“’Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:36-41).
So you want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Repent and Be Baptized
Apostle Peter delineates the requirements at Pentecost, “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 2:38-39). God’s Kingdom always make this demand: “Repent! Turn! Decide!” (George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 97). So renounce your sinful ways and believe in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Obey God, because He gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). In addition, be baptized (in water) and make good on your confession of faith.
Be Expectant in Prayer
But remember also that your faith in Christ does not warrant complacency regarding your baptism in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit, like salvation, is received once and for all (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:1-10) and requires continual working out (Eph. 5:18; cf. Phil. 2:12-13).
For this reason, you should be informed about the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1), and you should continually seek the Holy Spirit in prayer. Jesus’s disciples were abiding their time by “join[ing] together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:13-14), and in one of these gatherings, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).
Likewise, Apostle Paul enjoined the Corinthians to “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy,” because it “edifies the church” (1 Cor. 14:1-4), and, above all, “love,” a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25). The Holy Spirit distributes His gifts to those who earnestly seek them in prayer, and produces His fruit among those who walk by the Spirit.
Remember what Jesus taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. … Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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 11:9-13)!
Laying on of Hands by Other Believers
The Holy Spirit can also be imparted by other Spirit-baptized believers through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-21; 19:1-7; Rom. 1:8-11; 2 Tim.1:6). This ability to impart the Holy Spirit was not an exclusively Apostolic prerogative, since the Apostle Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when Ananias (who was not an Apostle) placed his hands on him and prayed for him (Acts 9:17-18). Similarly, Paul tells Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14). Apparently spiritual gifts can be imparted by non-Apostles.
No Foolproof Formula
In the end, however, being filled with the Holy Spirit cannot be reduced to formulas. No laying on of hands is mentioned at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and Cornelius was baptized by the Holy Spirit, not when Peter laid his hands on him, but when he was still speaking (Acts 10:44). In fact, Cornelius hadn’t even received water baptism when he was baptized in the Spirit (Acts 10:44-48).
The wind of the Holy Spirit “blows wherever it pleases” (Jn. 3:8). He sovereignly “distributes [the spiritual gifts] … as he determines” (1 Cor. 12:11). He apportions them in such a way that the Church functions as an interdependent body of believers, not a collection of independent limbs (1 Cor. 12:14). This means that different Christians have different spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:3), which are all intended for the common good of the Church (1 Cor. 12:7). So if you lack a certain spiritual gift, take heart, knowing that someone else in the Church probably has it.
How Can I Know that I Have Been Baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Is the baptism in the Holy Spirit always accompanied by the gift of tongues? I am not convinced that the gift of tongues is the initial evidence of one’s baptism in the Holy Spirit for three reasons:
- There are Scriptural exceptions to this “rule.” The believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4), Cornelius and the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46), and the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:6) all received the gift of tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, but there is no mention of the gift of tongues when Apostle Paul (Acts 9:17-19) and Christians in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17) were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
- The Scripture never teaches that all who are baptized in the Holy Spirit speak in tongues. When Jesus promised the baptism in the Holy Spirit, he taught that believers would “receive power,” not “speak in tongues” (Acts 1:5, 8). Nowhere does he teach that this power is always manifested in the gift of tongues.
- Apostle Paul clearly teaches that not all Christians speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:27-31). The Church is meant to be an interdependent body of believers. For this reason, no spiritual gift is common to all and no individual Christian possesses all spiritual gifts.
In conclusion, speaking in tongues, (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6), or prophesying (Acts 2:17; 19:6) and other miraculous signs for that matter (Acts 6:8; Gal. 3:5; Hebrews 2:4), may or may not accompany the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they cannot serve as definitive criteria to determine whether or not one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
What is normative for those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit is that they are empowered and emboldened to be Christ’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Harry Boer has rightly noted that consciousness of the Great Commission was not the primary motivation for missions in the early Church. Rather, there was an “uncommanded, undirected, spontaneous witness to the faith” springing from the Pentecost (Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions, p. 43).
In fact, as the narrative in Luke-Acts unfolds, Jesus had told his disciples to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49b). They were to stay in Jerusalem and wait to “be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). As Bosch also notes, “if it was the experience of the resurrection that gave the early Christians certainty, it was the Pentecost that gave them boldness” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 41).
It was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that overflowed onto the mission field. It was from that point on that the disciples who had cowered and scattered after the crucifixion (Mk. 14:50-52) proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ boldly, so that those who saw their courage were astonished, realizing that they were “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:8-13, 18-20). Even when commanded not to speak, they declared that they must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29-32). Those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit can’t help but praise God (Acts 2:11; 10:46).
Given these evidences of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, here are some pastorally relevant questions to ask yourself:
- Have I seen the Holy Spirit enlivening me to worship?
- Have I seen the Holy Spirit empowering me to walk in holiness?
- Have I seen the Holy Spirit emboldening me to witness?
The Mission Statement of my home church is “Wholeheartedly loving God and one another by worshiping, witnessing and walking in the good news of Jesus Christ for all of life.” In order to do this well, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit!
This concludes my series of posts on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I pray that you would neither resist the wind of the Holy Spirit nor be swept away by it from the bedrock of the Word!