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.