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.

 

What it means to be “Born of Water and the Spirit”

Some have taught that being born of water means baptism (implying baptismal regeneration) and some others have interpreted it as physical birth. To find out, we need to take a look at the entire teaching of the New Testament.

John 3:3, 5 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again … Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

If this text alone implied that baptism was a key prerequisite to entering the Kingdom of God, then Jesus would have made it a requirement of salvation, but this is not so.

Now, if baptism is not the New Birth, to what does the word “water” in John 3:5 refer? Let us look elsewhere and see what are the agents and instruments by which the work of regeneration is wrought:

1 Peter 1:23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

1 Corinthians 4:15 “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”

Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

In these passages we see that regeneration or rebirth is wrought by the word of God and Spirit of God. We are born again by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

Now in John 3:5, we have the Spirit directly mentioned but can the “water” be taken to mean “the word” without forcing the language? First, let’s compare it to Ephesians 5:25, 26:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

Indeed, the Greek word translated “word” here in Ephesians (rēmati) is a different word from the Greek word translated “word” (logos) when the Word of God is spoken of. But in 1 Pet. 1:25 (“… And this is the word that was preached to you”), the same rēmati that is translated “word” in Eph. 5:26, is used twice of “the Word of God,” and that, too, is direct connection with regeneration by the Word.

In John 15:3, Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” See also John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

But some may ask why did not Jesus say plainly, without a figure in John 3: “Except a man be born of the word and the Spirit”? The answer to this is very simple.

The whole passage is highly figurative. The word translated “the Spirit” (Pneuma) is itself figurative: means literally “wind” and is without the definite article.

Literally translated the passage would read, “Except any one be born out of water and wind.” In this, the wind symbolizes the vivifying element, the Holy Spirit. (Compare Ezekiel 37:9, 10.) Naturally, therefore, “the water” symbolizes the cleansing element, the “word.” (Compare John 15:3).

The passage thus reduced to non-figurative language would read, “Except any man be born of the word of God and the Spirit of God.” Thus we would have Jesus teaching the doctrine afterwards taught by Paul and James and Peter.

Is Water Baptism necessary for Salvation?

images (1).jpeg

There are differing views held about water baptism by different denominations. Some churches baptize by immersion, others by pouring and sprinkling. Some teach that only believers should be baptized while others say babies should be included.

I am particularly interested in addressing two views: one, infant baptism and two, the teaching that water baptism is essential to salvation – that it actually washes away sin or contributes to regeneration (baptismal regeneration).

Christian baptism had its origin in the command of Christ to make disciples and baptize them (Matt. 28:19). In the origination of this ordinance there is a particular order established.

The first act was to make disciples, then those disciples were to be baptized. This is the pattern that is carried out in the book of Acts:

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).

Only those who heard the gospel, understood it, and responded to it through faith and repentance were baptized. This eliminates infants who can neither believe in Christ nor repent.

Those who responded to Philip’s message first believed, then were baptized (Acts 8:12), similarly with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:38), with Paul (Acts 9:18), the Caeserean Gentiles (Acts 10:48), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:32-33), and Crispus (Acts 18:8).

All of these references indicate that baptism follows belief; repentance and faith precede the ordinance of baptism.[1]

From these, it can be inferred that infant baptism is a heresy; one that prevents many from actually receiving Christ to be saved.

In Romans 3-5, Paul convincingly established the truth that salvation is by grace through faith. After indicating the depth of human sinfulness and emphasizing the failure of the law to bring salvation, he made it clear that the only way a holy God declares sinners righteous is through their faith in Christ, the perfect sacrifice for sin .

To demonstrate that human works have nothing to do with salvation, Paul pointed out that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (see 4:1-12).

He said in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He then drew an analogy between the first Adam, who brought condemnation and death by his one act of disobedience, and Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who provided justification and life for all through His one act of obedience.

Romans 6:2b “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” When a person receives the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, he dies to the domination of sin. Yes, in Christ believers have died to sin, and this is the truth signified in baptism.

By going down into the waters of baptism, we who have placed our trust in Christ testify that through our union with Him we have been buried with Him in His death.

Having died to sin, we are no longer under its condemnation or bondage. Then, our emergence from the waters of baptism signifies that through our union with the living Lord we have been raised from death with Him.

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” (Rom. 6:4).

Water baptism therefore, symbolically speaks of our identification with Christ. It’s the new believer’s first step of obedience and public testimony of a new life of peace with God. Rom. 6:3 says “Do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

When Paul made reference to believers being “baptized into Christ Jesus,” he used an expression that’s identical in construction to a statement in 1 Corinthians 10:2, where he said that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses.”

The Israelites, having already chosen to follow Moses out of Egypt, were openly identified with him when they passed through the Red Sea.

In like manner, we become followers of the Lord Jesus the moment we place our trust in Him. And in our baptism “into Christ Jesus,” we openly identify with Him as our leader and guide. [2]

Bible scholar F. F. Bruce had this to say about the statement “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” in Ephesians 4:5:

“Baptism in water continued to be the outward visible sign by which individuals who believed the gospel … were publicly incorporated into this spirit-baptized fellowship – “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27). It must be remembered that in New Testament times repentance and faith, regeneration and conversion, baptism in water, reception of the Holy Spirit, … admission to church fellowship…were all part of a complex of events which took place within a short time … Logically they were distinguishable, but in practice they were all bound up with the transition from the old life to the new.” [3]

Baptismal Regeneration “Proof texts”?

a) Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned

This verse does not say that baptism saves or is essential to salvation. It’s those that don’t believe that will be condemned, not those who aren’t baptized. Jesus never baptized anyone. If baptism contributes to salvation, then Jesus is not a Saviour, let alone of the world.

The Bible is clear that salvation comes by believing the Gospel. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21; see also, Jn. 3:16, 18, 36, Rom 1:16, 4:24).

Paul in fact, distinguished between baptism and the gospel: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). He admits that he baptized only very few Corinthians, yet he said “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

These verses refute the idea that baptism is essential to salvation.

b) Acts 2:38Repent, 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.

In this verse Peter was addressing a Jewish audience – the same people who not only cried out for the public execution of Christ but also declared, “His blood be on us and our children” (Mt. 27:25).

Peter wasn’t suggesting that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, rather, he was calling for members of that generation which was guilty of having crucified Christ to separate themselves from a generation under the wrath of God.

That separation was to be publicly signified through baptism – a figure of Old Testament ceremonial washing. It signified that the people had received forgiveness of sin.

Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson has pointed out that the Greek preposition eis, translated “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins,” may also mean because of.

An example of this can be found in Luke 11:32, where the text says that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah.” The word at is a translation of the same Greek word eis found in Acts 2:38. The people in Jonah’s day didn’t repent for his preaching but because of it.

Some Greek scholars also state that the word eis translated “for” in Acts 2:38 may also mean, “with a view toward.” According to that possible meaning, the people to whom Peter was preaching to were to repent and be baptized with a view toward the forgiveness of their sins. Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism brings remission of sins.

It must also be pointed out that Cornelius and his household became saved and were filled with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48). [4]

c) Acts 22:16 “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord

The earlier explanation applies here. Ananias was speaking to the recently converted Saul of Tarsus. In trying to understand the meaning of what he said, we must follow this basic rule of Bible study: Interpret every verse in the light of the clear teaching set forth in Scripture.

Since the truth of justification by faith is declared plainly in the Bible, we know that Saul was forgiven and saved the very moment he met Christ on the Damascus road and believed on Him. The baptism couldn’t be to remit his sins any more than in the case of Christ (Mt. 3:16), the eunuch (Acts 8:37) or anyone else (1Cor. 1:13-24).

d) 1 Peter 3:20-21 “Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism (not the removal of filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Peter wasn’t saying baptism has any saving power. The waters of the flood point to judgement (in that they resulted from the sins of the world) and salvation (in that they offered a means of deliverance through the ark).

In much the same way, the water of baptism symbolises both the judgement resulting from sin, and the cleansing and forgiveness which result only from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [5]

In other words, as Noah and his family in the ark were “saved” by the very same waters that judged the rest of the world, so also the waters of God’s judgement poured out on Christ at Calvary for the sins of the world became the means whereby all who are in the ark of safety, the Lord Jesus Christ, are saved.

Notice again that Peter specifically says baptism doesn’t remove the filth of the flesh but is the answer of a good conscience toward God.

There is an inward spiritual cleansing that is experienced by only those who have received Christ’s forgiveness. Baptism itself doesn’t remove sin; it’s simply a symbolic testimony of an inner cleansing that has already occurred.

If salvation is by faith in Christ alone, then to add baptism as a condition for salvation is to reject the true gospel and thus to be eternally lost. To teach baptismal regeneration is to teach a false gospel which cannot save.

Notes

[1] Paul Enns, the Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, 374

[2] Richard De Haan, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, 1994, Radio Bible Class, 6

[3] Epistle to the Ephesians, 1961, 70.

[4] Alister McGrath, NIV Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stroughton, London, 1996, 381.

[5] Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, pp 7-8.