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The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Some people today profess to be able to speak in tongues, receive divine guidance, and perform miracles. All of this is possible, they claim, because they have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Members of the various “Charismatic” or “Holiness” faiths, who claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit, are surprisingly divided over the purpose and timing of Holy Spirit baptism. For instance, the United Pentecostals believe that Holy Spirit baptism is a part of the “new birth” (being born of the water and the spirit – John 3:5). They teach that one can not be saved until he has been baptized in the Holy Spirit and in water. However, the Assemblies of God teach that Holy Spirit baptism is a “second work of grace” that comes after salvation.

Those who see the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a “second work of grace” believe that it is the means by which a Christian moves on to a higher level of spiritual life. As some have put it, without Holy Spirit Baptism, “You are an eight cylinder engine firing on four, or possibly six at the most. You are just not quite there” (Charismatic Chaos, John F. MacArthur, Jr., p. 249).

As such, Holy Spirit Baptism is something that is earnestly sought after by these individuals:

“Charismatics generally believe that after someone becomes a Christian, he or she must seek diligently for the baptism of the Spirit. Those who get this baptism also experience various phenomena, such as speaking in tongues, feelings of euphoria, visions, and emotional outbursts of various kinds. Those who have not experienced the baptism and its accompanying phenomena are not considered Spirit-filled; that is, they are immature, carnal, disobedient, or otherwise incomplete Christians” (ibid, pp. 26-27).

The claims and teachings of charismatics have had an impact upon the way some people view various aspects of the Holy Spirit, especially the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In this article we will examine what the Bible has to say about Holy Spirit Baptism.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit Was A Promise

A careful reading of the Bible will show that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a promise, not a command.

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).

“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now… But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:4-5, 8).

Promises are to be enjoyed, but they can not be obeyed. Commands are to be obeyed. Water baptism was a command which man had to choose to obey (Acts 10:48, 22:16). Men never chose to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Administrator of Holy Spirit Baptism

To be baptized means to be immersed, thus the baptism of the Holy Spirit means to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the administrator (the one who does the baptizing). He is the element (that into which one is baptized). The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is first mentioned by John the Baptist. “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:33). The Father told John that he would recognize the Messiah when he saw the Spirit descending upon Him. Just as John baptized men with water, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11).

Before His ascension, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and were thus endued with power from on high. This occurred in Acts chapter two. When the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a loud sound as of a mighty rushing wind attracted a crowd of Jews together at the Temple and they were astonished as they heard the apostles speaking in different languages (Acts 2:1-12). Peter said that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Joel: “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…’” (Acts 2:16-17). Peter went on to tell them that the resurrected Christ was the one who had poured fourth the Holy Spirit. “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33). Thus Jesus was the One who baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This Promise Was For the Apostles

Gaining a proper understanding of the Scriptures requires us to take note of who is speaking and unto whom they are speaking. Jesus never promised that all men would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. This promise was made to the apostles, not to all of mankind (Acts 1:2-5).

Some people object to this conclusion by claiming that John the Baptist taught that Jesus would baptize all men with the Holy Spirit. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

John was speaking to a mixed group of individuals on this occasion, some of whom would receive the baptism of fire (Hell, v. 12), and some of whom would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John was not talking about who would receive these baptisms, but who would administer these baptisms: John baptized with water and Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

We previously noted that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Acts chapter two was a fulfillment of a prophecy made by Joel. Some contend that the statement in Joel’s prophecy, “I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17) means that all believers will receive Holy Spirit baptism.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out in such a way that it affected all flesh (men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile). Some received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in a limited measure: prophesying, seeing visions and dreams, etc. However, these gifts were made possible by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18). All believers certainly benefited from the work that the Spirit did through the apostles, but they did not receive the Spirit in the same measure as did the apostles. Only the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The Purpose of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

As we have pointed out, some believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is essential for man’s salvation. Others claim that it is the means by which one becomes a complete Christian. The Bible, however, teaches that the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to empower or equip the apostles to do their work (Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8). This was done when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem in Acts chapter two.

After being baptized with the Holy Spirit, the apostles had the ability to:

  1. Reveal divine truth regarding Christ, His resurrection, and the conditions for entrance into His kingdom (John 14:26, 16:12-13).
  2. Perform signs and wonders to confirm this truth (Acts 2:4-6, 33, 43).
  3. Impart spiritual gifts to others (Acts 8:18).

According to the Bible, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the means by which the apostles were equipped to do their work. Jesus never indicated that the office of an apostle was to be passed on from the original twelve. None of the apostles ever taught that men were to take their place. Since the apostles occupied a temporary role in the Lord’s church, there is no need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit to take place today.

What About the Household of Cornelius?

Those at the household of Cornelius experienced a baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48). Does this prove that such was a common occurrence in the First Century and, thus, should happen to all true believers today?

The baptism of the Holy Spirit that occurred on Pentecost equipped the apostles, but it also served as a sign to the unbelievers who were present in Jerusalem. It attracted their attention and gave credibility to the message that was preached by the apostles.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit that occurred at the household of Cornelius was also a sign, but the unbelievers in this case were Peter and the six Jewish Christians who were with him.

Notice three things that Peter did when the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles:

  1. He recognized it as that which had happened to the apostles on Pentecost (Acts 11:15).
  2. He identified it as Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 11:16).
  3. He immediately concluded that these Gentiles were appropriate candidates for water baptism (Acts 10:47-48, 11:17).

The baptism of the Holy Spirit that occurred at the house of Cornelius was a special occurrence for a special purpose; unique to that account of conversion. It was just one of several extraordinary things that God did to get Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians to understand that the Gentiles were to receive the gospel (an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter; a vision appeared to Peter three times, in which Peter was admonished not to call that which God had cleansed “common” or “unclean;” the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with the Gentiles to the house of Cornelius, doubting nothing).

Conclusion

As was noted in our study, some people believe that those who have not received Holy Spirit baptism are “immature, carnal, disobedient, or otherwise incomplete Christians.” Paul did not encourage Christians to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He said that “all Scripture” was the means by which “the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

Holy Spirit baptism served its purpose. We can benefit from the work that the Holy Spirit did through the apostles when we study the New Testament, but we were never promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit in the same measure in which it was received by the apostles.