The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: Requirements to Receive it

One question that usually comes up when this topic is being discussed borders on the requirements of receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

There are two schools of thought in this regard: those who believe one has to be “entirely sanctified” before one can receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit and those who believe it is received on the basis of grace through faith.

The first school of thought argues that the disciples received the Holy Spirit after they were totally sanctified as evidenced by their being “with one accord” in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2:1 KJV).

The disciples been together in a place had more to do with obedience to Jesus’ instruction to “stay in the city” until they were clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49 NIV) – and possibly their fear of antagonistic Jewish leaders – than “entire sanctification.”

After Pentecost, the Epistles didn’t indicate that the disciples were sinlessly perfect. Peter, for instance, became hypocritical by discriminating against Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:11-14) and Paul admitted later that he’s not “already perfected” but was still striving towards attaining it (Phil. 3:12).

While I respect the sincerity of those who subscribe to “total sanctification before baptism with the Holy Spirit” doctrine, their position requires an inconsistent and tenuous interpretation of certain Bible passages.

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)

Two things are mentioned here: repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus. It describes the Holy Spirit baptism as a gift from God; we receive it by faith in Jesus Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour apart from the works of the law.

If we earned this gift or deserved it, it wouldn’t be a gift but a wage. Jesus says receiving the Holy Spirit is a gift (Luke 11:13). We receive it on the same fundamental conditions as the gift of salvation: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2)

The Galatians fell into the error of believing that unless one adhered to the law of Moses along with the grace of Christ, one wasn’t practicing the true faith. Paul attributed this drawback to works of the law to a spell: a deceiving satanic influence.

This same idea is still with us today in the form of teachings that unless you followed a long list of legalistic rules or a set of standards arbitrarily set up by mankind, you can’t receive God’s blessings.

In the book of Acts we see a divine precedent in the experience of the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house who received the Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 10:24-48).

These weren’t Jews seeking to follow the law of Moses. They were Gentiles, and this was probably the first time any of them had heard the Gospel. Yet the Holy Spirit fell on them while Peter preached the word of God, and they spoke with tongues.

It would be unrealistic to think that they were totally free from the defilement of their Gentile background or that every area of their lives was in line with God’s standards. Yet Peter commanded them to be baptized, thereby acknowledging that they had become members of Christ’s church. (Note: water baptism wasn’t a prerequisite to receiving the Holy Spirit).

Speaking of this experience later, Peter said:

“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], for he purified their hearts by faith.(Acts 15:8-9)

This is the essential requirement to receiving the Holy Spirit: a heart purified by faith. Contrary to what some are led to believe, the Holy Spirit will dwell in a vessel that is not totally clean provided He has been given access to the central area of the human personality: the heart. The Bible says:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). Once our hearts are open to the Holy Spirit, He will change all other areas of our lives by the outworking of His grace.

Again, we see from Acts 19:2, 6 that sometimes, the experiential reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is conditioned on the believer’s knowledge that there is such a blessing and that it is for him or her now.

In Acts 5:32, we read:

“And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

From this, we see that obedience can also be a requirement and this proceeds from a heart that loves God (“If you love Me, keep My commandments” John 14:15). The Holy Spirit will not come upon those who hate God or rebel against His Word. They will dwell in a spiritual dry land (Psa. 68:6).

There could be some instances where a believer would fruitlessly seek the Holy Spirit baptism without success, in these cases, one needs to discern their spiritual state. They could be from occult backgrounds with pacts, oaths and seals that still bind their minds to Satan or it could be that they lack faith, or they harbour bitterness against God or others.

For instance, in Acts 8, Simon who was formerly a sorcerer had made the whole of Samaria a New Age village of sorts. He was converted after believing the gospel, was baptized in water, but he obviously couldn’t receive the Holy Spirit because his “heart [was] not right in the sight of God… [he was] poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (vv. 21, 23).

The same can (and does) happen today. But nowhere does one find in the Bible perfect holiness or sanctification as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit baptism. There is a difference between gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the spirit.

Balaam had a beautiful gift of prophecy yet died in apostasy. King Saul received the Holy Spirit, but because of his self-will and disobedience, he lost God’s approval and eventually died under His judgement.

Samson was amazingly empowered by the Spirit of God, yet fleshy lusts dominated him and he died unable to rescue Israel from her enemies. The real proof of holiness is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the fruits
of the regenerated spirit.

Conversely, the teaching that every area of a person’s life must be totally clean before the Holy Spirit will indwell him may result in one of two grave consequences:

It may deter some sincere believers from seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit, since they say to themselves, “I’ll never be able to reach that pinnacle of Christian experience.”

Or it may condition others who have received the baptism with the Holy Spirit into smug hypocrisy. With that, they assume: “I must have been perfect to have received the Holy Spirit, so now I have to be perfect all the time.”

This has resulted in some duplicitous and judgemental lifestyles in which Christians view their own sins through a rose-coloured glass but are quick to beat down other believers who are not living up to their own finicky rules with the club of condemnation.

Such people still tell lies, but will call them “white lies.” They still hate other people, but will justify it saying, “My spirit doesn’t flow with them.” They still lose their temper and rechristen it “holy anger.” They become proud and unteachable because…well, “I’ve been saved, totally sanctified and baptized with the Holy Spirit and that settles it! Glory.”

Every Christian is in a constant striving against sin as long he/she is still in this mortal flesh. That’s why several places in the Epistles (in continued tenses) admonish us to be cleansed from personal sins. For example:

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

“But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13)

You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Heb. 12:4)

Hebrews 10:14: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

If sanctification is an instantaneous process, these passages wouldn’t be addressed to us. In the last verse, the writer uses a perfect tense to describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is perfected finally and forever complete. Nothing needs to be added to it and nothing can ever be taken away from it.

In describing the work of sanctification, however, the writer uses a progressive tense: They are being sanctified.

Becoming holy is a stage-by-stage appropriation of what has already been made available to us by the sacrifice of Jesus. In this process the Holy Spirit is our Helper. He doesn’t fill us when we become perfect; He helps us to reach it.

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: A Distinct Experience

There are sincere Christians who have been taught that when you receive the New Birth, you receive the Holy Spirit. This is true.

But where they introduce a degree of falsehood is when they teach that there is no other experience for you beyond the New Birth, that at the moment of salvation, you received the baptism with the Holy Spirit and have all the Holy Spirit you can have.

To remove this blindfold, we need to back away from “denominational positions” and allow the light of Scripture illuminate our minds.

Paul Enns, mentioned in the first article, wrote that:

Pentecostals tend to confuse the terms for baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit. They suggest the same Greek phrase (en pneumatic) is used to describe believers being placed into the body of Christ at salvation (1 Cor. 12:13) and being empowered for service subsequent to salvation (Acts 1:5). (The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Publishers: Chicago. 2008 p. 677)

At this juncture, I’m not convinced that this scholar is accurately presenting the beliefs of those whom he disagrees with.

He obviously subscribes to the argument that the Holy Spirit baptism is indistinguishable from regeneration. A Bible passage often appealed to is Ephesians 4:4-5

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (RSV)

This verse is used to teach that there is only one baptism available to the believer but in context, it is referring to baptism into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This occurs at the New Birth. It is a baptism in (or by) the Holy Spirit that Paul was referring to in 1 Cor. 12:13, which was discussed earlier.

But the type of baptism conferred by Jesus on members of His body, which we are discussing, is the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).

Hebrews 6:2 speaks of  “the doctrine of baptisms” (plural). This is referring to all the baptisms available in the New Covenant: first is the baptism in or by the Holy Spirit – which saves us, then we have water baptism and there is also baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Once you note the prepositions used, you can distinguish the first one from the third.

Knowing the difference

Another distinction between the New Birth and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit can be seen in what Jesus did when He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection:

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)

Just as God had breathed into Adam the breath of life at creation, Jesus breathed resurrection life into His disciples. It was an act of recreation – an impartation of life into their spirits by the Holy Spirit. This is what we call the New Birth or regeneration.

Yet, it’s clear that the baptism with the Holy Spirit was still in the future for them:

I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49)

“For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5)

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8)

Earlier, Jesus had declared them clean by the Word (Jn. 15:3) and He breathed the Holy Spirit into them making them born again. But Jesus didn’t say they “already received all the Holy Spirit that’s there to have” because they still needed to be clothed with power from above. They received this infilling and outflow of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

A man may be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and still not be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

In regeneration there’s an impartation of life, and the one who received it is saved; in the baptism with the Holy Spirit there’s an impartation of power and the one who receives it is fitted for service.

Consider the following passages:

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)

“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” (Acts 10:44-46)

“He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:2-6)

God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:4)

Notice the phrases used in the NT to describe one and the same experience: “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” “clothed with power from on high,” “filled with the Holy Spirit,” “the Holy Spirit fell upon them,” “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out,” “receive the Holy Spirit,” “the Holy Spirit came upon them,” and “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

From the question Paul asked the Ephesian believers in Acts 19:2 and their response, it’s clear that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience of which one may and ought to know whether he has received it or not.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is God’s gift reserved only for His children; it’s not for the unsaved. The world can’t receive or know the Spirit of Truth, and that’s why we don’t preach the Holy Spirit to the world. Jesus said:

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

But Jesus Christ is God’s gift to the world (John 3:16). That’s why we preach Christ to the world, so as many that accept Him will be born again. So it requires a travesty of logic to confuse the New Birth with Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 8, the Bible separates out these two experiences that one would have to be mischievous to conflate both.

12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

The Samaritans were saved when Philip preached Christ to them, they were also baptized in water as a public demonstration of their salvation – they had the witness of the Holy Spirit within them – but the apostles Peter and John certainly didn’t think the new converts had all the Holy Spirit they could have.

The apostles came down and prayed for the Samaritan believers, not to be saved, but to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit – a subsequent definite experience!

Saul of Tarsus was converted on the way to Damascus. He believed in Jesus as Lord and surrendered his life to Him. Then the Lord appeared to another Christian, Ananias, in a vision and instructed him to go to Saul and lay hands on him:

“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.” (Acts 9:17)

Notice two things, Ananias addressed Saul as “brother” and he didn’t say “the Lord sent me here to lay hands on you so you could get saved.” Why? Because Paul was already saved, but now he needed to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit for the assignment God had for him.

Yet it may shock you that some teachers will tell you that the book of Acts is merely historical, so we can’t derive doctrines about the Holy Spirit baptism from it. That’s a cop out because:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)

Since the book of Acts is part of Scripture, it is profitable for doctrine. We can’t dismiss it because the events describe in it conflict with our presuppositions.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not just an event described in the NT, it’s also a doctrine and an experience that is real today.

Next, I will be discussing the nature, purposes and possibility of the Holy Spirit baptism.

 

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: the Seal and the River

If there is one doctrine that I think has united the church and unfortunately, divided it along denominational lines for decades, it would be the teaching regarding the baptism with the Holy Spirit. This doctrine still remains controversial in several denominations today, and yes, a flash point point of mordant disagreements.

My experience reading and listening to pneumatological positions, polemics and musings – on both sides of the fence – leaves me with an impression that many who reject the reality of the baptism with the Holy Spirit today are largely influenced by denominational tenets, wrong teachings, misunderstandings and selective attention to Scripture, which have all ossified into “traditions” over the years.

In some cases, many believers have been burned by fanatical teachings and practices espoused by movements that have gone off the ditch with spiritual experiences and then ended up in an opposing extreme position – becoming a cessationist and rejecting all spiritual experiences altogether.

It seems we all struggle with this anomaly of going off into a doctrinal ditch on one side only to come out of it and swerve right into the ditch on the other side of the road.

But we need to find a biblical middle ground on this, because if something is clearly set forth in God’s Word, we have no right to deny or dilute it.

In a bid to rightly critique the Word of Faith movement, a theological reference work made a statement that denied the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience subsequent to salvation:

The command to “ask Jesus for a baptism in the Holy Spirit” is not found in Scripture. The Holy Spirit baptizes all believers into the body of Christ at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13). (Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Publishers Chicago, 2008, p. 677)

Let’s first look at this verse:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

Our attention needs to be drawn to three things here. First, the context of this verse points more to the unity of the body of Christ, than a doctrine.

Second, if we followed the rendering in the original Greek, the first part of this verse would read as: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” The Greek preposition here is en which means “in,” not “by.” Another Greek preposition that usually follows the verb baptizo is eis meaning “into.”

The clarity of the verse in question was hampered by translational dynamics.

Third, the word baptized in this verse in the past tense (not the perfect tense) and it refers to a single event that already took place at a certain moment in our past experience.

Granted, some Christians have jumped on this verse and inferred that unless you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, you’re not yet in the body of Christ. This interpretation stems from flawed bible hermeneutics.

To understand what that verse was saying when it used the words “baptized into,” we need to consider four parallel passages in the New Testament where the same terms were used. (All quotes, unless otherwise stated, are from the NKJV)

Baptism into repentance

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance…” (Matthew 3:11)

The Greek preposition rendered “unto” (or “for” in other bible versions) is eis which means “into.” So literally, it reads as: “I indeed baptize you with water into repentance.”

The people whom John baptized had already repented before they were baptized into repentance.

That baptism was only an outward acknowledgement of the repentance that had occurred inwardly. In fact, John the Baptist abruptly refused to baptize those who didn’t show any proof of inner repentance:

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Matt. 3:7-8)

Baptism into the forgiveness of sins

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “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 2:37-38 NIV)

Be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” in the Greek is literally “be baptized…into the forgiveness of sins.”

As explained earlier, their sins were already forgiven by their repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t the baptism at Pentecost that washed away their sins, it was only an outward testimony of the forgiveness of sins they had received.

Baptism into Christ

“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:24-27)

Again, we see that they were already children of God through their faith in Jesus. They were already in Christ before they were baptized into Christ. Their baptism was simply a public acknowledgement of the spiritual adoption they had received.

Baptism into death

“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4)

Here, we see that being “baptized into” is used in connection with being baptized into the death of Jesus Christ. Baptism is then spoken of as a burial which indicates that the person first dies to sin through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ before baptism (“the burial”) which publicly acknowledges that spiritual state.

Now, in the light of this understanding, let’s look again at 1 Cor. 12:13

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

It means we were already in the body of Christ, regardless of our race or class, just as the people whom John baptized were already in repentance, just as the people baptized on the day of Pentecost were already forgiven of their sins, just as the people referred to in Galatians were already in Christ, and just as the people referred to in Romans were already dead to sin before they were buried in baptism into Christ death.

So, the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a public acknowledgement of our membership in the body of Christ. Therefore, it can be defined as the supernatural seal that is given to each individual member of the body of Jesus Christ by which He acknowledges them as a part of Him.

Now, I am going to provide another definition of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as I address the second aspect of the quote from Paul Enns earlier. He argued that nowhere in the Bible do we find an express command that Jesus should baptize anyone with the Holy Spirit.

But this argument is specious in the sense that there are several Christian doctrines that we adhere to today that were not expressly commanded, but merely implied from biblical narrations, descriptions and deductions.

The Bible presents doctrines into two ways: as commands or statements, and as description of events or experiences. When we combine both statements and events, we then have a complete picture of what the Bible is saying.

Even from the NT, we see many different men baptized with water, but John pointed at Jesus Christ and declared, “this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33 RSV). Jesus alone has been given the privilege to confer this supernatural seal on the members of His body.

The term “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is an instructive description, because one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is water.

God knew some people would confuse the New Birth – which places us in the body of Christ – with the distinct experience subsequent to it, called the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which confers its outward acknowledgement on us.

Thus, in the NT, Jesus used the image of water to picture both the Holy Spirit dwelling presence in the New Birth and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. First, in John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well of Samaria:

10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

13… Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Here, Jesus is talking about receiving eternal life – just as he told Nicodemus in John 3. The work of the Holy Spirit in us when we become saved is what Jesus likens to a fountain of living water. This well of salvation is for our personal benefit.

But in John 7, Jesus speaks of another experience in the Holy Spirit:

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

He is comparing the receiving of the Holy Spirit to the act of drinking which then leads to an outflow of rivers (note the plural) of living water. This is an apt description of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, there are two experiences in the Holy Spirit. There is water in a fountain, and there is water in a river. The water is essentially the same, but they have their different purposes.

It’s from this ambit that we can also define the baptism with the Holy Spirit as the supernatural infilling and overflow of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer making him/her a channel of God’s power to others.

To confuse the New Birth with the Holy Spirit baptism would be as fatal as confusing justification with sanctification.

I will be continuing from here in a series of articles where I’ll be discussing the distinction, nature of the Holy Spirit baptism, the conditions of receiving it as well as respond to some objections to it.