The Spirit and Baptism

The so-called “baptism of the Spirit” is one of the most debated doctrines of pneumatology. A misunderstanding of the Spirit and baptism leads to:

1. Dividing the church and regrettable confusion among God’s people
2. Obscuring the gospel of grace
3. Perverting the truth of the believer’s union with Christ
4. Hindering a holy walk in the believer

Theological Views of Spirit Baptism

PENTECOSTAL/CHARISMATIC VIEW. Pentecostalism has it roots in early Methodism of the eighteenth century and the revivalism of Charles G. Finney in the first half of the nineteenth century. It developed out of the holiness movement, gaining support of a number of prominent Evangelicals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It enjoyed great growth and expansion in the first half of the twentieth century. Neo-Pentecostalism appeared about the middle of the twentieth century and gradually assumed the designation of “The Charismatic Movement.” “Charismatic” comes from the Greek charisma, “a gift.” The belief that the baptism of the Spirit is subsequent to salvation is the basic tenet of charismatic Christianity.

“Pentecost” to the Pentecostals and Charismatics signifies the powerful descent of the Spirit upon the first disciples, enabling them to speak in other tongues—the Pentecostal filling with the Holy Spirit. Among the Pentecostals and Charismatics, however, “the Baptism of the Spirit” is often identified as a subsequent act following conversion. The Pentecostal doctrine of the Spirit (pneumatology) is centered in the crisis experience of the full reception of the Holy Spirit. The weight of stress is not placed on the setting apart and purifying work of the Spirit, but upon the personal and emotional aspect of effusion with an accompanying evidence of speaking in tongues. To be Pentecostal means primarily to identify oneself with the experience of Acts 2:4:

Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech (Acts 2:4).

According to Pentecostals, “baptism of the Spirit” is discernible from “baptism in the Spirit” in the following ways:

1. It is usually distinct from and subsequent to the new birth.
2. It is evidenced initially by the sign of speaking in other tongues.
3. It must be “earnestly” sought.

Charismatic Christianity’s basic tenet of a post-conversion baptism of the Spirit requires subscribing to two spiritual baptisms. In other words, the Spirit has baptized every believer into Christ (conversion), but Christ has not yet baptized every believer into the Spirit (Pentecost baptism). This contradicts Paul’s clear declaration.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

The Pentecostals tend to overemphasize physical manifestations, while heavy stress is placed on the ethical manifestations of the Spirit by non-Charismatics. The Charismatics place speaking in tongues at the top instead of the bottom of the gifts and make an unscriptural claim that tongues-speaking is the evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. Some Pentecostals hold that not all believers are permanently, personally, or fully indwelt by the Holy Spirit until they have experienced the baptism of the Sprit. Others admit a person has the Spirit, but not the full power until the baptism. They often use one particular to press their “something more” doctrine, claiming one may have the Spirit but not flowing, living waters.

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him” (John 7:38).

The context of this passage is important. It was spoken by Christ during the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast the priest would take a pitcher and pour out water on the ground to celebrate the giving of water by God to the Israelites at Meribah (Exodus 17:7). Then the entire assembly would quote the words of the prophet, saying, “You will joyfully draw water from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). Hence, Christ was saying, “If you have a spiritual thirst, I can help you—I can give you salvation through belief in Me. I will give you the Holy Spirit.” That is the way John understood Jesus.

He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:39).

In fact, terminology “the baptism of the Spirit” used by Charismatics does not appear in Scripture. They take this phrase from 1 Corinthians 12:13, which begins, “kai gar {FOR ALSO} en {BY} eni {ONE} pneumati {SPIRIT} hmeiv {WE} pantev {ALL} eiv {INTO} en {ONE} swma {BODY} ebaptisyhmen {WERE BAPTIZED}.” The Greek en (en) is a primary preposition, which can be translated in, on, at, by, or with. It is never translated “of.” Therefore, if asked, “Have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” the answer is “There is no such thing!”

WESLEYAN/KESWICK VIEW. From the Wesleyan perspective, “the baptism with the Holy Spirit” purges the heart of the believer from sin, perfects him in God’s agape love, and thereby empowers him for effective Christian witness.

The Keswick perspective stresses Christians being filled with the Spirit as essential to a life of spiritual victory and Christlikeness. Both the Wesleyan and Keswick schools see holy love as the one unmistakable evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling.

BIBLICAL VIEW. The key questions are “What is Spirit baptism?” “How do you get it?”

First, no place in the Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit does the baptizing. In all cases, Jesus is identified as the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).

Second, the baptism with the Holy Spirit places the believer in Christ and His church.

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).

Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).

Approximately one hundred and fifty passages state or imply that the believer is in Christ, and each is the result of being baptized with the Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit and regeneration are two complementary and yet distinct works of God, simultaneously accomplished in the believer at the moment of faith. At regeneration, we are born crucified and baptized into Christ and His body,
the Church.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature, we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! (Ephesians 2:5).

Third, the NT teaches that water baptism is the outward sign of the inward baptism with the Spirit of God. The Baptism with the Spirit is not water baptism.

Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

“Baptize” is simply a transliteration of the Greek baptizw (baptizo). As used in the NT, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. There must be a union with Christ, a real change, like a cucumber becoming a pickle when dipped or immersed into a vinegar solution. The predominant signification of baptizo is to “overwhelm” or “dye.”
Hence, baptism is not an external washing, but an internal change worked by the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit’s baptism, the believer is objectively removed from the sphere of Adam and placed in Christ. Hence, baptism into Christ involves a life after the pattern of Christ’s dying to sin and rising for righteousness and to new life. In addition, baptism into Christ identifies the believer with the Spirit’s washing of rebirth and renewal (Titus 3:5), as well as the pouring out of God’s Spirit (Titus 3:6; Romans 5:5) into the believer’s heart in accordance with the New Covenant promise (Isaiah 44:3) and Joel’s prediction (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:16-17; Acts 10:45).

Therefore, one cannot be dogmatic about the mode of water baptism since immersion, sprinkling, and pouring each communicate what happens when baptized with the Spirit. Though the baptizo often implies immersion or dipping, many Christian scholars are persuaded that a particular mode of water baptism cannot be deduced from the terms “death,” “burial,” and “resurrection.” Baptism
under the OT economy had a wide meaning of ceremonial cleansing, or ritual purification by water, and that by washing, sprinkling, or pouring.

In the Septuagint, baptizein signifies to plunge, to bathe, or to overwhelm. It is never used to describe the act of one who dips another object into a fluid, or the case of one who is dipped by another” (“Baptism,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature).

Consequently, John’s baptizing of Jesus with water was most likely done by sprinkling or pouring.

With spiritual and water baptism, the believer is identified with Christ, placed in Him, and becomes a member of the body of Christ—His Church.

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

In verse 13, the metaphor for the spiritual baptism is drink. When one drinks something, it becomes part of them and they become part of it. Consequently, baptism is identification.

The intrinsic definition of the church is that it is one organic whole, a body, with a plurality of members as a common whole. Consequently, in that plurality there is only one kind of Christian. The body does not possess two kinds of members—some with the Holy Spirit and some without the Holy Spirit. “But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Fourth, baptism into Christ is baptism into the Spirit of Christ, for the Spirit and Christ are inseparable.

You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:9-11).

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Peter speaks of baptism with special reference to “the forgiveness of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul emphasized the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:5).

Fifth, in the NT, baptism appears as a divine-human event. On the divine side, baptism signifies union with Christ and His body, the Church, through the work of the Holy Spirit. On the human side, people must exercise faith to receive the gift of the Spirit and work of regeneration.

Sixth, the baptism with the Spirit is not the filling of the Spirit, which is a continuous process. The baptizing work of the Spirit is universal among Christians, whereas the filling with the Spirit is not. The filling of the Spirit is covered later under the topic of sanctification.

Seventh, through the baptism with the Spirit, the believer receives the fullness of Christ and is complete in Him when saved.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossains 2:9-12 NIV).

“Fullness” (plhrwma pleroma) is like a ship as it is filled (i.e. manned) with sailors, rowers, and soldiers or cargo. The believer has the fullness of the presence, power, and riches of Christ. Therefore, there is no need of a supplementary gift of the Spirit. The believer is complete in Christ, having all of Him that is needed.

Eighth, it is through the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, the believer enters into the family of God.

But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16).

This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given to us from His Spirit (1 John 4:13).

The believers, united with the Father and the Son and to each other through the Holy Spirit, are children of God, and therefore, members of His family. This oneness is what Jesus prayed for the night before the Cross.

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one (John 17:22).

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