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Q: #355. What is the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit?"

     A: Today, we will wade into one of the most divisive and controversial topics there is amongst Christians today: “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I need to begin by saying that whether or not you agree with my position on this, PLEASE let us not divide over this issue as Christians. In fact, I have not addressed this topic to this point precisely because I do not want to cause division. However, since the subject has come up over and over again through the years (most recently in a Bible Study I attend), I felt as though it is now time to address it. So, here we go.

     Let me begin by asking a question. Have you ever been asked: “Have you been Baptized with the Holy Spirit?” I know I have been asked this a number of times over the years. How do you reply? From a Biblical standpoint, there are two ways in which this question could be answered. We are going to look at each below.

     Usually, when this question is asked, the one doing the asking is speaking of having a “second experience” with the Holy Spirit, which is often believed to be accompanied by speaking in tongues. We will look at this viewpoint first.

     People who hold this “second experience” view believe that when a person is saved (or born again), they receive the Holy Spirit. However, they only receive a small portion of the Holy Spirit. You also need to have a moment when you are completely “filled” with the Holy Spirit. When you are “filled,” it is said you will:
1. Have more power and boldness in your witnessing.
2. Have a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord.
3. Be more convicted of sin in your life and have more power to overcome.
4. Usually, or always, begin speaking in tongues. (Tongues are proof you have had a “second infilling.”)

     On the other hand, the second viewpoint teaches, in short, that the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not a “second experience,” but rather, EVERYONE “fully” (not partially) receives the Holy Spirit the moment they are saved (or born again). This is what brings each person into the Church (the “Church” being made up of all believers). In addition, it is the moment when God comes to live inside of a believer for the rest of his/her life.

     OK… Now that I have shared a small explanation of each view, which is right? There are theological scholars who can make a Biblical argument for each side of this issue. I also have close friends on each side of this debate, and a wife who has an opposite view from mine (and we remain friends [and married] even though we disagree 🙂 ). Having said this, I believe the evidence in the Bible points towards the second viewpoint (with a big “BUT,” which I will discuss in the end). Let me explain why I lean towards the second viewpoint.
*** I apologize in advance that this is going to be longer than most of my answers, but I want to be thorough on this.

     The first time being Baptized with the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the New Testament is in the Gospels. In (Matt 3:11) John the Baptist says, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost (Spirit) and with fire: (Also see: Mk 1:8, Lk 3:16, Jn 1:33). Jesus refers to this promised event a number of times in the Gospels. He also speaks about where and when the Spirit would come.

     Amazingly, Jesus even told His disciples in (Jn 16:5-7) that it was GOOD that He was going to leave them because then the Spirit would come. The Holy Spirit coming was actually better than Him being here! Why? Most believe the reason is simply because Jesus was only physically able to be in one place at a time while on Earth, whereas when the Holy Spirit would be sent, He would indwell all believers EVERYWHERE at once.

     When does the Bible say this coming of the Holy Spirit would occur? As Jesus is speaking about the promised Holy Spirit in (Jn 16:5-15), he ties the sending of the Holy Spirit to when He would return to the Father (Jn 16:5,10). In other words, after His Ascension. (Jn 7:39) also says, “this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”

     So, when did Jesus return to the Father? This is a matter of some debate, but a majority of scholars believe that after Jesus died on the cross, His body remained in the grave, but His spirit and/or soul descended into Sheol (or the heart/lower parts of the Earth). He spent 3 days there proclaiming His victory and the Gospel to those in Sheol, after which He was resurrected from the dead on the 3rd day. This belief is based primarily on these verses: (Mt 12:40) (1 Pet 3:18-20)(1 Pet 4:6)(Acts 2:27,31)(Ps 16:10). I speak on this in more depth here.

     If this is the case, as most believe, then it seems clear that Jesus had not yet returned to the Father after His death, or the following 3 days leading to His resurrection. Jesus seems to confirm this when He appeared to Mary Magdalene shortly after His resurrection. Mary was overjoyed when she saw Him, and touched him, but Jesus said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (Jn 20:17).

     When we move to the last day of Jesus’ resurrected life on Earth (He spent 40 days on Earth: Acts 1:3), the Bible says in (Mk 16:19), “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Lk 24:51) also says, “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” This appears to be the time when Jesus returned to the Father. And again, as we have said above, since Jesus said the promised Holy Spirit would not be sent until He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit still had not been sent.

     Now that Jesus is in Heaven with the Father and glorified, where and when will we see the promised Holy Spirit? Right before Jesus arose, He told the disciples in (Lk 24:49), “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” In other words, Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. We see the disciples following this command in Acts 1 and 2 to stay in Jerusalem (See in particular: Acts 1:4-8).

     We are now at Pentecost.

     This event, in (Acts 2:1-47), and 3 others in Acts (Acts 8:14-25)(Acts 10:44-48)(Acts 19:1-7) are where differences occur as to what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is. (The whole chapter of Acts 2 is important to this discussion and I suggest reading it before you continue.) In summary, Acts 2 shows us that on Pentecost, all were together in one place, when suddenly everyone was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). This event at Pentecost is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to send the Holy Spirit. Peter confirms this in (Acts 2:33) saying, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”

     So, why do we have a problem here? Because those who believe in a “second infilling” say that the people in these verses in Acts were already believers, and as such already had the Holy Spirit. In other words, as we have already said above, they had received a “partial” infilling of the Holy Spirit when saved (or born again), but now they were completely “filled” with the Holy Spirit (thus a “second infilling”). The “first or partial infilling” is usually based on (Jn 20:22) which states, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:.”

     However, to interpret these verses in Acts as a “second infilling” seems to run contrary to what the Bible has already said to this point. This is why I spent so much time laying out a timeline for when and where the promised Holy Spirit would come. Any person who had the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost (i.e. Jn 20:22) would have had a temporary infilling like what we see in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon some people for limited periods of time to help them accomplish a task for God (Ex 28:3)(Ex 31:2-5) (Judg 3:9-11)(Judg 6:34)(Judg 11:29)(Judg 14:5-6,19)(Judg 15:14)(Ezek 11:5). However, He did not reside in people permanently, and could even be taken away (compare: 1 Sam 10:10 / 1 Sam 11:6 to 1 Sam 16:14)(Ps 51:11). This is what changed after Pentecost. From Pentecost forward, the Holy Spirit would reside in believers permanently (Eph 1:13-14)(Eph 4:30)(2 Cor 1:22)(2 Cor 5:5)(2 Th 2:13)! Jesus alludes to this, when in speaking to His disciples about the Holy Spirit in (Jn 14:17), He says, “He dwells with you and will be in you.”

     In addition, (1 Cor 12:13) seems to confirm that the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is what brings people into the Church (the “Church” being made up of all believers) saying, “For by one Spirit are we ALL baptized into one body, whether we be bond or free: and have ALL been made to drink into ONE Spirit” (caps emphasis mine). In other words, EVERY believer is baptized with the Holy Spirit.

     Let me also quickly address two other aspects of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” in Acts. The first is why the promised Holy Spirit was given in stages, first at Pentecost, and then later to three other groups of people. Secondly, we will look at why “tongues” were spoken in each of the four places in Acts.

     I believe the key to understanding why the Holy Spirit was given in stages lies in Jesus’ words to Peter in (Mt 16:19). In this verse, Jesus told Peter that he would be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. I believe that the keys given to Peter were to open the door to the kingdom of heaven by bringing 3 different groups of people into God’s New Covenant (and the Church) group by group. They were brought in by the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” God used Peter to first bring in the Jews (Acts 2:14-47), secondly the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-25), and thirdly the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). (God also used Paul to bring in disciples of John the Baptist who were unaware of what had happened at Pentecost in Acts 19:1-7.)

     Now let’s look at why “tongues” were spoken. Those who hold to a “second infilling” believe that because tongues were spoken in each instance that the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurred in Acts, this means that speaking in tongues is a sign (or THE sign) that a person has received this “Baptism.” However, Paul tells us something we need to consider. In speaking about tongues in (1 Cor 14:21-22), Paul refers to back to (Isa 28:11) in the Old Testament, saying “In the law it is written, with men of other tongues and of other lips will I speak unto this people: and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord. (22) Wherefore tongues are a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not:….”

     In (Isa 28:11), God issued a warning to the Jews that He would use people who spoke in another tongue as a sign of His judgment. When Paul correlates this verse with the tongues spoken in Acts, it seems clear that when people spoke in tongues in Acts, it was also a sign of God’s judgment for the Jews. Applying this to when the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was given in Acts, it would seem that when tongues were spoken, it was a sign to “unbelievers,” namely unbelieving Israel (the Jews), of God’s judgment upon them. We can see in each case where the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was given, and tongues were spoken, that unbelieving Jews were present. So, in short, tongues were not spoken as a sign that a person had received the “Baptism,” but rather, they were spoken as a sign of God’s judgment to unbelieving Jews who were present in each case where they were spoken.

     In addition, I should also point out that the Greek word “glossa” is used for the tongues that were spoken. “Glossa” in Greek means “a language, specifically one unacquired” (Strong’s). In other words, the tongues that were spoken in each instance in Acts were an actual “language,” not unintelligible babbling like some believe. For example, at Pentecost, (Acts 2:5-13) tells us that everyone heard their own language as the tongues were being uttered.

     OK, I hope that makes sense to you. Now, let’s get to the big “BUT.” While I do not believe the Bible supports a one time “second infilling” experience called the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” it most certainly DOES teach that we should seek to be “filled” OVER AND OVER with the Spirit. It is crucial that I stress again, this is NOT a ONE TIME EXPERIENCE. The key verse for this in the Bible is found in (Eph 5:18) which says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The Greek word “filled” in this verse is “pleuro.” A literal translation of this word is “Be being filled with the Spirit.” In other words, being filled with the Spirit should happen over and over.

     Being “filled” with the Spirit in this way is an AMAZING thing! I have experienced this MANY times as I have prayed for God to work in me and through me as I seek to do His work. I have been given supernatural words at times while writing, teaching, or witnessing that I know did not come from me. I have been given words to pray when I really didn’t know what to pray (see: Rom 8:26-27). I have been filled while in the midst of worship. These are just a few examples. We can accomplish extraordinary things through the power of the Holy Spirit. Things we could never accomplish on our own. (Go here to see a whole list of things the Holy Spirit can do in a Christian.)

     The Bible also shows us examples of people accomplishing mighty things when filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8-12,31)(Acts 7:55-56)(Acts 13:9-12).

     Can’t we all agree that we want to be “filled with the Spirit?” When it is taught instead that a person should seek a “second experience” (called the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”), and to look for a sign (“tongues”) that they have received it, I believe you are doing fellow believers a great disservice. In fact, it can be downright harmful! Early in my walk with the Lord, I was put in this position of thinking I was missing out on something because I had not experienced a “second infilling” (and tongues). It was not a pleasant feeling AT ALL!

     Those of you who teach a “second infilling” must understand what you are doing when you tell someone this… You are creating a two class system of Christians: the “have’s and the “have not’s.” You are telling fellow Christians that “I have a relationship and closeness with God that you don’t have, but if you do what I did, you can have it too!” Perhaps some will come to believe as you do, but others will not, and you may be responsible for causing them to question their faith and walk with the Lord!

     I have heard the cries of many who have said, “Why won’t God give me this Baptism?” The inevitable answer that must be given by the “second infilling” teacher is that they did something wrong. Among common answers are: you didn’t pray the right way, you didn’t TOTALLY surrender your life, you didn’t REALLY believe you would receive it, or you have unconfessed sin. OR, we have the “Maybe it’s not God’s timing for you to receive it now.” Have you ever stopped to think how these answers will affect your fellow Christian brother or sister?? Basically, you are telling them that God has chosen not to give them this “gift” because of some problem they have… However, if they “fix the problem (or problems),” and do the right things, MAYBE they will receive it some day.

     I would also tell you that if you say “it isn’t in God’s timing,” to take a look again at the Acts accounts of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a time when ANY BELIEVER who was present did not receive the “Baptism” when it was given? God does not EVER withhold being Baptized with the Holy Spirit when a person is a believer. The Bible does not ever show believers having to DO anything to receive it. It never shows God pouring it out on some believers and withholding it from others.

      In closing, let me say that if you have read to this point, and believe that you have experienced power (and tongues) as a result of being “Baptized with the Holy Spirit,” I do not expect that you are going to change your mind on what you believe. I am ok with that. But, I do ask you to consider the harmful effect you can have on weaker Christians when you teach them to seek an experience (manifested by speaking in tongues) which they may not get. Instead, why not teach about amazing things you can accomplish for God by being “filled over and over” with the Spirit?

     And, for those of you who may have sought a “second experience” and not received it, let me say, “PLEASE, do not be discouraged!” Do not fall into the trap of believing you HAVE to have a “second experience” with the Holy Spirit (and speak in tongues) to be a powerful man or woman for God! As a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the power of the Holy Spirit within you RIGHT NOW to change lives. Pray for that power to be manifested in your life over and over as you minister to others. Empty yourself of you, and ask God to “fill” you with the Holy Spirit. You do not need to look for any “sign” this is happening to you. It WILL happen to you (Lk 11:13)! You will see change in your life more and more as you are filled over and over. But, more importantly, you will change the lives of others!

P.S. I should also add that there IS a small faction of people out there who say that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, manifested by speaking in tongues, is a necessary component for salvation, and we should most certainly divide with those who teach this.

Copyright: © Steve Shirley

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Tom Frank

Steve, Thank you for this answer it is helpful in my continued learning of the power of the Holy Spirit. An observation on what you have written where you say “But, I do ask you to consider the harmful effect you can have on weaker Christians…. When I read this I thought there may be a better choice than weaker like maybe ‘newer’ or ‘developing’ – weaker to me implies… Read more »