“‘For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth'” (Acts 1:5-8).
What Is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
If you want to receive the gifts (plural) of the Holy Spirit (possessive genitive), you need to receive the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit (objective genitive). In other words, if you want His gifts, you need to encounter Him. I’m speaking of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Wait a minute. Isn’t every believer already baptized in the Spirit? Yes, 1 Corinthians 12:13 does teach that every genuine believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38). So then, baptism in the Holy Spirit refers to the divine incorporation of individual believers into the Church upon conversion. But is baptism in the Holy Spirit merely a subconscious regeneration rather than a conscious empowerment?
I don’t think the baptism in the Holy Spirit can be limited to the first sense. In Acts 1:5, Jesus says to His disciples, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then, he continues, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a conscious experience closely associated with power. In fact, the two are used interchangeably in many places (Lk. 1:35; Acts 8:19; 10:38; Rom. 15:13; 1 Th. 1:5). As Gordon Fee points out, the baptism in the Holy Spirit has a “dynamic empowering dimension with gifts, miracles, and evangelism (along with fruit and growth)” (Gospel and Spirit, p. 118).
Is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit Subsequent or Simultaneous with Faith?
In Acts 8:14-17, it is recorded that the new Christians in Samaria “had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” but “received the Holy Spirit” when “Peter and John placed their hands on them” (Acts 8:14-17). Some Pentecostals use this passage to argue that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to, rather than simultaneous with, faith (cf. Acts 10; 19:1-10).
However, the context suggests that this account is describing a unique event rather than prescribing a pattern to be repeated. It was the first time that “Samaria had received the word of God” (v. 14), and the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them” (v. 16). Therefore, the apostles sent Peter and John so that “they might receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 15) “through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (v. 18). This event, along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Gentiles for the first time in Acts 10, trace the movement of the Holy Spirit from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Christ’s commission to his disciples in Acts 1:8 to be “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” is not merely a geographic progression, but also an ethnic one, because it is an allusion to Isaiah 49:6, which promises “a light for the nations [i.e. ethnic groups]” so that God’s “salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
At Pentecost, the Jews gathered in Jerusalem received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:1 it says that “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” The antecedent of the pronoun “they” is “the apostles [who had] returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 1:12), and it says specifically in 2:5 that men who were gathered that day were devout Jews from every nation.
Then, the Samaritans in Judea and Samaria, of mixed descent from Jews and Gentiles (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:1-2), received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). And finally, the Gentiles in the ends of the earth received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10), which, then, served as the basis for the apostles’ conclusion that salvation had come to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). This narrative progression suggests that the subsequence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 is occasioned by the unique, initial nature of the Pentecost event.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit As a Marker of Faith
Peter promised that all who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), and Paul reckons that all believers are baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). For the early Christians, the Holy Spirit was not an afterthought, but the sine qua non of Christian life (Acts 2:16-:21; John 1:32-33).
To them, the term “Spirit-filled Christian” would have been redundant, for to be Christian was to be filled with the Spirit. That is why when Paul meets the disciples in Ephesus, he asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Their reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1-7), evokes the bewildered response from Paul, “Into what then were you baptized?”
Apostle Paul can ask this question because he understands that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experiential reality, not merely a cognitive assent to the inferential reality of the Holy Spirit. It is a grave mistake to think that the Holy Spirit is an unobtrusive, subliminal companion.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a reliable marker of one’s faith, “for those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Rom. 8:14). “This is how we know that we live in [God] and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13; cf. 1 John 3:24). The Holy Spirit is the down payment that guarantees our future glory (2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14). The fullness of the Spirit was the primary criterion by which believers were deemed fit for ministry (Acts 6:3-5).
As Roland Allen observes, after Pentecost, the Apostles made “recognition of the Spirit in themselves and others” a primary guide for spiritual judgment (The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 45). Christians today typically impose either theological creed or ecclesial polity as litmus tests (Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions, p. 225), but these approaches neglect the criterion of the Spirit. As the above example shows, when Paul encountered the disciples at Ephesus, he asked one simple question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed” (Acts 19:1-2)?
However, modern missionaries are “more inclined to ask either ‘Did you believe exactly what we teach?’ or ‘Were the hands that were laid on you our hands?’ and–if the answer is satisfactory–to assure the converts that they have then received the Holy Spirit even if they don’t know it. There is world of difference between these two attitudes” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church, p. 104).
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an unnoticeable phenomenon that we simply should assume has taken place; it is a life-changing, identifiable experience of the Spirit’s power that every Christian should continually seek (Eph. 5:18). If you cannot answer with an emphatic “yes” to the question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Just how do you do that? Stay tuned…
This is Part 3 of 4 posts in my series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Go to Part 2: Why We Don’t See More Signs and Wonders Today or to Part 4: How You Can Be Baptized in the Holy Spirit.