September 01, 2004

Baptism by the Holy Spirit

Baptism by the Holy Spirit is experienced by all who believe on Jesus Christ as their Savior at the moment of salvation, and it is not to be repeated (Romans 8:9). In that baptism believers are identified with Christ as the Head of the Body, and are indwelt by the Spirit (John 4:14; 7:38-39).

The baptism by the Spirit occurs at conversion when the Holy Spirit enters the believing sinner and gives him new life, and makes his body the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). All believers have experienced this once-for-all baptism at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9).

The presence of the Holy Spirit and His availability for all believers is the norm in the New Testament. All of the commands and exhortations of the epistles are based on the assumption that the baptism of the Spirit has already taken place in the believer's life. The Holy Spirit "abides" with the believer forever from the moment he believes on Christ as his Savior (John 14:16).

Therefore, we should be careful not to confuse other forms of expressions found in the New Testament with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For example, when Christians are enjoined to "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16) and to "be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18), we are not to understand these as commands to be "baptized" of the Holy Spirit. Similarly the "anointing" of the Spirit (1 John 2:20-27) and the "earnest of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14) and other expressions are not referring to the baptism. These references indicate various other aspects of the Spirit's work in believers and their appropriation of the gifts and blessings of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life rather than the historical baptism of the Spirit.

We affirm the teachings of the New Testament that Christians receive one baptism, and must yield to the constant control of the Holy Spirit. We received one baptism which took place at moment of our spiritual regeneration, and we will receive many fillings during the rest of our Christian life (1 Corinthians 12:13). The baptism of the Holy Spirit places us in the body of Christ. The filling of the Spirit brings us under the control of the Spirit.

The phrase "baptized with the Spirit" defines what baptism is being referred to; it is a baptism with reference to the Spirit, not water. A baptism with reference to the Spirit is a baptism in which the Holy Spirit is the sole Agent.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:44-48) is directly linked to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and it is the formal recognition of the gospel being preached to the non-Jews. Gentiles as well as the Jews have all of the blessings and privileges of the dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-18).

Jesus predicted a definite and specific event called the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5). The events on the day of Pentecost were the definite fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:17-21). Only one other event in the New Testament is described as the baptism of the Holy Spirit and it may be regarded as the completion of the Pentecostal baptism (10:1-11:18).

"When God does the baptizing, that which is in view is the exertion of God's power," observes Kenneth Wuest.

1 Corinthians 12:13, "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." The "body" here is the mystical body of Christ of which our Lord is the Head. The personal agent who does the baptizing into the body of Christ is the Holy Spirit. He places the believing sinner into the Body of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the living Head. The tense of the verb refers to a once-for-all event in past time. "This occurred potentially to all believers of this Age of Grace at Pentecost," notes Wuest. It is the fulfillment of our Lord's words; "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).

The Holy Spirit places or introduces the believing sinner into the body of Christ. The same operation of the Holy Spirit is referred to in Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:17, but the apostle is relating it to our vital union with the Head of the Body.

The baptism by the Holy Spirit does not bring the Spirit to us in the sense that God places the Spirit upon or in us. The baptism by the Spirit brings the believer into vital union with Jesus Christ. Therefore, the baptism by the Holy Spirit is not for power, for in this baptism there is nothing applied to or given the believer. The believer is placed into the Body of Christ. "It is the baptism with the Spirit in the sense that God the Father does the baptizing through His personal agent, the Holy Spirit" (Wuest).

"The Holy Spirit is not the element into which and with which we are baptized. . . the phrase, 'baptized with the Spirit' does not mean that in this baptism, the Holy Spirit is applied to the believer as water is applied in the case of water baptism. In other words, there is no application of the Holy Spirit to the believer. He is not given to the believer by virtue of this baptism. . . . it was the anointing with the Spirit which referred to the act of God the Father causing the Spirit to take up His permanent residence in the believer. Sincere there is no application of the Spirit in baptism, there is no power imparted in the act of baptizing with the Spirit. This baptism is only for the purpose of uniting the believing sinner with the Head of the Body, Christ Jesus, and thus making him a member of that Body" (Wuest).

Therefore, nowhere in the Scriptures are believers commanded to seek the baptism of the Spirit. We have already experienced it, and it never has to be repeated.

We are, however, commanded to be "filled" with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The "filling" has to do with the control of our lives by the Holy Spirit. To be "filled" by something in the Scriptures means to be "controlled" by it. It is a matter of being available to the Holy Spirit and yielding control of our lives to Him.

For an excellent treatment of this subject adhering closely to the rules of Greek grammar, please see Kenneth Wuest, Untranslatable Riches from the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 83-90).