What is born of the Spirit and baptism with fire?

There are many references in the New Testament about being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5), or the baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11). What does this mean, and why do we need this “second” baptism?

Being Born Again

Jesus taught Nicodemus about the commandment to be born again. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and, unlike most of the other Pharisees, he was interested in learning from Jesus. Nicodemus told Jesus that he knew Jesus was sent from God because of the miracles Jesus had performed. Jesus said that in order to understand God and His ways, one must be born again. 

Nicodemus didn’t understand how rebirth was possible. “How can a man…enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” he asked (John 9:4). Jesus explained that just as physical birth creates physical life, spiritual life is created through spiritual acts; through baptism by water and the Spirit. 

“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” Jesus taught (John 3:5).

We learn from these passages that being born of the Spirit is a requirement to enter heaven, in addition to baptism.

Baptism with Fire

There are a few references to baptism by fire in the New Testament. The visual created by this word choice is certainly alarming. What does John the baptist mean when he says that Jesus “shall baptize you… with fire?” (Matt 3:11)

The baptism of water and by fire show two methods of cleansing. Water washes away dirt from the surface of an object. Fire has the power to purify the inside of an object. We see examples of this difference in simple acts like cooking. Rinsing food is an important step of preparation, but many times that food is not safe to be eaten until it is cooked.

Similarly, the religious ritual of baptism by water shows that we are clean from our mistakes, or outward actions. The Spirit reaches deeper and cleans our minds and hearts, the very source of who we are. This is a full purification. This symbolism is confirmed by the scripture, “(Y)e have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit,” (1 Peter 1:22). 

“New Creature” in Christ

Jesus commanded us to be perfect like God (Matt. 5:48). Yet, as humans it is our very nature to make mistakes. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us to overcome that nature. 

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” (2 Cor. 5:17). When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we give ourselves over to the power of God. His perfect power helps us to become better than we can be on our own. If we listen to its guiding influence, we can be more than our human nature and become one with God (John 17:21). 

Conclusion

Jesus spoke in parables and used symbolism frequently to teach us the ways of heaven. It can be challenging to understand. However, we know that baptism by fire is not literal, but means being baptized by the Holy Spirit. We know that we must receive this baptism in order to go to heaven. We also know that this baptism has the power to purify our hearts, and help us to be unified with God.