ simply because they come to Him in the name of His Son Jesus, hungering and thirsting for the "righteousness, peace, and joy of the holy Ghost".

Paul's gospel, not Peter's, fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy of a way being made that would be so simple even fools would not have to err while walking in it (Isa. 35:8). The only prerequisite for receiving the holy Spirit and being cleansed from all sin, according to Paul, is repentance in the name of Jesus. Anything else added by anyone is godless tradition. Conversion neither precedes nor post-dates spiritual baptism, for it is spiritual baptism which converts. There is not one example in the New Testament of anyone being converted before being baptized by the Spirit.11 And though there be many thousands testifying today of being born again (or "saved" as they say) before receiving the holy Ghost baptism, not one of them is with understanding. We may have a change of mind and heart, we may be touched by God's love, or be delivered of evils great or small, and yet be unconverted. There are many genuine, thrilling, and healing experiences with Jesus that we may have without being born again! But there is only one genuine experience of new birth: Pentecostal baptism.

There is no such thing as a non-Spirit-baptized member of the body of Christ, for we are made members of the body of Christ by the baptism of the Spirit. This was the major doctrinal battle of Paul's time, and it remains one of the great doctrinal battles for us to win, for the glory of God and the good of God's people.

Christ Is Sufficient

The fundamental problem with the Jews of Paul's time requiring circumcision for Gentiles, or requiring John's baptism, or any other ceremony that was under the Law God gave them, is similar to the problem caused by Christian sects in requiring their ceremonies. The problem is this: the use of any ceremonial rite implies that Christ alone is not sufficient. The holy works of the Law were made useless for obtaining salvation by what Jesus did, and if useless for salvation, then those ceremonial works became nothing but vain ritual. Isaiah boldly prophesied that the day would come when God would turn the holy works of the Law into vain, sinful exercises deserving of the death penalty:

"He who kills an ox [will be] as if he slew a man; he who sacrifices a lamb [will be] as if he cut off a dog's neck; he who offers an oblation [will be] as if he offered swine's blood; he who burns incense [will be] as if he blessed an idol."

(Isaiah 66:3)

For anyone among the Gentiles in Paul's day, and for anyone at all now, to practice ceremonial rites is to imply an insufficiency in Christ. Jesus does not need and does not use any form of water baptism to save sinners. His baptism, his circumcision, his sacrifices, his garments for worship, his communion, and all other elements of service to God in this New Covenant, are spiritual. The chapter following, which deals with the relationship between salvation and works, will examine this aspect of the gospel in detail.

Go Top