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The Baptism of the Holy Spirit



Today I am going to tackle a question that might not be on the top of your mind, but it is an important one for us to consider. This question is timely in light of our Sunday series through The Gospel According to John. Recently, we have read verses such as these: "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5); and, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). And this Sunday we will hear the words stating that the Lord Jesus "gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34). And so, you guessed it, the question is regarding what it means to receive the Spirit, or to be born of the Spirit, or to be baptized in or with the Holy Spirit.

Let me frame it this way: what does it mean to be baptized in or with the Holy Spirit? This is a question whose answer has delineated the boundaries between denominations and fellowships within Christianity. In some ways it is a watershed question. Pentecostals and charismatic groups have answered this question differently than the vast majority of Christians in history. And their answer has been that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an event in the Christian life that happens subsequent to conversion. I want to argue for a different view, one that could accurately be called the historic Christian position. This position is simply that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is one of the mighty acts of God that takes place at the believer's initial conversion.

Biblical Foundations

It is not until the Gospels that we have the specific wording of "baptism with the Holy Spirit". John the Baptist who was baptizing people for repentance declares that what he has been doing is simply water baptism but Jesus the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit. (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33). All four Gospels record these famous words of John. Jesus repeats these words after he has been raised and before his ascension, he says, "for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). This baptism with the Holy Spirit happens at Pentecost, where the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

The Apostle Peter describes this baptism of the Holy Spirit as something that Jesus has poured out from heaven (Acts 2:33). Peter recalls the original promise of the Lord when speaking to the church at Jerusalem about the surprising conversion of the Gentiles. Peter said to them, "As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:15-17). It is important to note the connection between baptism with the Holy Spirit and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter puts faith and baptism with the Spirit together.

In Paul's letters we see this same connection between initial conversion and baptism in the Spirit. Paul reminds the Corinthians, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). It is baptism with the Holy Spirit that has joined them to the body of Christ; thus it is an initial, not a subsequent event in the Christian life. These are just some of the many texts that teach that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit comes about with initial conversion.

In light of this evidence some would still challenge that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a subsequent event. This challenge is frequently based on two texts: Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 19:1-7. We will look at these in turn. In Acts 8:14-17 we have the story of the Samaritans who were converted under Philip receiving the Holy Spirit later by the ministry of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle John. It seems to be a clear case of people coming to Christ through the preaching of the gospel but not receiving the Holy Spirit until later. Nothing in Philip's preaching seems deficient, "he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). The people respond by being baptized (Acts 8:12). Yet next we see the Apostles come down from Jerusalem "and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them" (Acts 8:15-16).

So why was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit delayed? The presence of Peter and John tips us off to something bigger here in the story. First, it is interesting to note the phrase, "for he had not yet fallen on any of them". This statement is an explanation, which begs the question, if this was a normal pattern why would Luke need to explain it? The explanation should clue the reader into the abnormality of the situation. So why then do we have this unusual situation with the Samaritans. Many Bible scholars have pointed out that the Samaritans, being despised by the Jews, would not have been easily accepted into the predominantly Jewish church. The testimony of the deacon Philip and the Samaritan's own testimony may not have been enough to legitimize their conversion in the eyes of the Jewish Christians. So by having the Apostle's lay their hands on them, they are confirmed to be authentically saved and accepted into the family of God. They are just as soundly converted as the Jews at Pentecost. This also reflects the clear promise of Jesus that the gospel would reach, and the Spirit would be poured out, on those in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). At least one Apostle was present at the reaching of every one of those milestones.

Another text that is used to justify a subsequent Baptism of the Holy Spirit is Acts 19:1-7. Here we see the Apostle Paul meet some disciples in Ephesus and engage in a peculiar conversation, "he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they said, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said, 'Into what then were you baptized?' They said, 'Into John's baptism'" (Acts 19:2-3). After this Paul then explains to them John's baptism and what it pointed to, namely, Jesus Christ. These disciples were simply disciples of John; they had not heard of the Holy Spirit or perhaps even Jesus Christ. The fact that Paul asks them these questions shows that what was happening was not normal. So by all accounts this is an inappropriate text to justify a second or subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These men had only just now heard and believed the gospel. The outpouring of the Spirit here in Acts 19 is right alongside of their conversions.

Summary and Conclusion

So as we survey the Scriptures it becomes clear that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a subsequent experience but one of the mighty works of God that happens at the Christian's conversion. The believer is regenerated from death to life, justified by God, counted righteous in Christ, adopted by the Father, redeemed from sin, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and yes – baptized with the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ baptizes believers with the Holy Spirit at conversion, which brings them into the body of Christ. The Lord Jesus is the one who does the baptizing, the Holy Spirit is the medium of the baptism, believers are the only people who receive this baptism. This event takes place alongside conversion, and it is for the purpose of uniting the believer into the family of God. This event cannot be divorced from conversion because it would imply that you could be a Christian but not be spiritually baptized into the family of God. Indeed, it would imply that one could be some sort of a Christian without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is an indispensable part of the saving work of God. It is so linked with the other components in the application of redemption that to separate it out would be nonsensical.

The Day of Pentecost was a unique and special day in the epic history of redemption; One hundred and twenty disciples went from being non-Spirit indwelt believers to Spirit-indwelt believers. They believed in Christ right in the middle of a change in Epoch. They went from Old Testament saints to New Testament saints. Those disciples had a truly unique experience, as did the Samaritans. But if we look to the three thousand new believers that responded to Peter's preaching at Pentecost we see a common experience for believers throughout this new age. "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38). When this gift of the Holy Spirit comes to a believer it could rightly be called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This gift is not normally delayed in coming, but is given instantaneously with the entire multifaceted work of salvation. This is the pattern that is taken up throughout the rest of Acts and in the letters of Paul. The whole of the New Testament affirms this idea that at conversion God's redemption is applied in all of its glory and wonder. The new believer will not lack the Holy Spirit, in the same way that he could never lack justification or positional righteousness.

One more thing to consider is the experience that many have claimed of a "second blessing". Pentecostals and charismatics have interpreted these second blessings as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But is that the only way to interpret these experiences? No, it is not. The Bible is clear on what baptism with the Holy Spirit is, so we must keep that truth as an anchor for our understanding. These experiences cannot, biblically speaking, be the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What they could be however, is a greater filling of the Holy Spirit or conversion itself. There are many people who have participated in churches and in Christian things without being truly converted. In fact, many do so with a false assurance of their salvation. So when they pursue this second blessing, God may indeed quicken their hearts for the very first time. In that case, what they interpret as a second blessing is actually the first blessing of salvation. They have been born again, brought from death to life. Another option is that a Christian who has not been growing very much and has been walling his heart off to the work of the Spirit repents of his slothfulness and invites the Lord to work in him. The filling of the Spirit is not static in a believer's life, it is dynamic, as evidenced by the prayers of the early church. "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). God can and indeed does at times fill a believer with his Spirit to a greater extent than he had previously in that person's life. That is a normal part of the Christian experience. However, many have wrongly interpreted that as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, believer's should rejoice in the past, one-time reality of their baptism with the Holy Spirit, that it is settled and sure, and they should pray and labor by God's grace to experience a greater filling of the Holy Spirit today. In Christ we have been born of the Spirit, baptized with Him. What a glory! What a gift! And yet, the Lord just keeps giving. The Christian life is a life from glory to glory, further up and further in. "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34).

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Wednesday, 24 April 2024