6. Baptized with the Holy Spirit


Audio (44:59)

Detail of Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer (1719-1775), 'Pentecost' (1750s), oil on canvas, 55x33 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.
Detail of Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer (1719-1775), 'Pentecost' (1750s), oil on canvas, 55x33 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.

We've learned a lot about the Holy Spirit already. We've studied Jesus' promise that the Father would pour out the Holy Spirit on his disciples after his "glorification," that they would be "baptized" with the Holy Spirit. We know that promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.

But what about the rest of us who come after. When do we receive the Holy Spirit? And how do we know we have him?

What about the claims of a growing group of devoted Christians known as Pentecostals, who assert that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to salvation and accompanied by speaking in tongues?

When Does the Spirit Come?

When is a person "baptized with the Spirit"? There are four basic ways that the Church has answered this question over the centuries:

1. Christian Rite. Christians receive the Holy Spirit upon receiving the Christian rite of Baptism, and later, the rite of Confirmation. This is the historic position of the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Church, as well as Lutherans, especially those who baptize infants. You often see it alongside the practice of infant baptism.

2. Simultaneous to Spiritual Birth. Believers receive the Holy Spirit at conversion, simultaneous with regeneration, or being "born again." The is the position of most Reformed, Baptist and evangelical churches, and this is basically where I end up.

3. Empowerment. Believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit as a "second work of grace," subsequent to faith in Christ, to empower them for ministry. This baptism of the Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues. This view came out of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the Charismatic movement in the mid-twentieth century. These folks see the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an important experience following conversion to equip one for ministry.

4. Tongues Necessary for Salvation. There is a fourth option, held by about one third of the Pentecostal movement -- those sometimes known as Apostolic or United Pentecostals. They contend that unless a person receives an experience of the baptism of the Spirit and speaks in tongues, he or she isn't saved! They also deny the Trinity. Instead, they believe that Jesus is the Father, and that Jesus is the Spirit, hence they are sometimes termed as "Oneness" or "Jesus-only" Pentecostals.

Those are the four basic understandings. Of course, if you look hard enough you can find verses that seem to support each of these positions. But we can't all be right! What does the Scripture actually teach? That's our task.

My Own Experience

As we begin, it's only fair to let you know a bit of my background. Briefly, I was born into a devout Presbyterian family, baptized as an infant, and accepted Christ as my Savior in a Presbyterian Church when I was nine years old. Later, when I was 17, I was strongly influenced by the Charismatic movement and experienced what Pentecostals call the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. I recognized it as authentic because of fruit of the Spirit that appeared following this.

I was active in Pentecostal, Nazarene, and Charismatic churches, attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena (earning M.Div. and D.Min. degrees), found a denominational home as an American Baptist pastor, and led churches in Southern and Northern California. Now retired, I am currently active in an Evangelical Covenant congregation.

I've been studying the Holy Spirit and his gifts for the past fifty years. Though I'm not a Pentecostal theologically, I am quite sympathetic to the movement and believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are active today.

Now that you've heard a bit of my journey, I hope you'll trust me to guide you through the Scriptures to what they teach about the  baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Metaphors for the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

One of the keys to understanding the Scripture -- and especially the baptism of the Holy Spirit -- is to realize that spiritual things are usually described using word-metaphors in Scripture. Let me explain. The dictionary says:

"A 'metaphor' is 'a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money);  broadly, figurative language.'"[109]

Thus, baptism with the Holy Spirit uses the metaphor of immersion into a liquid. Being filled with the Spirit uses the idea of a vessel being filled with a liquid. You get the idea. Watch for these word-metaphors as we study.

John's Promise of Being Baptized with the Holy Spirit

We begin our study with John the Baptist's declaration concerning Jesus, found in all four Gospels. Here's Matthew's version:

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)

It is also found in Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:32-33, and referred to by Jesus again in Acts 1:5.

Let's examine what the words of Scripture actually mean.

"Holy Spirit" we looked at briefly in the Introduction.

"Baptize" is Greek baptizō, "to immerse," which we saw in Lesson 2. In Greek literature, generally,  baptizō means "to put or go under water" in a variety of senses. The word can be used in the sense of Jewish ritual washing of eating utensils, washing hands before meals (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38), as a rite of renewing or establishing a relationship with God, such as John's baptism; and of an extraordinary experience akin to a initiatory baptism, the sense in which it is used the phrase, "baptize with the Spirit."[110]

"with the Holy Spirit" uses the Greek preposition en. This preposition is extremely common in Greek, used thousands of times in the New Testament. The Greek-English Lexicon gives 12 shades of meaning for the preposition.[111] In the phrase "baptize with the Holy Spirit," there is a clear parallelism between being baptized with water[112] (that is, water being the medium, Mark 1:8), So here, en seems to be a "marker introducing means or instrumentality, "with."[113] Some people are very strict about the preposition -- it must be baptism "in the Holy Spirit" not "with" the Holy Spirit, or "of the Holy Spirit"! Okay. Don't get hung up on the "proper" preposition. We mean the same thing.

Ritual washing was a long-standing Jewish tradition. Even today, most Jewish synagogues have a special room containing a "mikveh" where members may be purified by ritual immersion. It's pretty clear that John was baptizing by immersing people in the water of the River Jordan as a sign of repentance from sin.

That was literal immersion in water. To baptize with the Holy Spirit, by analogy, means to immerse a person in the Holy Spirit or by means of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist's promise, then, is that Jesus the Messiah will immerse his followers in the Holy Spirit.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

It is pretty clear that the promise of the baptism or immersion with the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, and on subsequent occasions when people received the Holy Spirit. Let's look at the pattern in the Book of Acts as people receive the Spirit. This may seem a bit tedious to you, but bear with me.

Jesus' Promise of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8)

At the beginning of Acts we read of Jesus' own promise.

"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5)

Jesus speaks of the effect of this phenomenon a few verses later:

"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)

Notice the phrase "comes on you." We saw the phrase when we studied the Spirit in the Old Testament in Lesson 1. We also saw it in Mary's Annunciation in Luke 1:35 (Lesson 2). The phrase here is formed from the common Greek verb eperchomai, "to move to or upon,"[114] and the preposition epi, "upon." The phrase is also used Acts 8:16 to describe what happened at Samaria.

Jerusalem -- Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)

I'd love to do a detailed exposition of Acts 2 for you -- the event is wonderfully exciting! However, for this purpose, I want to track how words are used and what they refer to. So here are the texts in Acts 2 that include "Spirit" or "Holy Spirit."

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:4)

Notice that Luke uses a new word to describe the coming of the Spirit: "filled." The Greek word is pimplēmi, "to cause to be completely full, fill."[115] Instead of the imagery of being dunked into a vat of the Holy Spirit, the image here is of a vessel being filled up. Remember this word, for we've seen it before and we'll see it again as Acts unfolds (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). Luke seems to equate being filled with the Spirit with being baptized with the Spirit.

This event on the day of Pentecost is clearly what Jesus foresaw as being baptized with the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8). Peter interprets it as fulfilling Joel's prophecy:

"In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18, quoting Joel 2:28-29)

Observe that Peter equates the "outpouring" of the Spirit with the "baptism" with the Spirit. Similarly, Peter declares:

"Exalted to the right hand of God, [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear." (Acts 2:33)

This outpouring of the Spirit is equated with the "promise" of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, which we studied in Lesson 1. The Spirit is "poured out" upon believers (Acts 2:17-18, 2:33, 10:45). In this metaphor of "pouring out," the liquid is in a vessel placed above the believer, and is saturating the believer with the Holy Spirit.

Peter further declares a few verses later:

"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." (Acts 2:38-39)

Here we see some new metaphors: "receive a gift" and the Holy Spirit as a "promise."

Just to make sure you're tracking with me, so far in Acts 1 and 2 we've seen six different word analogies that seem to describe the same phenomenon:

  1. Baptize (Acts 1:5)
  2. Come upon (Acts 1:8)
  3. Filled (Acts 2:4)
  4. Pour out (Acts 2:17-18, 33)
  5. Receive a gift (Acts 2:38)
  6. Promise (Acts 2:39, cf. 2:33)

Now, let's see how believers receiving the Holy Spirit is described in later chapters of Acts.

Q1. (Acts 2) What happened at Pentecost that was different than anything that had happened in previous history? What word analogies are used to describe this phenomenon? Are these word analogies essentially used synonymously with others in Acts 2? What did the Jews from foreign lands hear and see? How did Peter interpret what they heard and saw? (Acts 2:14-21)
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1806-q1-baptized-filled-received/

Filled with the Spirit and Boldness (Acts 4-5)

The phrase "filled with the Holy Spirit" is used in Acts 4:8 to describe the Spirit coming upon Peter with special power to testify before the high priests. Even though Peter had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he now he receives a special "dose" or empowering of the Holy Spirit. We also see this regarding Paul in Acts 13:9 as he confronts a Jewish sorcerer who is opposing his message. As we saw in Lesson 1, this kind of understanding goes back to the Old Testament.

The next mention of the Spirit occurs in a meeting of the growing Christian community after the apostles have been beaten by the authorities in Jerusalem -- but have nevertheless been able to bear testimony to their faith in Jesus:

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

Here again is the verb "filled."[116] This doesn't represent an initial filling of the Holy Spirit like we'll see at Pentecost, Samaria, Caesarea, and Ephesus, but something amazing happened -- some kind of earthquake and a special boldness in testifying to Jesus.

Next, in Peter's testimony before the Sanhedrin, he testifies:

"We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." (Acts 5:32)

Here's a new verb describing the reception of the Spirit: "given to," a very similar metaphor to "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" that we saw in Acts 2:38. This uses the common verb didōmi, "to give."

Q2. (Acts 4:8, 31) What does it mean that Peter and the believers are "filled with the Holy Spirit" in these passages? Are they "re-filled"? Is it possible for a believer to have many "fillings" of the Holy Spirit? Why or why not?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1807-2-multiple-fillings/

Samaria (Acts 8:15-19)

Later, Philip, the deacon-turned-evangelist, comes to Samaria and as he preaches, powerful miracles occur and people are saved and subsequently baptized in water. It is a mighty revival in the capital of the hated Samaritans!

But something does not happen that Phillip had expected. The people don't received the Holy Spirit when they are baptized. How can Philip tell? It's quite possible that they didn't speak and tongues and prophesy in the way that was common in the early church. It could also be that the Lord told Philip that they hadn't received the Spirit. At any rate, Philip sends to Jerusalem for the big guns, Apostles Peter and John, to see if they can help.

"15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16  because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:15-17)

Here we see two familiar metaphors to describe the initial coming of the Spirit: receive and come upon. I would guess that they spoke in tongues or something similar because Simon the Sorcerer is so impressed that he offers money to possess the power to convey the Holy Spirit to people.

Why didn't the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit when they believed in Christ and were baptized? We can speculate, probably correctly, that God caused this delay in order to get apostles from Jerusalem to travel to Samaria to witness and give their blessing to the fact that Samaritans are now included in the family of God by means of the Holy Spirit.

Paul's Conversion in Damascus (Acts 8)

Paul is the next person who is recorded in Acts as receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus appears in a vision to a Damascus believer named Ananias and directs him to go to Saul (later called Paul).

"17  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.' 18  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19  and after taking some food, he regained his strength." (Acts 9:17-19a)

Here's the familiar phrase "filled with the Holy Spirit" and a reference to the laying on of hands. We see the laying on of hands associated with receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-19; 9:17; and 19:6 (but not elsewhere). Here God uses a regular disciple to lay hands on Saul, not just a recognized apostle or evangelist.

Whether or not Paul speaks in tongues initially isn't stated here, though we know from his writings that he often spoke in tongues as part of his prayer-life (1 Corinthians 14:18).

Centurion Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10-11)

So far, Samaritans -- kind of half-Jews -- had become Christians, but not out-and-out Gentiles. While at Joppa, Peter gets a vision from God that he may now associate with Gentiles -- something new! A few minutes later he receives an actual invitation to come to the house of a Gentile, a Roman centurion, who lives in the Roman city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast.

As a good Jewish boy, Peter hasn't fellowshipped with Gentiles in the past. But he accepts the invitation, and while he is preaching to the assembled Gentiles in Caesarea, God comes on the scene powerfully.

"44  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47  'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:44-48a)

When Peter gets back to Jerusalem, he is chastised by Jewish Christians for fellowshipping with and baptizing Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3). So Peter tells them what happened.

"15  As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (Acts 11:15-17)

We see the words, "poured out," "came upon," "baptized," and "gave a gift." Referring to this outpouring of the Spirit in Caesarea, Peter argues before the Jerusalem Council that Gentile believers must be accepted.

"God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us." (Acts 15:8)

Note the phrase "giving the Holy Spirit to them" in the context of what Peter also refers to as being "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:16-17). In fact, all these words are used synonymously in these passages, though each word or metaphor retains its own particular flavor.

The Spirit Poured Out in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6)

The final incident of an initial receiving of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts happens in Ephesus. Paul makes a quick stop there during his return to the Antioch Church to conclude his Second Missionary Journey, and leaves his co-workers Priscilla and Aquila there (Acts 18:18-19).

Apollos, an eloquent Alexandrian Jew, has been teaching the Jewish community in Ephesus about the revival under John the Baptist, and has been baptizing people for repentance (Acts 18:24-25). Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside and explain that John the Baptist pointed to Jesus the Messiah. Apollos readily believes and then leaves for Corinth to preach Jesus to Jews there (Acts 18:26-27-28) -- without passing this information on to the Jewish community in Ephesus.

Time passes and Paul returns to Ephesus on what we call his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23). Here we pick up the narrative:

"1  While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2  and asked them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' They answered, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' 3  So Paul asked, 'Then what baptism did you receive?' 'John's baptism,' they replied. 4  Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.' 5  On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6  When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7  There were about twelve men in all." (Acts 19:1-7)

These "disciples" are disciples of John the Baptist, not Christian believers. When Paul meets them he senses that the Holy Spirit is missing in their lives. How? Maybe God tells him; we don't know.

He inquires and learns that they haven't received any teaching about Jesus or the Spirit. So he explains about Jesus, they believe, and he baptizes them. Then he lays his hands on them and "the Holy Spirit came on them"; they spoke in tongues and prophesied, the same kind of phenomena that we see earlier in Acts. We see verbs that we've seen before: "receive" (Acts 19:2) and "came upon" (Acts 19:6).

Devout Christians differ on their understanding of these things. So please be gentle in your interchanges with each other on the Forum. You can disagree, but it must be expressed in love!

Q3. (Acts 10-11; Acts 19:1-7) The Holy Spirit comes upon new believers in both Caesarea and Ephesus accompanied by speaking in tongues (and prophecy and praise) like on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Does He always come like this initially? What about the times when people are saved in the New Testament but tongues aren't mentioned? Are they filled with the Spirit also?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1808-q3-tongues-prophecy-and-praise/

Conclusions Regarding Receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts

Okay, this concludes all the references to receiving the Spirit in the Book of Acts. Pretty exciting! However, remember that in the Gospels (Lesson 2) we saw many of the same metaphors referring to the initial reception of the Holy Spirit.

  • Baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33)
  • Clothe with power from on high (Luke 24:49)
  • Give (Luke 11:13; John 7:39; 14:17)
  • Receive (John 7:39; 20:22)
  • Send (John 14:26; 15:26)

It's time to pause and see what we've learned from the incidents of an initial receiving of the Spirit mentioned in the Book of Acts. Here are my conclusions:

First, the term "baptized with the Spirit" is used by Luke alongside other synonyms.

  1. Baptize (Acts 1:5; 11:16-17)
  2. Come upon (Acts 1:8; 8:16; 10:44; 19:6)
  3. Fill, be filled (Acts 2:4; 9:17)
  4. Pour out (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45)
  5. Gift (noun: Acts 2:38; 10:45)
  6. Give (verb: Acts 5:32; 15:8).
  7. Receive (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:15, 17; 10:47; 19:2)
  8. Promise (Acts 2:39, cf. 2:33)

Second, the initial reception of the Holy Spirit is often accompanied by speaking in tongues and/or prophecy and/or praise. We see these phenomena at Pentecost (Acts 1:5), probably at Samaria (Acts 8), at Caesarea (Acts 10:46), and at Ephesus (Acts 19:6). Clearly, tongues and praise provided convincing evidence to the early Christians, including Peter, that people who show this kind of behavior have received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47; 11:15, 18).

Third, the Book of Acts doesn't record speaking in tongues every time some person or group receives the Spirit. Paul's receiving of the Spirit is one example (Acts 9:17-18); Samaria is another (Acts 8). Moreover, while Paul plants dozens of churches all over Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia, and presumably leads his converts into baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, only a very these few incidents of receiving the Spirit with speaking in tongues are mentioned. Some might contend that it was assumed that they spoke in tongues so it wasn't mentioned. But that is an argument from silence, and arguments from silence are notoriously weak.

Fourth, a person's lack of the Holy Spirit can be diagnosed without hearing him or her speak in tongues. Paul knows that the Spirit is missing in the lives of the disciples in Ephesus, and quickly remedies the situation by leading them to Christ. Thus tongues provides one evidence of the Spirit, but there are other diagnostic clues, as well. We'll see in Lesson 7 that spiritual fruit is one essential diagnostic indicator.

Fifth, in normal cases, people are expected to receive the Holy Spirit when they first believe in Jesus, not later, as in Ephesus (Acts 19:2). You can also infer this from Philip's experience with the new Samaritan believers (Acts 8:16). The delay in receiving the Holy Spirit until Pentecost (Acts 1:4-8; Luke 24:49), and the delays in receiving the Holy Spirit in Samaria and Ephesus are anomalies, not part of the normal pattern.

Sixth, Christians who have already received the Spirit can have special and powerful fillings of the Holy Spirit from time to time (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9, 52).

Baptism by the Spirit into Christ's Body (1 Corinthians 12:13)

In his letters, Paul is writing primarily to people who have already received the Spirit, so he is usually talking about the ongoing operation of the Spirit. However, there are a few passages in Paul's letters that relate to an initial receiving of the Spirit:

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)

This passage uses the word "baptism" in the same sentence as "Spirit," but it's different than what we've seen before in John the Baptist's declaration. Here, the Baptizer is the Holy Spirit, not Jesus. And the medium into which people are baptized is the body of Christ, not the Holy Spirit. I think Paul is talking about initial conversion and receiving the Spirit, but uses a different analogy. His purpose is to emphasize the unity of the body of Christ.

I've found three other clear references to an initial reception of the Spirit in Paul's writings, all in the context that salvation is by faith, not by works:

"I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" (Galatians 3:2)

"Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Galatians 3:5)

"He redeemed us ... so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3:14)

These are analogies of giving, receiving, and of a promise that we've seen previously.

Pentecostal Doctrine and the Scriptures

We've seen how the New Testament describes an initial receiving of the Holy Spirit. Now let's compare this to assertions by our Pentecostal brothers and sisters. They see it somewhat differently than I do.

Let's look at a representative Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, a wonderful group of believers who see the power of God at work in their midst, and are extending the Gospel aggressively, especially in Latin America. Among their "16 Fundamental Truths," two summarized here:

#7. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate and subsequent experience following conversion. Spirit baptism brings empowerment to live an overcoming Christian life and to be an effective witness.

#8. Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

They teach concerning "the baptism in the Holy Spirit" that:

  1. It is separate from conversion,
  2. It is subsequent to conversion,
  3. It provides empowerment for life and ministry, and
  4. Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence.

I agree with point 3. The Holy Spirit provides the power to live the Christian life and minister to the world. However, I disagree with points 1, 2, and 4. Here's why:

Separation. The Scripture pattern is that people should receive the Holy Spirit when they believe, not later. We see that expectation in both Samaria (Acts 8:16) and Ephesus (Acts 19:2), and that experience in Caesarea (Acts 10:44). In those cases there aren't two separate experiences of the Holy Spirit -- an initial reception separate from the "baptism." They're both combined.

Subsequence. The disciples are waiting or tarrying (KJV) in Jerusalem until they receive the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4) do not set the pattern, for Jesus' command to wait in Jerusalem anticipates the one-of-a-kind historical outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament era that takes place on the Day of Pentecost. There is nothing in the teaching of the New Testament that would lead us to expect the baptism in the Spirit to be a subsequent experience to salvation. Rather, this probably arises from the experience of the Holiness and Pentecostal believers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who received something more that they hadn't experienced before. It's understandable.

Speaking in tongues. Pentecostals can make a good case that speaking in tongues accompanied some of the early receptions of the Holy Spirit in Acts. They can also make a good case that speaking in tongues convinced the early church of the validity of the Gentiles' conversion in Caesarea (Acts 11).

However, to state categorically that: "Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit," overstates the evidence, and contradicts the experience of millions of Christ-loving, Spirit-empowered Christians around the world who haven't spoken in tongues, but in many cases experience the same power and joy as their Pentecostal brethren.

Certainly, speaking in tongues was common in the early church (Mark 16:17; Acts; 1 Corinthians 12-14). However, if speaking in tongues were a necessary accompaniment to being filled with the Holy Spirit, certainly Jesus or his apostles would have said so clearly.[117] Yet, the only times the Apostle Paul even mentions speaking in tongues is (1) as a gift that not all have (1 Corinthians 12:28-30), and (2) a prayer/praise language that he experienced, but was out of control in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:1; chapter 14). More on that in Lesson 9. To suggest that the New Testament doesn't say more about speaking in tongues because it was common and assumed, is both a circular argument and an argument from silence, both weak by standards of logic.

I believe that speaking in tongues can be an authentic and wonderful phenomenon that often accompanies a powerful breakthrough in the Spirit. Indeed, I attribute to an experience of speaking in tongues a readiness among many Pentecostals to see nothing as impossible to God. But it saddens me to have seen people being coached how to speak in tongues so that they can receive the Holy Spirit. That's manipulation. It also can produce speaking in tongues by imitation, rather than by the Spirit's spontaneous power that we see in the Bible. God is perfectly capable of inducing people to pray in tongues all by themselves.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit Is One Metaphor among Many

As we've been studying the New Testament, we've found a variety of word-metaphors that describe initial reception of the Holy Spirit. (I hope you're not too tired of this!)

  1. Baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16-17)
  2. Clothe with power from on high (Luke 24:49)
  3. Give (Luke 11:13; John 7:39; 14:17)
  4. Receive (John 7:39; 20:22)
  5. Send (John 14:26; 15:26)
  6. Come upon (Acts 1:8; 8:16; 10:44; 19:6)
  7. Fill, be filled (Acts 2:4; 9:17)
  8. Pour out (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45)
  9. Give a gift (noun: Acts 2:38; 10:45; verb: Acts 5:32; 15:8).
  10. Receive a gift (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:15, 17; 10:47; 19:2)
  11. Promise (Acts 2:39, cf. 2:33)

I contend that "baptism of/in the Holy Spirit" is one metaphor among many that describe the same experience. These metaphors are interchangeable. "Baptism of/in the Holy Spirit" is not separate and somehow "better" or "different" than the other descriptions. A person who "receives" the Holy Spirit is also "baptized with" the Holy Spirit.

We know from Romans 8:9 that possessing the Holy Spirit is the essential component of being a Christian. You can't assert (as most Pentecostals do) that believers can somehow "have" the Holy Spirit, but have not "received" the Holy Spirit. Then it degenerates to a silly word game.

Having said that Pentecostal doctrine overstates the Scriptures, let me hasten to affirm that God has powerfully used our Pentecostal brothers and sisters to revitalize the entire Church and its expression of worship through the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, their belief in the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit is not merely theoretical, but widely practiced throughout the world with powerful results. Pentecostal evangelists have seen powerful movings of God as a result of healing that attracts hundreds of thousands of people to faith in Jesus.

The Experience of the Holy Spirit

Niagra Falls
A huge amount of energy is released when Niagara Falls suddenly drops 183 feet.

I don't think you could successfully argue that Pentecostals have more fruit of the Spirit than other true Christians (see Lesson 7). However, what seems to separate many true Christians from some Pentecostals is the presence of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal gatherings and ministries. Many Pentecostals have unlimited faith in what the Holy Spirit can do now.

Beyond that, it comes down to the nature of one's experience of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain it using the illustration of Niagara Falls. The Niagara River that flows from Lake Erie north to Lake Ontario carries a tremendous amount of water flow, and a total drop of 326 feet over 35 miles, making it one of the best sources of hydroelectric power in North America. It represents tremendous energy, but energy under control, as the river flows between the riverbanks. When it flows over Niagara Falls, however, it releases a lot of raw energy. The elevation difference is so great -- 185 feet -- that a tremendous amount of energy is released all at once, in spray and noise.

When a non-Christian or a taking-it-for-granted Christian encounters the power of the Holy Spirit in an immersion or outpouring or overwhelming or filling experience, the results can be uncontrollable, at least initially. The Spirit can overflow our psyche's container. The difference between the former spiritual level and the new level of the Spirit is just too great to occur without some outward manifestation. It's like a power spike that blows out television sets and computers. Usually, after the initial "immersion" experience, a Christian can learn to walk in the power of the Spirit through voluntary submission, rather than involuntary loss of control that sometimes happens initially.

The key to being filled with the Holy Spirit day by day is increasing surrender of our lives to the Lord. As we learn more of the Lord, and more of ourselves, we have more to surrender. At points of greater surrender, we often have powerful experiences of God as the Holy Spirit suddenly fills more of us.

We can expect to receive many "fillings" of the Holy Spirit in our lives -- times when the power of the Holy Spirit is especially visible and sometimes overwhelming. You see this in early church ministry (Acts 4:8, 31; 7:55; 13:9). There are "normal" times of walking with the Spirit, punctuated by some "full-of-the-Spirit" times.

Does that mean that you have "more" of the Spirit at some times than others? Not really. If the Spirit is present at all, he is there completely. But we're talking about our experience of Him, which is often related to our degree of surrender.

My dear friend, don't settle for a low-level experience of God. Seek him diligently. Ask him to fill you afresh and overflow you with the Holy Spirit -- not so you can have an experience to authenticate you, but so that you might know him in all his awesomeness and greatness. When the Spirit breaks upon you, there may be an outburst of power, perhaps expressed by tongues, prophecy, or praise. Or perhaps not. After all, it's the Holy Spirit we seek, not some experience.

Let's be careful about our doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But let's not let anything keep us from experiencing the true power and gifts of the Holy Spirit needed to minister in our world today! Don't be satisfied with your current level of "fullness" with the Spirit. Open wider! There's more!

Lessons for Disciples

We've looked at a lot of verses and incidents of receiving the Holy Spirit. Let's review now and summarize.

  1. There are many New Testament metaphors for the initial reception of the Holy Spirit. These include: baptism, clothing, giving, receiving, sending, coming upon, filling, pouring out, gift, promise. These are essentially interchangeable in the New Testament and can speak of the same experience.
  2. We receive the Holy Spirit at conversion. That's what causes the new spiritual birth, the connection with God.
  3. The reception of the Spirit is often but not always accompanied by spontaneous speaking in tongues, prophecy, and/or praise.
  4. Believers can expect to have many subsequent "fillings" of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9, 52).
  5. Surrender is the key to being filled with the Holy Spirit. At points of greater surrender, we often have powerful experiences of God as the Holy Spirit suddenly seems to fill more of us. As we help new believers into the Kingdom, we should encourage full surrender. That way, their experience of God's presence by the Spirit will be all the greater.
  6. We should not be content with a low-level experience of the Spirit. We must seek the Lord diligently, hunger to know him more, and open our lives to him, in order to reach our maximum potential as Jesus-followers. Our goal is to live "filled" with the Holy Spirit.

Growth Assignment (Week 6) -- Surrender

We've examined what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You may recognize that your own experience of God is far below what you read about in the Book of Acts. The key is not to seek an "experience," but to seek God with all your heart, and surrender anew your whole being to him. It may be some time since you've done this -- and you may realize that there's more to surrender.


Available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats

Your assignment this week is to spend special time alone with God. Seek to surrender yourself as fully to God as you are able. When he brings practices to your mind that he wants to change, repent, give them up, and open yourself to him. This is the process to experience God's fullness.

My friend, you've got a wonderful time ahead of you as you press deeper into God through surrender. And the newly "empty" space will be filled to overflowing by his Spirit.

Prayer

Thank you, Father, for your powerful Holy Spirit. We know that we can take your Spirit for granted. We also know that we've sometimes allowed points of rebellion and lack of surrender in our lives which prevent you from filling us. Forgive us, O Lord. Take all of us, and fill us afresh with your Spirit. We long for you, O Holy Spirit! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12, NIV)

"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5, NIV)

"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, NIV)

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:4, NIV)

"In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18, NIV, quoting Joel 2:28-29)

"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." (Acts 2:38-39, NIV)

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31, NIV)

"When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:15-17, NIV)

"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:44-48a, NIV)

"While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' They answered, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' So Paul asked, 'Then what baptism did you receive?' 'John's baptism,' they replied. Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all." (Acts 19:1-7, NIV)

Notes

[109] Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, 2004.

[110] Baptizō, BDAG 164.

[111] En can be used as 1. a "marker of a position defined as being in a location, "in among." 2. a marker of state or condition, "in." 3. A marker of extension toward a goal that is understood to be within an area or condition: "into." 4. A marker of close association within a limit, "in." 5. A marker introducing means or instrument, "with." 6. A marker of agency, "with the help of" and six other definitions (BDAG 326-330)

[112] In Mark 1:8a, the phrase "in water" (hudōr) uses the Greek dative case without the preposition en, which is equivalent to the expression with the preposition.

[113] En, BDAG 328, 5b.

[114] Eperchomai, BDAG 361. The compound verb eperchomai is formed from the preposition epi-, "upon," and the very common verb erchomai, "to come, to go" (Thayer, p. 230).

[115] Pimplēmi, BDAG 113, 1aβ.

[116] Pimplēmi is used in Acts 4:8, 31.

[117] This is, of course, an argument from silence, but is, I believe, compelling nevertheless.


Copyright © 2018, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.