A dear brother in the Northeast writes, “I found your comment ‘Faith and baptism do not belong in a list of like-and-equal things’ to be interesting in light of Ephesians 4:4-6 which speaks of ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ Baptism is found here on a list in the most impressive company. I would suggest you owe your readers a correction on this one. Had a modern evangelical been writing this passage, baptism certainly would not have made the list. Obviously, Paul had a different view.”
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You are certainly right that Ephesians 4:5 names “faith” and “baptism” together in a “list,” if you please. Paul also names “one Lord” in this “list,” which underscores my original point that these are not “like-and-equal things.” Paul is emphasizing the commonality of Christian experience, for we all share in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This is a poetic verse in the original Greek, and the English word “one” appears in its masculine (heis), feminine (mia) and neuter (hen) forms to modify first “Lord” (kyrios – masculine), then “faith” (pistis – feminine) and finally “baptism” (baptisma – neuter).
All three of these “ones” relate to remission of sins. The one LORD shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). That is the objective reality, whether anyone believes it or not. But whoever believes in Jesus (the one FAITH), according to all the prophets, “has remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). That is the subjective appropriation of the blessing objectively accomplished by the “one Lord.” And, according to Jesus’ own commandment and design, whoever has the one FAITH in the one LORD is to express and declare it in the one BAPTISM. When one does that as an expression of faith, baptism also is said to be “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
Finally, each of these realities depends on the one named just before it. The one baptism has significance only because it expresses and declares trust or faith. Without faith, baptism is meaningless. And faith has value and benefit only because it reposes in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Faith, standing alone, or placed in anything or anyone other than God’s work in Jesus Christ, accomplishes nothing for salvation.
So these beautiful realities are intertwined, yet distinct. The Lord calls for our response of faith, and faith cries out for expression and embodiment in baptism. Baptism has meaning because it expresses trust, and trust or faith is meaningful because it looks to Jesus the one Lord. Every baptized believer shares all these things in common. “Be diligent,” then, Paul admonishes, “to preserve in bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives” (Eph. 4:3). Whenever Christians disavow other believers, or deny their brotherhood together in the Lord, they deny the unity which the Spirit has given and they grieve the Holy Spirit who makes us one.