Life in the Power of the Spirit 3

I have sought to do a biblical analysis of some of the major doctrines of the Holy Spirit as these will significantly shape ones view and expectation of God. In the following two posts I would like to consider the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a contentious matter and yet so central in shaping the values and praxis of the local church. So I would like to consider what the Baptism of the Spirit is? How is this different to being filled with the Spirit? And how is the Baptism of the Spirit received? It’s therefore also with humility that I engage with the writings of great Bible teachers as my theological interlocutors. Many devout Bible believing Christians seem to disagree at times on doctrines of the Spirit. This section will highlight some of these tensions and reflect my personal answers. At some points I humbly acknowledge that I am still processing information and do not have answers to some very important questions.

How is the Promise Fulfilled?

The opening chapters of Mark’s gospel bring the promise into still greater clarity. The prophet John proclaimed “After me is one who is mightier than I, the straps of who’s sandals I am unworthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”[1]. John associates the fulfilment of the promise with the coming of the messiah. Jesus reaffirms that indeed he is the awaited messiah through whom the promised Spirit will come. On the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus promised “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink”[2] he had “said this about the Spirit”[3]. As theologian D.A Carson notes “These ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were related in Jewish thought both to the Lord’s provision of water in the desert and to the Lord’s pouring out of the Spirit in the last days” (Carson, 1991 p.322). Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of the eschatological promise through the prophets. This was the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the stream which becomes a river running from the Temple bringing “life”[4] and “healing”[5]. Jesus echoes Isaiah “come, everyone who thirsts”[6] he brings fulfilment to this particular eschatological promise and many others. The promise however is not fulfilled until Jesus had been glorified[7]. The age of the church began when the resurrected Messiah commissioned his disciples “As the Father has sent me even so I am sending you”[8] and breathed his Holy Spirit on them “Receive the Holy Spirit”[9]. At this monumental moment, the glorified Christ fulfilled the great promise of the Scriptures and the new era of the Spirit began. It’s against this backdrop that the concluding words of Jesus to his disciples are; “behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high”[10] and therefore it’s an appropriate juncture to consider the Baptism of the Holy Spirit[11] and the local church.

What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of the Spirit that results in special assurance, power for witness and spiritual gifts that may occur at or post-conversion. The general charismatic view is[12]:

  1. Jesus’ disciples were regenerate at least by John 20.22[13] and yet Jesus told them to wait to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”[14].
  2. The reason for the need for the Spirit is tied to their empowering for the mission[15]. Essentially the rational is that Jesus “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem” and to “wait for the promise” so that “you will receive power” in order that “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1.4, 8).
  3. They waited for ten days and while in prayer “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues”[16]. This experience was post conversion. Christ was the baptizer and they were baptized into the Spirit. It was existential and most times it resulted in the spiritual gift of tongues and great empowering for ministry.
  4. Christians today ought to seek this Baptism in the Spirit. Further biblical support for this is found in Acts 8, 10 and 19[17].
    1. Acts 8.4-25 Phillip saw many conversions in Samaria through his ministry. Subsequent to Phillip’s ministry after the leaders in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”[18]. The Spirit was received through the laying on of their hands[19]. It was clear that some sort of power had been received by the Samaritans because one of the onlookers then tried to buy this ability from Peter and John[20]. The implications are that the Baptism in the Spirit was post-conversion and that it was a noticeable experience.
    2. Acts 10.1-48 A Gentile named Cornelius and his household received the Spirit while Peter is preaching to them[21]. Immediately they were “speaking in tongues and extolling God”.[22] The implication is that the Baptism in the Spirit was a noticeable experience that produced a spiritual gift.
    3. Acts 19.1-7 Paul found some “disciples” in Ephesus[23]. The term ‘disciples’ in Acts is only ever used to describe Christian believers without exception. Paul then asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”[24] The implication is that for the Apostle Paul it was possible to believe and not yet have the Holy Spirit’s Baptism. It is impossible for Paul that a believer could not be regenerate[25] but from his question we must assume that he thought it possible for the regenerate believer to not yet know the Baptism of the Spirit. Then when “Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying”[26]. The implications are that the Baptism in the Spirit was post-conversion and that it was a noticeable experience that resulted in a spiritual gift.

In summary (1) in Acts it is normative to experience the Baptism of the Spirit at or post-conversion, (2) it is received often through the laying on of hands though not exclusively so, (3) the Spirit outpouring is sometimes accompanied by spiritual gifts though not exclusively so, (4) the outpouring was always experiential but we are not given exact details and (5) the outpouring empowered believers for ministry as evidenced by the transformation of the disciples and the growth of the church.

What are the Evidences of the Baptism in the Spirit?

An important pastoral question then is how can contemporary Christians know if they have received the Baptism of the Spirit? Traditional Pentecostalism viewed speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the Baptism in the Spirit. While the gift of speaking in tongues is often associated to the receiving of the Spirit it is not always the case. For example in Acts 8.4-25 we do not see the Samaritans speaking in tongues. Furthermore by definition one cannot expect or demand a gift. Paul writes to the Corinthians warning them of pride and disunity encouraging them to honour all the different parts of the body. He asks rhetorically “Are all apostles?”[27] To which the answer is ‘no’ and follows it up with “do all speak in tongues?”[28] since it is the “Spirit who appoints to each one individually as he wills”[29]. The implication being that every part of the body is interdependent along with the other parts. What are the evidences then?

Martin Lloyd-Jones insisted that the Baptism of the Spirit was experiential and had both subjective and objective evidences and was therefore always memorable. The subjective evidence was the assurance of salvation and its implications. While the objective evidences ranged from physical manifestations like that of shining face of Moses, to inner confidence in witness and spiritual authority (Eaton 1989 p.174-180).

In my view there are two dangers. First there is the danger of downplaying the experiential component of the Baptism of the Spirit into a theoretical assumption. If the experiential aspect of the Baptism of the Spirit is removed from its definition then there is no way of differentiating between the Baptism of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. This is not consistent with the wider survey of the biblical material. The Baptism of the Spirit is a writing on one’s hand “the Lord’s”, its prophetic endowment, it’s an end to thirst and so on. To diminish this experiential component is to remove the true north from the believer wishing to know the promised Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

However the opposite danger is that we go beyond Scripture and say what it doesn’t. For example some say that the Baptism of the Spirit is always memorable. This may be going beyond what the Scriptures say on the matter. The subjective and objective evidences that Dr. Lloyde-Jones suggests are not measurable but are relative. In contrast the Pentecostal view that tongues are an evidence is measurable. You either speak in tongues or you do not. While this view is not supported by Scripture it is perhaps easier to see why it was adopted as an evidence because it is measurable and therefore memorable. A sense of assurance is experienced in different ways by different people at different times in their lives. Anyone who has become a believer is made regenerate and is therefore alive to God. A Christian knows that they are a Christian. They have some measure of assurance. How much assurance does an individual need to experience in order to safely assume that it is evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit? It is a relative concept.

Similarly the objective evidence that Lloyd-Jones suggests are in fact subjective and also relative. A physical response to God’s Spirit is not quantifiable, unless it is the experience that Moses had of having ones face shine for several days. This however is surely not to be expected as normative evidence and does not happen in Acts. Again different people respond in different ways at different times in their lives to God. There is no standard physical response to the Holy Spirit. Some may cry, some may laugh, still some may not display any outward expression whatsoever. It is relative.

There may be an individual who is unsure about when exactly it happened that they were baptised with the Spirit but they know the inner assurance and power for witness and spiritual gift/s. My concern is both for the safeguarding of Scripture and of souls. My concern is that someone should spend themselves searching for something they already have only because they cannot provide a date and time on which they should have had some vaguely described experience.

In summary then after the Baptism of the Spirit we should (1) often expect and encourage spiritual gifts especially the gift of tongues and prophecy yet not view it as exclusive evidence, (2) consider over time the subjective inner witness of the assurance of salvation and (3) watch to see for a marked increase in boldness in witness, (4) not be too dogmatic in labelling what is and what is not evidence of Baptism in the Spirit so as not to make believers doubt on the basis of not being able to locate the experience and not to play down the experience so as not to make the believer to presumptuous that they have received it, (5) rather it is my view to take the time to gently and patiently pastor people into this experience and listen to them and to God for their next steps. Next week I will consider the major objections to the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit.

[1] Mark 1.8

[2] John 7.37

[3] John 7.39

[4] Ezekiel 47.9

[5] Ezekiel 47.12

[6] Isaiah 55.1

[7] John 7.39 It is often objected that the Spirit was again promised in John 20 but not received because Jesus had not yet been glorified (Carson 1991 p.159). That the glorification of Jesus includes his death and resurrection and is not only limited to his ascension is in view here. He was glorified by the voice of God before his death (John 12.28). His death was glorious in that it made a public spectacle of the forces of evil and his resurrection was a glorious affirmation that he was the Christ. It is also unclear why the imperative ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ should be taken as ‘wait a while longer’. For a detailed discussion see Lloyd-Jones p. 261-263 in Joy Unspeakable.

[8] John 20.21

[9] John 20.22

[10] Luke 24.49

[11] My personal reflection on this promise-fulfilment thread has caused me to be self-critical. In summary then it’s my conviction that the believer or local church that does not celebrate, anticipate and make much of the fulfilment of this grand promise in their values, doctrine and praxis has overlooked this biblical metanarrative. May God continue to open my eyes to the wonder of his Spirit and guard me from being short sighted.

[12] This framework is adapted from Grudem (2007 p.764-765)

[13] It may be that the disciples were regenerate much earlier than John 20. For example Peter’s affirmation of Jesus as the Christ was affirmed by Jesus and evidence of regeneration “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16.17)

[14] Acts 1.8

[15] “He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem” and to “Wait for the promise” for “You will receive power” (Acts 1.5-8)

[16] Acts 2.4

[17] It could be argued that Acts 9 has the Apostle Paul converted at his confession “Who are you Lord?” (vs5) and subsequent filling days later with the Spirit (vs 17) is another example of a post-conversion Baptism in the Spirit. Similarly the case of Apollos in Acts 19.24-28 who “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus though he knew only the Baptism of John” could be made (vs 25).

[18] Acts 8.14-15

[19] Acts 8.17

[20] Acts 8.18

[21] Acts 10.44

[22] Acts 10.46

[23] Acts 19.1

[24] Acts 19.2

[25] It was also Paul who said that “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.3).

[26] Acts 19.6

[27] 1 Corinthians 12.29

[28] A Corinthians 12.30

[29] 1 Corinthians 12.11