“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ ” (Acts 19:1-3, NKJV).
Prepositions are often overlooked as small and insignificant parts of a sentence. They are typically little words which lack the impact of the more impressive nouns and verbs on which we focus. Yet they give essential details to our communications. Without them, and especially without precise understanding of them, our messages are often misunderstood.
The picture accompanying this article was taken of a baptism in Dharan, Nepal which took place in the dry season. When the young lady expressed faith in Jesus and a desire to be baptized for the remission of her sins, a search began for water in which that could be accomplished. The river bed outside town was dry – not even small hold-over pools could be found. No one in the church there had any kind of pool or pond which could be used. Finally, a used and empty plastic drum was located and partially filled with water. Thankfully, she was small and agile, able to easily fit into the barrel, where her obedience to the gospel was quickly accomplished.
Into what was she baptized? Why, obviously, into a barrel, right? Well, not really. The vessel holding the water is simply a convenience – necessary of course, but of no spiritual significance. She, as all repentant believers must be, was baptized into Jesus Christ, being buried with him (Romans 6:3ff) and putting him on (Galatians 3:27). By doing so she was cleansed from her sins (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:6), was raised as a new creature to walk in a new life (Romans 6:4), was added to the Church which Jesus built (Acts 2:47), and received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; 19:5-6).
The twelve believers in Ephesus whom Paul located had been baptized previously, but not into Jesus (i.e., “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Acts 19:5). As a result, they did not receive the blessings which baptism into Christ confers. Only when they obeyed “that form of doctrine to which [they] were delivered,” was salvation accomplished.
People today are often baptized into many different concepts or ideas. Some are baptized into a particular church. Others are baptized into a symbol of their salvation which they believe has already been bestowed. But only that baptism which is “Into the Lord Jesus” is effective toward salvation from sin and fellowship with Christ. Into what were you baptized? Or have you been baptized at all? Until you follow the example of the twelve in Ephesus (and millions of faithful since) you cannot “taste the heavenly gift” or “become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:5).