The Holy Spirit and our baptism within

Mom and dad took me to church every week from nursery age to adulthood so I’ve been a Christian for nearly as long as I can remember. I went “down front” to publicly announce my commitment to Christ at around nine years old and got submerged accordingly the next Sunday they performed baptisms. Now, I’m not claiming I’ve always been an upstanding, conscientious follower of Jesus. No way. For decades I wandered far away from His teachings and remained on the outer fringes of the faith until I stepped out of my denials and admitted I was in desperate need of a Savior about six years ago. That’s when I finally put God first in my life and handed Him the keys to the bus. It was a very wise move. However, even in the quagmire of my most unfaithful years, I never thought my born again status had been rendered invalid by my irreverent backsliding. Imagine my surprise to discover many well-intentioned Christians consider my conversion bogus not because I strayed off course but because I “didn’t do it right.” That shocked me because I was there when it happened and they weren’t so they can’t possibly know what transpired in my heart that day. That’s between me and the Holy Ghost. I find it somewhat arrogant for another believer to imply I’ll be barred from heaven due to a procedural technicality. I’m sure they’re sincere but by studying the Scriptures I’ve become convinced there’s but one baptism with the Holy Spirit in the life of every convert and it takes place the moment they proclaim Christ their Lord. This supernatural baptism was introduced to humanity at Pentecost and all who’ve surrendered to Jesus since have shared in that experience. All believers are spiritually washed clean by the Holy Spirit the second they accept Christ.

The Bible’s use of the word baptism demonstrates that it’s part of one’s initiation into the body of Christ, both in the case of water baptism and Spirit baptism. Nowhere does it say either needs to be repeated. 1 Corinthians 12:13 succinctly states, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Adhering to the grammar of the original Greek Paul wrote that verse in, baptism with the Spirit is a completed past action. Two things about the Apostle’s unambiguous statement stand out: First, the baptism with the Holy Ghost is a collective operation of the Spirit of God and, second, it includes every believer. All means all. Keep in mind he wasn’t addressing an elite, dedicated group of well-taught Christians at the time. 1 Corinthians 3:1 reads, “So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” In reference to all this Billy Graham wrote, “The clear indication is that baptism with the Spirit is connected with our standing before God, not our current subjective state.” It would seem that while all who undergo baptism do become adopted children of God, not all necessarily live up to their calling to become holy. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 the Apostle used five “alls” to describe the ancient Israelites. All under the cloud,” “All passed through the sea,” “All were baptized,” “All ate,” and All drank.” Then he adds the kicker, “But God was not pleased with most of them…” Here’s what’s being conveyed. All believers, by definition, have been baptized with the Holy Spirit yet it doesn’t mean they’re consistently filled with the Spirit. That’s another ball of wax. The important thing is this fundamental truth: when a man or woman comes to Christ, God sends His Spirit to live in them. Without fail.

I’m cognizant that expressing my take on the whole “baptism-with-the-Holy-Spirit” thing is bound to raise the ire of believers who hold differing opinions. There’s nothing sinful about having civil, legitimate debates about contested subjects as long as we’re tolerant, prayerful and willing to entertain opposing viewpoints. Christians often respectfully toss around issues such as church government or water baptism methods. In the case of the latter, some baptize infants, some don’t. Some sprinkle, some pour and some immerse. But to allow these differences to splinter the body of Christ is a disgrace. No matter one’s denomination, we all answer to the same boss. Having said that, the issue of baptism with the Holy Spirit is of utmost importance because it, unlike those relatively minor points of doctrine, is a fundamental cornerstone of our faith and shouldn’t be considered a topic for speculation. Yet it frequently is. Some Christians think the Spirit’s baptism comes sometime after a person’s conversion and the delay is required for a disciple to become fully useful to God. Still others contend the baptism with the Spirit must be accompanied by a dramatic manifestation of a particular spiritual gift or the whole thing’s a charade. I sense everyone, including myself, would’ve liked to have felt some kind of out-of-this-world epiphany when they joined God’s elect but the Bible doesn’t indicate such a “happening” always accompanies one’s redemption.

What I’ve learned in reading my Bible is this: we’re baptized into the body of Christ via the Spirit at conversion and it’s the only Spirit baptism we’ll ever have. Or need. At that instant we can and ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, because we tend to leak, we must be refilled to the brim on occasion. A saying goes, “One baptism but many fillings…” I’m no scholar but I have yet to find a verse in the Bible that says any of these fillings constitute a “second baptism.” Perhaps the controversy arises simply due to confusing semantics. I’ll try to explain as we go along that what some folks call the baptism with the Spirit is what the Scriptures refer to as the filling with the Spirit, something that takes place repeatedly in our lives following our conversion.

It’s noteworthy that only seven passages in the New Testament directly address baptism with the Spirit. Five identify it as a future (re: Pentecost) event. Four of those are found in the Gospels, spoken by John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:11 he said, “He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” and in Mark 1:8; “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 3:16 repeats verbatim what he said in Matthew and, in John 1:16, he testified that the voice of God told him, “The one whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” The fifth was uttered by Jesus and recorded in Acts 1:5; “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” In the sixth passage (Acts 11:16) Peter, using basically the same phraseology, reflects back on the day of Pentecost as being a fulfillment of ancient promises. Only in the passage cited earlier (1 Corinthians 12:13) is it spoken of in the collective sense that includes every believer. I, as do many, wish I could know what it feels like to be caught up in the euphoric throes of the Spirit, aka an uninhibited, dancing flower child. My envy of those who’ve had such an ecstatic experience has sometimes made me wonder if I’m totally wrong about my not needing a “second baptism.” But that thought has always sent me into the Holy Word for reassurance that I’m interpreting the Scriptures correctly. By examining what God did in Christ’s passion week and fifty days later at Pentecost it becomes clear we don’t need to receive what God already gave us the moment we surrendered our hearts to Jesus.

Christ bore all our filthy sins on the cross. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3) In Isaiah 53:6 it was foretold: “…the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” While Jesus’ atoning death signaled the end of His earthly mission, it in no way signaled the end of His ministry. As He informed His disciples in the upper room, He had to go away so He could send the Comforter to indwell them. And it started at Pentecost. On that glorious day they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist proclaimed the Messiah had a two-fold mission to complete: firstly to be the sacrificial Lamb who paid the price for the sins of the world and secondly to make it possible for the Holy Ghost to come and spiritually baptize every believer so the good news of the Gospel could be spread across the globe. Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven the promise of the ages was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit descended on 120 disciples. But this miraculous anointing wasn’t limited to just the 120. Peter preached to the crowd that it was theirs for the taking: “Repent, and each one of you be baptized 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) 3,000 souls took him up on that offer and, while the bestowing of the Spirit upon them wasn’t quite the fiery, spectacular extravaganza the 120 experienced, they nonetheless received the gift of the Holy Spirit the second they repented and surrendered to Christ. There was no ten-day waiting period for the 3,000 as there’d been for the 120 so we must deem the 120’s circumstance somewhat unique. The way the Holy Spirit baptized the 3,000 became the norm for all new believers that day onward.

The Holy Spirit has come to live in the hearts of all true Christians ever since, uniting them by His indwelling presence into one body – Christ’s Church – regardless of their denominational affiliation. Some point to the so-called “Samaritan Pentecost” highlighted in Acts 8:14-17 and the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48 as proof there is no “norm” but most scholars note what both signified was a new and poignant stage in the expansion of the Church. Samaritans were hated by most Jews so their baptism with the Spirit made it clear salvation was available to all mankind. Similarly, Cornelius was a Gentile so his conversion reconfirmed God was no respecter of persons and inclusion in the body of Christ was not limited to only some races. Billy Graham said, “In view of all this, no Christian need strive, wait, or ‘pray through to get the Spirit.’ He’s received Him already, not as a result of struggle and work, agonizing and prayer, but as an unmerited and unearned gift of grace.” W. Graham Scroggie preached, “On the day of Pentecost all believers, by the baptism of the Spirit, constituted the body of Christ, and since then every separate believer, every soul accepting Christ in simple faith, has in that moment and by that act been made a partaker of the blessing of the baptism. It is not therefore a blessing which the believer is to seek and receive subsequent to the hour of his conversion.”

Nevertheless, three possible exceptions (all found in Acts) must be acknowledged. Some use them to bolster their opinion that the Holy Spirit doesn’t always baptize a convert the nanosecond they believe. Philip’s visit to Samaria is cited, as is the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus and Paul’s mission to Ephesus. I’ve investigated each with an inquisitive mind and I’ve reached a firm conclusion. It’s my (as well as many others’) belief that Pentecost instituted the Church. All that remained afterward was for Samaritans, Gentiles and what some label the Ephesian “belated believers” to be brought into the Church representatively. Once these “special” baptisms with the Spirit were accomplished the standard was established permanently; i.e., baptism with the Spirit occurs at the instant each person (no matter their background) professes belief in Jesus Christ. My default position will always be that, since the Holy Spirit is as much God Almighty as the Father and the Son are, He can manipulate protocol as He chooses in order to further the Kingdom in accordance with His will. We can speculate till the heifers head home but God’s never been restricted to doing only what humans consider logical and rationally predictable.

Pentecost should therefore be deemed an ongoing phenomenon and Jesus’ act of atonement can be used as a correlative. Our Lord died once for all. That means He died for members of His body who were not yet born or renewed. Thusly you and I became members of His body via regeneration through the shedding of His blood on Good Friday. And what debuted long ago at Pentecost we enter into courtesy of the faith God grants us. I cite 1 Corinthians 12:13 again: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.” In this way the Church continues to grow and deter stagnation. It’s also worthwhile to mention that, since the baptism with the Spirit takes place at the time of our spiritual rebirth, Christians are never told in the Bible to wait for it. Hence the overriding purpose of baptism with the Holy Spirit appears to be to bring new Christians directly into the body of Christ. Our surrender to Jesus and our receiving of the Holy Spirit coincide without pause. Yes, we all need new fillings – but not new baptisms. Furthermore, there’s no divine command to go get baptized with the Spirit contained in the pages of the New Testament. If it was something vital we had to seek out I think Christ would’ve brought it up, don’t you? But Jesus didn’t waste words so He wasn’t about to tell His disciples to seek something that’s already been done. I’m convinced when I accepted Christ as my Savior at age nine the Holy Ghost took up residence in my heart, stayed there as I grew up and is still abiding in me today.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, when Paul says “…all were made to drink of the one Spirit” he’d been emphasizing the need for unity amongst the troublesome and uncooperative members of the church in Corinth. Reading through that passage I can’t help noticing phrases like “the same Spirit,” “one and the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the body is one,” “one body,” “there are many parts yet one body,” and “…that there be no discord in the body.” It seems obvious he was driving home to them the truth that the baptism with the Spirit was not designed to divide the congregation in the Church of our Lord. On the contrary, Paul identifies it beyond all doubt as being the great uniting factor that draws Christians together and allows us to act as one extremely powerful and influential force on civilization as a whole.

I’m certain some of my readers beg to differ regarding various aspects of my argument. Yet I know we’re in agreement on this statement of fact: every true believer must be baptized with the Spirit into the body of Christ. Every tenet beyond that basic principle has an inherent ability to lead some individuals down the road to Subjectivityville where petty squabbles thrive. Yet even if we opt to interact in that burg we should never lose sight of the Church’s indisputable doctrines. In order to be true to them we must always remember our redemption process proceeds independent of time. We’ve been saved (justified), we’re being saved (sanctified) and we will be saved (glorified). The sanctification phase is where all Christians find themselves currently and it has everything to do with cultivating holiness – the tangible product of the Spirit’s work in our hearts. No matter our personal views on second baptisms, speaking in tongues or becoming stimulated by the Spirit it’s imperative we remain in agreement when it comes to seeking holiness because without holiness we’ll never meet our Lord face to face. Healthy debate is constructive but our overriding goal should be to reflect the merciful love of Jesus to those who don’t yet know His beautiful countenance and healing touch. We increase our ability to do that by filling ourselves as often as possible with the Holy Spirit. His presence within us is an uninterrupted reality but the more we yield to His perfect will the better He can efficiently work in and through us to make a positive impression on this fallen world.

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