Salvation is in a sense about only one thing; cleaning you. The Bible uses washing many times to describe symbolically removing your sins. But there are several ways to do this, depending on you. God can clean you with air, with water, or with fire. It is your choice.
Let us imagine that you are a rug. Now if you’re just a little dirty and don’t cling to your dirt that well, we can sweep you off and that’s that. Then again, if you really have the dirt ingrained into your fabric, you have to be soaked in water until the dirt turns loose, washed and dried.
But sometimes a rug comes to a point where no amount of cleaning will get it to let go of those stains. Bleach can only do so much. And so the only way to get that dirt out of our sight and off your porch is to get rid of the rug – burn it.
See, there are three stages of cleaning. Something easy to clean you just blow on, and it’s cleaned. Something harder to clean you take a washcloth and wipe it off. Something really hard to clean, you have to take fire – like say, a grill, to get that really caked-on goo off.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Baptism is a washing. A literal and symbolic washing, that symbolically removes your sins. But there is another baptism mentioned in the Bible… actually, TWO other baptisms!
Luke 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
John came to baptize the carnal Israelites to repentance – to clean them up enough so that God could work with them. But Jesus wasn’t so concerned with that baptism, although He did it too – His main purpose was to baptize with the holy spirit – and to baptize with fire. Now one of those is a good thing. One of those is not. Guess which is which. John supplies a few more details about Jesus “baptizing with fire” in the next verse…
Luke 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
John was saying that Jesus had a fan in his hand; and he was going to purge his threshing-floor (where they separated wheat from chaff in those days) and gather the wheat into a pile and save it, and gather the useless chaff into a different pile and burn it. The wheat was going to receive the holy spirit and be baptized with that – the chaff was going to be baptized with fire and destroyed. Another scripture on that subject, one which we all know, is….
Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
So we have three baptisms; the holy spirit, water, and fire. Now baptism with the holy spirit is a baptism with wind – or air.
John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
This scripture describes how Jesus acts now. Jesus is the only being, so far, that has been born again “of the spirit”, and now IS spirit, and this tells us exactly how Jesus’ holy spirit moves around, acts, and that sort of thing. So when it comes, it’s like wind coming – you might hear it, but you can’t see it or know where it came from.
The word “Baptized” means immersed. Nothing more, it’s a simple Greek word. So when you’re immersed in the holy spirit, you won’t be able to see it, or feel it, or touch it – it’s like being baptized in air. Literally, it’s being baptized in the breath of God, the same breath which gave Adam life.
This is how God prefers to baptize people. Take Abraham, for instance…
Romans 4:9-10 … we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
I would go on to add the question, was it reckoned in baptism, or unbaptism? Abraham’s faith alone was counted for righteousness, and he received the holy spirit when he believed God. Abraham turned loose of his sins and the breath of God blew away what dirt was there. It did this not only symbolically but also literally by showing Abraham a sin and then watching Abraham to see how he handled it. Abraham as we know jumped up, threw that sin out, and thus Abraham was cleaned.
Abraham didn’t need baptized in water to receive this spirit, or to be treated as righteous. He didn’t need baptized in fire, his sin-riddled carcass burnt to a crisp to get his sins out of God’s sight. Air was enough for him.
But sadly few men are like Abraham. God tried circumcision for a few millennia and it just wasn’t doing the job. It was SUPPOSED to sign men into a covenant, whereby God would bless them and they would swear to obey him. But it just didn’t do the job very well – the people were just too carnal. So God replaced it with water baptism, which symbolized the same thing.
Colossians 2:11-12 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Baptism is the circumcision made without hands. But although it replaced circumcision, it also has a few unique symbols of it’s own, specifically that of burying your old carnal self in the “watery grave” of the baptismal pool, and being symbolically resurrected through faith – in other words, being raised as a person committed to following the spirit of God.
Basically what has been done is that, where circumcision attempted to do the job alone, water baptism is designed to team up with the spirit of God and work hand in hand – or perhaps hand in glove would be a more appropriate metaphor. See, it’s just so HARD to believe in a spirit that “moves like the wind”, one you can’t see and really can’t PROVE beyond a doubt is there. And for mankind, who are largely faithless, carnal people at best, we need something we can SEE.
And so God set up a system whereby we can SEE we are baptized in water. The water comes up and covers us, and we KNOW that happened. And if a baptism with the holy spirit hasn’t happened already, God promises that along with the baptism with water will come a baptism with the spirit of Christ. So seeing the water, we can believe the spiritual baptism takes place as well.
And so our sins are washed with water, since we really can’t be trusted to trust God and have our sins washed with air alone, like Abraham did. And while perhaps one or two out of each millennia might accept a baptism by air like Abraham and David, God just can’t take the chance and so commanded everyone to be washed with water to make sure.
And although the sins of those who must be washed with water cling a bit more tightly than those who only required air, as Abraham, water makes the rug no less clean in the end than air did – it just takes a bit more work to get there. And of course, some of us may take a bit more scrubbing than others.
But then there is a final class of people.
This class has had a chance to be baptized with air, as all of us have, and rejected it. They then had a chance to be baptized with water, and the sin just clung too tightly. Or rather, they clung too tightly to the sin. And once every effort has been made to convince these people, both now and in the second resurrection to come, there will be only one way to clean them of their sins.
God will have a clean universe. He WILL have a universe without sin – if He has to kill you, me, all mankind and even His own Son to do it. He will have a universe where trust and happiness dwell and true concern for one’s fellowman is the only thought on every mind.
And so if someone will not be cleaned … If they plant their feet in the ground and flatly refuse to be led by the spirit of truth, God will baptize them with fire. Like a rug with too many stains, a rug which has sin and rebellion so deeply ingrained that it will not turn loose of it, the only way to have a clean floor is to get rid of the rug. There is no other way.
Revelation 20:15, 21:1 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into [read: baptized in] the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
This principle is how God deals with everything from angels to men to the very Earth itself. If you’ll recall, the earth was cleaned once with God’s spirit – He spoke and it was made and it was pure. It was baptized with the spirit of God.
But when it became evil, God had to clean it again – but not with His spirit this time, though He did try – for His words through Noah made little impact. So He was forced to use water to scrub it clean and purify it. This brings us to now. And the next time God cleans the Earth and purifies it of evil, a scrub brush won’t cut it; next time, He’ll be using a flamethrower. Because we’ve so corrupted the Earth that only a baptism by fire can purify it.
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
There are those that pray for a baptism with fire. If they had the slightest clue what that meant, they’d clap their hand over their mouth in terror and pray that God not answer their prayer. Baptism with fire is God’s last resort. It means He has failed to clean you by blowing off your dirt, and failed to clean you by scrubbing off your grime. It means that YOU have not allowed Him to do either, and forced Him to pull out that flamethrower to get you clean. Don’t make God do that.