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The Baptism of the Spirit

July 7th, 2015

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So 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 opposed God?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Acts 11:16-18, NIV

There are two interpretations among Christians as to what the “Baptism of the Spirit” is.

The Pentecostal interpretation is that it is a second work of grace after someone becomes a Christian. It is preceded by a time of struggling or searching and longing, and just as the early disciples did in Acts 1, we must want and long for the baptism before God will grant it. Someone receives salvation, according to their teaching, when they trust in Christ, but they receive the baptism of the Spirit as a second blessing following salvation.

They usually cite two events in the scripture to prove these points. One is the Pentecost event that was preceded by ten days of the disciples praying and waiting. The second is the Acts 19 experience in Ephesus where Paul came upon a group of disciples who had not received the Holy Spirit, nor even knew that there was a Holy Spirit.

This interpretation also tends to emphasize man’s actions to bring about the baptism of the Spirit in his or her life. Man’s waiting, man’s asking, man’s longing, man’s fasting and praying, and then God responds with His answer.

It is not hard to see the influence of paganism in this understanding, even though they claim scriptural proof. It follows the similar thoughts of the average non-christian religion, that god is distant and uncaring and we must get his attention and so we pray and pray and pray trying to get Him to do what we want Him to do. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:7-8).

The non-Pentecostal interpretation takes a much more biblical approach. The baptism of the Spirit in the Bible is about the authority of Christ and about the new age of the Spirit. In the Old Testament the Spirit of God came upon His people but in the New Testament He comes to indwell all. In the Old Testament the Spirit came only upon a few and only temporarily upon them, but in the New Testament the gift of the Spirit falls upon all of God’s people and is a permanent marker and gift upon our souls. Here is what the Bible teaches.

First, taking into account all of the passages about the Baptism of the Spirit we see that they were always descriptive of the authority and power of the Lord Himself.

Matt. 3:11,  “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Mark 1:8, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 3:16, “John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John 1:33, “And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:5, “for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Acts 11:16, “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Second, the two instances in Acts where the baptism of the Spirit is mentioned as having happened, happened to all believers upon their receiving Jesus as Christ and Lord. There are no commands in scripture for an individual to pray for the baptism of the Spirit, no examples where someone did or were encouraged to do so. It was an event that happened to groups, not to an individual.

Third, as in the Acts 11:16-18 passage above, the phenomenon associated with the baptism of the Spirit, namely speaking in tongues, was a phenomenon that gave a witness to the fact that a new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis was on this new development in history – the baptism of the Spirit – and the teaching was that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, on all who called on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:17-21).

The biblical teaching is the baptism of the Spirit is a “gift” given to believers, and it was always associated with the initial experience of grace, when someone received Christ as Savior and Lord. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you, 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).  There is some confusion over Acts 2:38 because of the difference between Greek and English grammar. In the original Greek, the word translated “repent” is a plural active command. Everyone should repent. The Greek verb translated, “be baptized everyone of you,” is a singular passive command, and was directed only toward those who repented. The verb translated “you will receive” is plural also, meaning that the plurals connect to one another. Peter said, “Repent … and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And we see in Acts 10 that the Spirit fell upon the believers in Cornelius’ house in Caesarea before they were baptized. Peter asked, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47).

Fourth, The teachings of the remainder of the New Testament clearly proclaim that we receive the Spirit of Christ when we believe, not as a second work of grace. In addition to Acts 2:38, Romans 8:9b says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And you were included in Christ when you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”

Sometimes I am asked if I believe in the “second blessing” and my response is that I do, but I also believe in a third blessing and a fourth blessing and a hundredth blessing, because the Spirit of God lives within us. We will experience ups and downs in our Christian life, times of blessings and times of fullness, and this is because of the work of the Spirit. Many a Christian has had times of drifting away from God and then God revives us and calls us back to Himself, and we repent and return.

Some say that you receive Jesus as Savior at salvation and as Lord at the second blessing, but the clear biblical teaching is that to receive Him as Lord and Savior is required in order to be saved, “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). On a personal level in our walk with God we may have drifted away from His Lordship and need to surrender our lives to Him anew, but it is a spiritual impossibility to only receive Him as Savior at salvation and not as Lord.

The baptism of the Spirit means that in this Church Age we have great privileges to walk with God, to receive His blessings in our spirits, to be transformed by His Spirit into the image of Christ. We walk with Him in intimacy and in relationship and He leads and guides us, opening our minds to understand His scripture and filling our hearts with love. This is a wonderful day of grace and of the Spirit of God in dwelling the people of God.

Glossalalia or Tongues, The Deeper Christian Life

The Danger of Forbidding What We Cannot Identify

July 3rd, 2015

Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:39-40

If there is an inherent spiritual danger in searching after an experience rather than after God, there is also a danger of seeking to forbid what we cannot clearly identify.

To me the argument that tongues was only a pagan practice that had infiltrated the church fails at this point. If tongues were entirely the ungodly pagan practice some identify them as then they surely would have been condemned and forbidden. Rather we have the command, “Do not forbid to speak with tongues.”

There are certainly some obvious counterfeit efforts that we can identify and discourage, as well as some abuses in practice and in doctrine. We find some clear instructions in the First Century of their use. (1) There should be an interpreter for their public use: “If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church” (1 Cor. 14:28).  (2) The persons who speak in tongues can control themselves: they are able to wait their turn when others are speaking (1 Cor. 14:30), or even not to speak at all if there is no interpreter, because “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). (3) We need to also guard against people who would use any spiritual gift in the church to excuse immoral or wrong behavior. This was the issue behind Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, that some sought to prophesy in church when they acted wrongly toward their spouses at home. Peter also taught on this matter, that both husbands and wives should treat each other properly if they would be effective in witness (1 Peter 3:1) and if their prayers would not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

We can also identify unbiblical teachings about tongues, such as that they are a much desired spiritual gift, one that is given to the exceptionally spiritual. Or that they are a sign of the baptism or filling of the Spirit, or any number of other false teachings that are associated with the practice. According to Scripture: repentance and faith in Christ is all that is needed to receive the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13-14); every believer receives the Spirit at salvation (Romans 8:9); not all receive the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:28-30); tongues are one of the lesser gifts, not one of the greater ones (1 Cor. 12:31).

I believe we are well within the proper boundaries when a church says that it will not practice tongues in its corporate worship. In the First Century it was problematic enough to do so – and we have only the record of Corinth that it happened in churches at all even then – and after 2,000 years of church experience we can see the division and problems the public exercise of tongues has caused. And tongues can be so easily pretended, as can the interpretation, that there is practically no assurance that what is called “tongues” today is a true spiritual or biblical experience. So if only for the sake of protecting the church from divisions and abuse by deceivers, we are not in error to forbid it in our public worship. But, to forbid it in private practice is another matter, and this is what I am cautioning against.  We should go as far as Scripture and no farther. Here are my concerns:

To forbid what we cannot identify will cause us to judge others too harshly. We will tend to judge each other, looking with disdain and spiritual superiority on those that perhaps we should admire and learn from.

To focus on stamping out tongues will cause us to focus on fear rather than faith. If there is no clear way to identify what tongues were, then we will surely cut too large a swathe in enforcing in the community of faith their non-use. Like a doctor who amputates an entire limb when all he needed to do was remove a small tumor, we will act too sternly. We will discourage people not to do things that are perfectly spiritually healthy. We will fear emotions, discourage any show of joy, and set up limits on how much freedom people should have in personal prayer. We will sow seeds of fear of our disapproval rather than seeds of faith in God.

To forbid what we cannot identify will motivate people to seek a lesser experience of God’s grace out of fear. In my private study on this matter once, God led me to the experience of Abraham in offering Isaac as a sacrifice. The story is told in Genesis 22:1-19 and in this event Abraham’s faith was tested. God commanded him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and that command was contrary to all that Abraham knew about God. The pagan people around them often indulged in child sacrifice, but not the people of God. Abraham may have had many reasons that he would have rejected God’s command, saying, “Well, I know God would never ask me to do such a thing!”

But Abraham obeyed, even though he did not understand, and did what the Lord asked him to do. Abraham was a man of faith and his faith serves as an example for us. I believe when we draw near to God in prayer and in faith, we should come with an attitude of complete trust and surrender. If we come to Him setting some limitations, saying to ourselves, “Well, I know God would never ask me to speak in tongues,” then we are acting in a contrary attitude to faith and surrender. (The same would be true if we come seeking tongues.) We should come to God in complete surrender to Him and trust Him entirely with the experience.

An honest prayer would be: “Lord, I do not believe that You give the gift of tongues today, but between You and me, I leave all these matters in Your hand. If I am wrong and if You desire me to speak in tongues, then I will obey You fully.” It is not that we need to speak in tongues, but we do need to come to God in a spirit of total surrender. It is essential that we do so, that come to God with trust and confidence in Him. We never need to fear Him or what He calls us to be or commands us to do.

I have heard enough missionary testimonies that began, “I told God I would go as a missionary anywhere but _____” – and you can fill in the blank – “but that was exactly where God called me.” Until we say that we will go anywhere, then we are not ready to go somewhere. And likewise, until we come to God willing to receive whatever He deems to give us, then we are not ready to receive the gifts and experiences He determines.

And this leads to the final concern: To forbid what we cannot identify will cause us not to trust the Spirit of God and thereby limit the freedom we should have in His presence. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The one who teaches a non-biblical doctrine on tongues – whether to enforce their non-use or to encourage their use – has moved away from the freedom of the Spirit. We should pursue God fully in our hearts, knowing that His Spirit brings freedom and life. His Spirit will never lead us to disobey His Word.

Glossalalia or Tongues, Spiritual Gifts ,