Baptism #9 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

This will be the last session on baptism. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is peripheral to baptism, but a topic of much confusion. And I must admit that I am as confused. But I feel I have to write about it anyways. The confusion about the baptism of the Holy Spirit is regarding whether there is one pouring out of the Holy Spirit, default given to every believer upon accepting Jesus Christ as your savior (also called “baptism unto life”, which leads to newness of eternal life, and is evident in the fruit of the Spirit), or if there is a second pouring out of the Holy Spirit, given only when asked for that gives a person much greater spiritual power and boldness, and the ability to live a more victorious Christian life (also called “baptism unto power”, which leads to power to witness, and is evident through the gifts of the Holy Spirit). My aim is to clarify this here.

What is baptism of the Holy Spirit?
The clearest explanation of the baptism appears in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul is dealing with a situation where the Corinthian church was splitting into factions over the issue of spiritual gifts. Overemphasis on certain spectacular gifts had led to the attitude that some people had the most desirable gifts, while others were deficient. In response, Paul exclaims “for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13). His main point? All believers share the reality of being baptized by the Spirit. What does it do? It makes us part of the body of Christ, and will guide us into all truth. When does it happen? If every believer has been baptized in the Spirit, then it must happen at the moment you accept Jesus Christ in your life. Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be defined as: at the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit places a believer into permanent union with Christ and with other believers in the Body of Christ. This is echoed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that “in Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14), and to “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30). All believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, for the day of redemption. All believers are “waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).

What is All the Confusion About?
So, why is there so much confusion (or should I say disunity in the body) when it comes to the Holy Spirit? Firstly, in the time that Jesus was still on the earth, He said, “if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13), which could lead to the believe that you need to ask for the Holy Spirit in order to receive Him. Yet, this asking is in the form of the initial asking upon conversion. Secondly, anyone who believed in Jesus before Pentecost did not yet receive the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8). “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts 2:3-4). It is also evident from what Jesus commands here that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is for being witnesses to Christ (which means it’s a baptism unto power), yet Pentecost was a “special” event, as it was the initial pouring out of the Spirit. Jesus said earlier: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:7-14). Jesus is speaking to all disciples here. He does not make a distinction. This is why Peter in his sermon after Pentecost could say, “Repent, and each 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), for the Holy Spirit is given to each who repents of sin. In two instances later in Acts, the baptism in the Holy Spirit was temporarily delayed in order to demonstrate to the Apostles that Samaritans (Acts 8:14-16) and Gentiles (Acts 10:27-48) were equally a part of God’s plan of salvation, but we always have to remember that it is Jesus who is the baptizer, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11b).

Peculiar Instances
I must admit there are three instances regarding the receiving of the Holy Spirit that I am still confused about. The first is recorded in the Gospel of John where Jesus visits the disciples after His resurrection, it is recorded: “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19-22). This is not as much confusing but rather interesting, as it seems that the disciples there present received the Holy Spirit (Jesus breathed on them) before the day of Pentecost. It could be said that this is where the disciples are born again. The second is recorded in Acts regarding the conversion of Paul (Saul): “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 9:17). It seems that Saul was actually born again when Ananias layed hands on him, because here it is where he receives the Holy Spirit. Interesting side note is that Paul received the Holy Spirit before being baptized (Acts 9:18) – just to dismantle the notion that baptism is required for receiving the Holy Spirit (as the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not for the purpose of cleansing from sin, but for the purpose of empowering for service). The third is when Paul came to Ephesus and found some disciples who were not aware of the existence of the Holy Spirit and were only baptized by John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-6). They were baptized again, but now in the name of the Lord Jesus, and only then they received the Holy Spirit. “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ And they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:1-6). Why did Paul ask them if they did receive the Holy Spirit when they believed? Apparently, there was something about these disciples that prompted the question from Paul. These Ephesian disciples reveal that they have very little knowledge of God’s nature as revealed in Jesus. One can imagine that these Ephesian disciples heard about the coming of the Messiah through John’s message, and they heard of their need to be ready to receive the Messiah and to ready themselves through repentance.  Yet they actually do not seem to have heard that the Messiah had in fact come, and had not heard of their need to trust in His specific person and work. When they heard that the Messiah had come, they believed, were baptized in the name of Lord Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit.

So, what can be said then? There is one Spirit and one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5). The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity. His work is regenerating, quickening, enlightening, convicting, comforting, drawing, uniting, indwelling, teaching, cleansing, leading, assuring, witnessing, sealing, assisting, interceding, transforming, preserving, confirming, fructifying, and endowing. The one baptism is the spiritual baptism that happens at the conversion, when we receive the Holy Spirit, and are united with Christ forever, and made part of the body of Christ which is the church. And the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit will not speak on His own initiative. He will only speak to glorify Jesus. And so Jesus must be glorified for the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself. For “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23), Jesus said. And Jesus also said, “he who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive” (John 7:38-39). And this Spirit is not exclusive; it is given freely to anyone who believes, and you don’t have to ask for it.

Baptism #8 – Common Distortions

Well, we are almost at the end of our study on the doctrine of baptism. In terms of the sacrament of baptism all has been said, which leaves us with two topics to talk about still. And I must say that both are very controversial, and there is a sense of reluctance to address them, yet I will for I believe the Spirit will bear witness. Jesus said “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).

It may very well be that reading all my previous entries on this topic caused you to raise some eyebrows here and there (I hope not), for there are alternative views on some of the aspects of baptism discussed, over which there is much debate. What I will do is address four of these aspects, and for lack of a better word I have named them common distortions, because that is exactly what they are. They are distorted views or wrong interpretations on the Biblical texts, but like I said, let the Spirit of truth guide you into all the truth about baptism.

Common Distortion #1 – Baptism Only Symbolizes Spiritual Cleansing
The first common distortion addresses the aspect that baptism only symbolizes is the washing away of sins, not death and resurrection with Christ. Although it is certainly true that water is an evident symbol of washing and cleansing, and the waters of baptism do symbolize washing and purification as well as death and resurrection with Christ. Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration”, and Ananias told Saul in Acts 22:16 to “rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” But to say that the washing away of sins is the primary or only symbolism of baptism is not faithfully representing New Testament teaching. It is Paul who says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:3-6). Now what Paul talks about here is the internal acts of baptism when accepting Jesus, yet this is symbolized in the external act of baptism. When a person is baptized into Jesus Christ, he is baptized into His death. He is buried with Christ, and then raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection. I love this last statement. We are raised in the likeness of His resurrection, “rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Yes, our body of sin is done away with, we are cleansed from sin, but to be buried with Christ and be united with Him in the likeness of His death, and then to be raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. That’s what it’s all about!

Common Distortion #2 – Infant Baptism
The second common distortion is that infants should be baptized. The only way to enter into the kingdom of God is by faith and repentance. When baptism is described in the New Testament, how it is applied in the New Testament, it is clear that we are talking about a baptism of faith and repentance. In other words, faith and repentance come first, and baptism follows after that. Infants are not capable of either faith or repentance. Secondly, the notion that a person should inherit the blessing of a Christian or be considered a Christian by virtue of his parent’s faith is contrary to New Testament teaching. The common defense given for infant baptism is that just as in Israel circumcision was given to eighth-days-old infants, so in the church baptism should be given to infants of Christian parents. Now there is a correspondence between circumcision as a sign of the old covenant with Israel and baptism as a sign of the new covenant with Jesus Christ, but it is not one-on-one. Just as circumcision was administered to all the physical sons of Abraham, so baptism should be administered to all the spiritual sons of Abraham. Who are these spiritual sons of Abraham? Galatians 3:7 says “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” So, it is those who are of faith who are the spiritual sons of Abraham. This means you have to be capable of faith. Infants are not capable of faith; hence infants should not be baptized.

Common Distortion #3 – Salvation Baptism
Salvation baptism means that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the act of baptism itself causes regeneration. This usually ties in with infant baptism, as parents often baptize their infant children as they want them to be saved, become part of the family of God. The basis for this belief of salvation baptism comes from the following three verses. In John 3 Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the new birth. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Confused by Jesus’ statement Nicodemus asks “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4). And then Jesus answers him, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Now ‘born of water’ does not refer to baptism, but to the promise of the covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where Ezekiel prophesizes “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” It speaks of a spiritual washing that will come in the days of the new covenant when God will put His Spirit within His people. Another verse used is “Corresponding to that [meaning Noah being safely brought through water], baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The focus is put on the ‘baptism now saves you’ part, yet it should be read in the whole context of what Peter is trying to say. To paraphrase Peter here, what he says is that baptism now saves you, not the outward physical ceremony of baptism, but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents. And a third verse is “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet this verse says nothing about those who believe and are not baptized.

Three verses can be used to contradict this distortion. Firstly, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This verse is clear that salvation is solely based on the grace of God. There is nothing that we can do, including baptism, that will bring us salvation. We are saved through faith, and even that is a gift of God! Secondly, and I am almost embarrassed to mention it, Jesus says in John 3:16, “that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Whoever believes! There is no other prerequisite to eternal life than faith alone. Thirdly, my personal favorite, when Jesus is being crucified He is accompanied by two criminals, and one of them said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42), and Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Now the thief could not have been baptized before he died on the cross, but he was certainly saved that day! Also, the thief could not have been saved under the old covenant, because Jesus died before the two thieves. We read in John 19:31-33, “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” And so the new covenant was already in effect.

Common Distortion #4 – Baptism is to be performed by ordained people only
A last common distortion I want to address is that baptism is to be performed by ordained people only. When we read the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) – to whom is Jesus speaking? The eleven apostles, his disciples. Who are performing baptisms in the New Testament? His disciples. Who are we? His disciples. Let me provide some Scriptural background for this as well. Isaiah 61 talks about the empowerment of Jesus’ ministry, His ministry itself, what God’s people will do, and the everlasting covenant. We read in verse 6, “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6). God’s people will be set apart to serve the Lord. God’s people, under the anointing of the Spirit and the ministry of the Messiah, have a holy occupation. They are Priests of the Lord, and Servants of our God. Peter also talks about that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Here again it is confirmed that we, the believers, are His ordained priests. Any believer is therefore ordained by Jesus to perform baptisms.

Baptism #7 – Who Do You Baptize?

A question to be answered in response to why be baptized, is who do you baptize? Who should be baptized? The Bible is clear on this matter. From several places in the New Testament it can be deducted that only those who give a believable profession of faith should be baptized. This is because baptism, which is a symbol of beginning the Christian life, should only be given to those who have in fact begun the Christian life. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, we read, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). And so we read that you first hear the good news of the Gospel, first receive (or accept) the Word, after which you are baptized. This is echoed in Philip’s preaching of the Gospel in Samaria. We read, “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). Again, you first have to believe the good news about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as your savior before you are baptized. Scripture is clear that baptism is appropriately given to those who have received the gospel and trusted in Christ for their salvation. The New Testament clearly assumes that everyone who was baptized also had personally trusted in Christ and experienced salvation, for Paul says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27)

Baptism #6 – Why Be Baptized?

Our study on baptism is progressing. We have talked about the old traditions of the Jewish mikvah, the baptism of John the Baptist, why Jesus had to be baptized, how we should baptize, and why we should baptize. The logical following question is, if not evident yet by what has been said, why you should be baptized. Again, to be clear, baptism is not going to grant you salvation, for that is by grace alone, but the Bible is pretty clear that you should be baptized.

To make it short and sweet, there are (at least) five reasons why you should be baptized. First, to follow the example set by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). Secondly, Jesus Himself commanded it to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). We should not only follow in the footsteps of Jesus, follow His example, but we should also be obedient to His commands. The command given here in Matthew 28:19 is for followers of Jesus to baptize. It goes without saying that the obedience also applies to the person who has not been baptized. Thirdly, like I said, it openly demonstrates our obedience to Jesus Christ. In Luke 6:46 Jesus says ”Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” If we do not follow Jesus there is not much sense calling Him Lord, for He then does not reign over you. Fourthly, by getting baptized you publicly demonstrate that you are really a believer. A great statement of faith I would say to both the (local) body of believers and the non-believing people present (in the form of family and friends). I think we should not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of the non-believers through such an event! Lastly, it’s an external sign or act of entering into the new covenant with Jesus. The conditions to enter into this covenant are faith in Jesus and the subsequent repentance of sin. Faith in Jesus is therefore the internal sign of the covenant. Both baptism and communion are external signs or acts of entering into this covenant, and thus should only be performed if you have first internally entered into this covenant.

Baptism #5 – Why Do You Baptize?

So baptism symbolizes regeneration or spiritual rebirth. But does it only symbolize, or is it also a means for the Holy Spirit to bring blessing to people? Since Jesus commanded His church to baptize (in Matthew 28:19), it is expected that a certain blessing is connected with baptism because all obedience to God by Christians brings God’s favor with it. It seems fitting that the Holy Spirit would work through such obedience to increase our faith, to increase our realization of death to the power and love of sin in our lives, to increase our experience of the power of new resurrection life in Christ, and to increase the assurance of union with Christ to all believers present.

It was the beginning of 1999 and I gave my life to Christ. I can still remember the moment I first experienced the presence of God. It was so evident that the choice to follow Him was easy. I was attended a Bible study every Tuesday evening organized by this organization. It was not church. It had preaching of the Word, it had worship, it had community (to a certain extend), but it did not have church discipline, nor did it have the regular performing of the sacraments of communion and baptism. And so I was not baptized. Not that this affected my salvation in any way, but still, as a new Christian I was not able as such to partake in the blessing that comes with it. A couple of years later I was asked to consider getting baptized, but never got around to it. Fast forward to 2006, I am about to propose to my future wife and come to the renewed realization that I should get baptized, to publicly confirm my obedience to Christ, in order to be “ready” to fulfill my responsibilities as a husband in the Kingdom of God. I got baptized on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and I can tell you from experience the blessings that accompany the sacrament of baptism. I feel my work for the Kingdom really started after my baptism. My obedience to Christ really started after my baptism. My hunger for His word really started after my baptism. So I have experienced the blessings that come from the obedience to baptism.

Two commands are given to us, the believers, regarding performing baptism. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each 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). Peter responds here when being asked: “what shall we do?” As Christians, when we are asked this question, we should respond in the same way Peter did. We should instruct people to repent and be baptized. Obviously, in order to be asked this question, we first need to proclaim the Gospel! Secondly, Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:19 to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And so we are not only to go and make disciples, but we are also to baptize them. Interestingly, the word ‘name’ here is singular, meaning there is one baptism in the name of the whole trinity.