I wrote this years ago (at the request of my previous church) to explain my beliefs on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am posting it to give the Scriptural and theological basis for my perspective, especially in light of my sermon series on spiritual gifts. It is being posted my personal blog because it doesn’t represent an official position of the church, though all of the elders believe that the Baptism is not a secondary experience but part of salvation.
In the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, God’s Holy Spirit did not usually indwell the typical Israelite. Rather, specific individuals might be given the Spirit – usually for a limited time and a specific purpose. However, the prophets foretold that this would change:
…I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.— Joel 2:28-29 NIV
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. — Ezekiel 36:27 NIV
In other words, there would come a time when God would pour His Spirit out on all of His people, not just a select few.
In the Gospels and Acts
It was this foretold outpouring that John the Baptist was referring to when he said:
I baptize you with water, but he [Jesus Christ] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. — Mark 1:8 NIV
John was saying that Jesus was the one who would usher in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, also called “the gift of the Spirit,” “the baptism in/with/by the Holy Spirit” (with, in, and by are all ways of translating the same Greek word “en“), and sometimes “filling of the Spirit.” Jesus reminded the disciples of this after he rose from the dead:
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. — Acts 1:4-5 NIV
This happened shortly after Jesus returned to heaven.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. — Acts 2:1-4 NIV
Peter knew that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy foretelling that the Spirit would be poured out on all believers.
[Peter said] “…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people….’” — Acts 2:16-17 NIV
When his listeners asked Peter how to respond to the Gospel, he said:
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 NIV
Peter did not say, “Repent and be baptized, and then we will pray for you to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” But rather, “…you will receive the gift….” Peter was saying that salvation and baptism with the Holy Spirit would happen simultaneously. This promise wasn’t only for Peter’s original audience.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. — Acts 2:39 NIV
In the Epistles
If, as the Pentecostal view holds, the baptism of the Spirit occurs after salvation and should be earnestly sought by believers, we would expect to see such a crucial event explained and promoted in the Epistles.
Yet, the only time “baptism with the Spirit” is mentioned in the Epistles, it demonstrates that we are all baptized with the Spirit when we become part of the body of Christ, i.e. when we are saved.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. — 1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV
In fact, when Paul lists the core components of Christianity, he mentions only one baptism, water baptism.
There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. — Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV
A Response to the Pentecostal View
The large majority of conversions recorded in Acts seem to presume that conversion and the gift of the Holy Spirit would go hand in hand, just as Peter had said. But there are some passages that seem to be exceptions to that rule. The book of Acts covers a time of great transition in the history of God’s people, when (for the first time) His Spirit began to indwell all of His followers. It should not surprise us that there are some unusual events during this time.
The following three passages from Acts have been used to support the view that the baptism of Spirit occurs separately from salvation. In two cases, the passages are probably recording a salvation event, but the other is a genuine exception that springs out of this time of transition.
1) Acts 9:17-18
According to the Pentecostal view, Paul (also called Saul) was converted on the road to Damascus, and then baptized (filled) with the Spirit a few days later.
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized… — Acts 9:17-18 NIV
The Bible doesn’t say that he was already a Christian – it is likely that this passage is describing Paul’s conversion experience (see Acts 22:16).
Several times in Acts, receiving the Holy Sprit is synonymous with being saved. A good Jew would have understood that he had been saved from his sin by God, through the animal sacrifice at the temple. In his mind, the most conspicuous change when he accepted Jesus was that they received the Holy Spirit. This is why Peter had said “Repent and be baptized…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” rather than “…you will be saved.”
2) Acts 19:1-6
The Pentecostal view also sees the following passage as an example of baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring after salvation.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. — Acts 19:1-6 NIV
Notice that Paul seems surprised that these men had not received the Holy Spirit. But as soon as he finds out that they had only received John’s baptism, he realized they were not yet Christians. So, Paul then “leads them to Christ.”
But doesn’t it say that that Holy Spirit came upon them after they were baptized? No, in the original Greek the order of events is not clarified. It simply says that they were 1) baptized and 2) the Holy Spirit came upon them.
3) Acts 8:14-17
The Pentecostal view says that the Samaritans in the following passage are like modern Christians who haven’t been baptized with the Spirit.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women….When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. — Acts 8:12, 14-17 NIV
These Samaritans had not yet received any of the Holy Spirit, whereas Pentecostals believe all Christians have some measure of the Spirit – even if they haven’t been baptized with the Spirit.
This passage records a very significant episode in the early church: the first time the Gospel was received by non-Jews. Just as salvation came to the Jews first and Gentiles second (Romans 1:16), it appears that the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit came first to the house of Israel. This event would then be the Samaritan’s Pentecost (in the pattern of Acts 2:1-4).
Why the delay for the Samaritans? We know that there had been long-standing animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. Perhaps God knew that Jewish believers would have a difficult time accepting His work among the Samaritans. Wanting to ensure that Samaritan believers would never be treated as second-class Christians, God waited until Apostles Peter and John came to substantiate their salvation.
We see a similar Apostolic “seal of approval” when Gentiles received the Spirit n Acts 10. In this case we get to hear the criticism of the Jewish Christians:
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened… “As I began to speak [to them], the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” — Acts 11:1-4, 15-18 NIV
In effect, we see three “Pentecost” events, one for Jews, one for Samaritans, and one for Gentiles. And as they were baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), they would forever be untied as one:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28 NIV
The Filling of the Holy Spirit
If Scripture teaches that all believers are baptized with the Spirit, does that mean that the “baptism” experience that Pentecostals have had is invalid? By no means! Scripture teaches that believers may continue to have significant experiences with the Holy Spirit. Peter was not only baptized in the Spirit, he was also filled on a later occasion:
After [Peter and other believers] prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. — Acts 4:31 NIV
By emphasizing that all believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit from the moment of salvation, we are not invalidating what has been a very meaningful and impacting experience for many believers. Rather, we are clarifying that it is better understood as a filling of the Spirit. All believers are commanded to continually be filled with the Spirit (“continually” is implied in the original Greek):
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be [continually] filled with the Spirit. — Ephesians 5:18 NIV
As believers, we are commanded to continually grow in our submission to and reliance on the Holy Spirit. This manifests itself through spiritual growth and maturity, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. — Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
But the filling of the Spirit may also be experienced in more dramatic ways, such as the experience Pentecostals label “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
If a person earnestly seeks the power of God’s Spirit in his or her life, God will honor that desire, regardless of which label is used. This filling of the Spirit could be a very dramatic and memorable experience – especially if that person had previously been closed to the power of the Spirit. God has used the Pentecostal movement to remind the church of His Spirit’s powerful role in the believer’s daily life.
Why then make such a fuss about labels? The first danger of the Pentecostal doctrine is saying that believers who have not had a dramatic “baptism” experience have less of the Holy Spirit than those who have. As a result, there are many believers who live in guilt and confusion, thinking they have not received the Spirit because they never spoke in tongues.
The second danger is relying upon outward manifestations (such as tongues), which can be intentionally or unintentionally manufactured by the individual (see Matthew 7:22-23). A better test of the Spirit’s presence is consistent growth in the fruit of the Spirit, which springs from His inward work; if a person doesn’t bear the fruit of the Spirit, it is unlikely that he or she is truly Spirit-filled.
It is not my intent to invalidating this meaningful and impacting experience of many believers, nor am I minimizing the Holy Spirit. Rather, I want to proclaim the Biblical truth that every believer has been baptized in the Spirit and should seek both His continuous filling and dramatic empowerment.