December 11, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—Baptized in the Spirit
Introduction and offering:
Today, we continue our series on the Holy Spirit, entitled, “There’s More!” There’s more of God to know, there’s more of God to experience! There’s more! And my prayer in this series is that each of you will be hungry for more. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” If you hunger and thirst for more, you’ll be filled. If you’re content where you are, well…you’ll stay where you are. If you’re ok with that, feel free to take a nap! But I hope you want more!
ILL: Have you ever heard of Ira Yates? Probably not.
During the Depression, Ira and Ann Yates were trying to scratch out an existence as sheep ranchers in a hardscrabble region of west Texas. Although Yates was a capable businessman, he wasn’t able to make enough on his ranching operation to pay his mortgage, so he was in danger of losing the ranch. On a desperate hunch, he invited an oil company to explore his land for oil. They started drilling the first exploratory well on Oct. 6, 1926; 23 days later they hit a gusher. The next several wells were even better; it seemed oil was everywhere! The Yates Ranch turned out to be sitting over one of the largest oil reserves in the world, known now as the Yates Pool, which has produced over a billion barrels of oil, with another billion still in the ground.
And Mr. Yates owned it all. The day he purchased the land for $2.50 an acre, he had received the oil and mineral rights. When he died in 1939, he was the wealthiest man in Texas. Yet, he’d been living on relief, a billionaire living in poverty. The problem? He didn’t know the oil was there even though he owned it. He didn’t know there was more!
There’s more! Many Christians live in spiritual poverty because they just don’t know what they have! God has given you the riches of Himself, His Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5–6 He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Here is Father, Son and Spirit again: God the Father saved us through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus. Notice that the Spirit is poured out on us generously, lavishly. Poured out—not sprinkled, not drizzled—poured out. It’s a Greek word that means “to pour out in quantity, to fully experience.” This is poured out!
God has poured out His Spirit generously on us. He has filled us with Himself, with His own life! So many Christians have reduced the Christian life to a daily struggle to manage their sin. But the gospel isn’t about you trying to manage your sin; it’s about you enjoying the very life of God! Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and life to the full.” Jesus wants to fill you with the Holy Spirit, the life of God, and then wants you to live that life to the full! Jesus didn’t die to make you more religious; He died to make you more alive! There’s more!
Today, we’re going to look at what it means to be baptized in the Spirit. Let’s dive in!
The Promise: you will be baptized in the Spirit.
What does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit? It depends on whom you ask.
- Some cessationists, such as my college professors, believe that the baptism in the Spirit was a one-time non-repeatable historical event that happened to the apostles to launch the church.
- Many evangelicals believe that the baptism in the Spirit is the equivalent of salvation; we receive the Spirit when we are born again. So every Christian is baptized in the Spirit.
- Most Pentecostals and charismatics believe that the baptism in the Spirit is a “second work of grace” subsequent to salvation; it is to be sought by Christians and it empowers the believer for ministry.
Three very different views. Did you notice that I said, “some…many…most”? I’m oversimplifying a very complex theological discussion here for the sake of time. All of these people are Christians who love and follow Jesus; they just understand the Bible differently. I’m not going to take the time to analyze each position; that would take hours and probably bore you to tears! I’m just going to walk you through the Bible to see what it says. We’re going to look at every passage that mentions “baptism in the Spirit” and a few related ones. Why should you care about any of this? Because this is the power you need to live for Jesus! There are two big questions that we’ll answer as we look at these passages:
First, are the experiences described in the book of Acts meant to be normative? Should we expect the same experience when we are baptized in the Spirit?
Second, what do these experiences teach about the nature of the baptism in the Spirit? Is it a central part of being saved, or is it a second and separate experience after salvation?
The first time the words “baptized in the Spirit” show up in Scripture are in the mouth of John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus. It’s in all four gospels.
Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Notice that John the Baptist says very clearly that, “He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” This is a promise. John is announcing what Jesus has come to do—and it is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would pour out the Spirit on us. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It’s a promise.
The apostle John adds something beautiful.
John 1:29 The next day John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
John the Baptist here describes Jesus with two matching prepositional phrases:
- He is the one who takes away the sin of the world. 29
- He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. 33
Jesus has come to take away our sins and to baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus takes something away (our sin), and fill us with something (His Spirit). So often, Christians have focused only on the first one: Jesus will forgive or take away your sins. But that’s only half the story. Jesus came to fill us with life, His life, the Holy Spirit!
Notice first that the baptism in the Spirit is a promise, not a command. We are simply told that Jesus will baptize us with the Spirit. It’s a promise to be received, not a command to be pursued. Second, it’s a universal promise—as universal as forgiveness of sins. These two go hand in hand: Jesus will take away our sins (a promise) and baptize us in the Holy Spirit (a promise).
We’ll move to the book of Acts, where the risen Jesus is giving instructions to His disciples.
Acts 1:4–5 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
“Wait for the gift my Father promised.” What was the promised gift? Jesus pointed them back to John the Baptist’s words announcing His own coming: “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” That day is described in Acts 2.
Acts 2:1–4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
The disciples were transformed by the Spirit. Instead of hiding in fear, they began boldly proclaiming the gospel, and that very day, over 3000 people believed and were baptized and the church was launched. This was exactly what Jesus had predicted would happen.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they would receive power and be His witnesses everywhere, starting right there in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified! Friends, one of the most important results of the Spirit coming on you and filling you is that He makes you a witness for Jesus. Don’t think passing out tracts or knocking on doors—think of being fully alive! The best witness for Jesus is a person who is fully alive in Christ, filled with the life of the Spirit, filled with God’s power and love and grace! Spirit-filled people—fully alive people—are the best advertisement for Jesus!
This first baptism in the Spirit on Pentecost was quite dramatic. It was accompanied by three signs: wind, fire and language. A sound like the blowing of a violent wind; a blaze of fire that separated into individual flames and rested on each person; and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. These languages were understood by at least 15 language groups named in the next few verses—people were hearing the disciples “declaring the wonders of God in our own languages!” It was miraculous! As we’ll see, no other outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts had all these elements. Pentecost was unique.
So is this normative—should we expect this experience? Pentecost was unique, not the norm in two senses. First, this is the first time the Spirit was poured out, and all those involved were already saved, already believers in Jesus, unlike all the other examples given in Acts. Second, two of the three signs are never repeated as far as we know. Others spoke in tongues when the Spirit came, but no one else had the wind and fire experience. All of this sets Pentecost apart from the other experiences described in the book of Acts.
Notice too that it doesn’t say that they were baptized in the Spirit; it says that they were filled with the Spirit. It is clear as we read on that this was the promised baptism in the Spirit, so the two terms—baptized and filled—are used interchangeably here, and elsewhere. Here’s why:
The word “baptize” means to immerse, dip, or plunge.
- It was used of a ship that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean—it was baptized in the ocean—it was in the ocean and the ocean was in it!
- It was used of a piece of cloth immersed in a vat of dye—it was baptized in the dye—it was in the dye, and the dye was in it!
- It was used of a cucumber immersed in brine that had become a pickle—it was baptized in the brine—it was in the brine and the brine was in it!
To be baptized in the Spirit is to be immersed, soaked, drenched and filled with the Spirit until you take on His characteristics. It results in a permanent change, just like a baptized cucumber becomes a pickle. You can’t be baptized with the Spirit without being filled with the Spirit. I love this image of being baptized in the Spirit—being immersed so that you are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in you—and you become a different person!
And these weren’t the only people who received the promise that day. The crowd wanted to know what was going on, so Peter, emboldened by the Spirit, stood up and preached the first gospel message. He told the crowd that they were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s ancient prophecy that one day God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. He told them the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and that now the resurrected Jesus had poured out the promised Holy Spirit. The people were cut to the heart and cried out, “What should we do?”
Acts 2:38–41 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Peter told these people to repent and be baptized—that’s what they should do. And then he promised them what God would do: He would forgive their sins and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Does that sound familiar? Jesus came to take away our sins and baptize us in the Holy Spirit. Then Peter tells them that the promise is for them, their children, for all whom God calls—that’s us, folks. The promise is for you. What promise? The baptism in the Holy Spirit.
3000 people believed and were baptized that day—and we have to believe that they received the promise of the Spirit too. Although Luke doesn’t describe what happened, I think everyone there assumed something was going to happen to them, given what they had just witnessed and what Peter said. And I think we have to assume the same.
Notice the language so far: baptism in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, the Spirit poured out, the Spirit comes upon, the Spirit is received, the gift of the Spirit, the promise of the Spirit—all describing this one experience.
The next important passage is Acts 8. Stephen goes to Samaria and preaches the gospel. Remember Acts 1:8—Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria… The people in Samaria believe and are baptized. This prompts a visit from the apostles in Jerusalem.
Acts 8:14–17 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
What is going on? How could they believe and be baptized, and not receive the Holy Spirit? There are two possibilities.
First, this could be normal. If receiving the Spirit is a secondary and separate experience from salvation, then this would be normal. But why would the apostles need to rush to Samaria if this was normal? Something else is going on here.
The second possibility is that this is not the norm, but an exception. The gospel has just left Judea for the first time. These are the first non-Jews (the Samaritans were of mixed Jewish and Gentile descent) who received the gospel. It seems that God withheld His Spirit until the apostles came from Jerusalem and put their stamp of approval on this new church. God is making sure that there wouldn’t be two separate churches: one Jewish, one Samaritan.
So what we have here are people believing in Jesus, being baptized in water, and receiving the Holy Spirit all as part of being saved, or born again. The delay between the baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit seems to be due to the unique historical circumstance, and not the norm.
Notice one other thing:
Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.
Something happened when the Spirit was given. Simon saw something. What did he see? It doesn’t say, but it’s safe to assume that it was something similar to what happened in the other incidents of people receiving the Spirit in the book of Acts: they spoke in new languages, they prophesied, they praised God. Whatever it was, it was good, because Simon wanted this power—the ability to lay hands on people and they would receive the Spirit. When the Spirit comes upon us, good stuff happens. Receiving the Holy Spirit is not just a doctrine we believe, but an experience we embrace. Something happens to us!
The next reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit is in Acts 10-11, the story of the gospel going to the Gentiles for the first time. A Roman soldier named Cornelius invites Peter to his home. God directs Peter to go, Peter preaches the gospel of Jesus and right when Peter is announcing that everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven, here’s what happens.
Acts 10:44–48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
I love this. God interrupts Peter’s sermon right when he announces full forgiveness in Jesus, and just pours out the Holy Spirit on these Gentiles. It was God’s way of affirming that He accepted them just as He did the Jewish believers. That’s clearly how Peter understood it. “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” Here’s the full gospel again: your sins are forgiven, and here is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
How did they know they had been baptized in the Spirit? They heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. This was clearly experiential, and not just a doctrinal acknowledgement. And as in Acts 8, we have new believers coming to faith in Jesus, getting baptized in water and in the Spirit all at once.
When Peter gets back to Jerusalem, he gets called on the carpet for going to the home of a Gentile and even eating with them! Peter tells the whole story of how God directed him to Cornelius’ house, and what happened there.
Acts 11:15–18 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Peter clearly understood what happened at Cornelius’ house to be the baptism in the Holy Spirit; the Gentiles had received “the same gift he gave us.” “Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” God poured out the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles—He baptized them in the Holy Spirit—to show that the gospel was for everyone, even the Gentiles. The gospel is that Jesus gives us full forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There’s one more place in Acts that describes people receiving the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19:1–7 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Paul found some disciples in Ephesus and immediately recognized that something was missing. He began asking questions: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They had not; in fact, they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit! This raises the key question: whose disciples were they? They were disciples of John the Baptist. They had believed John’s message about the coming Messiah and had been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, but they hadn’t heard that Jesus had come! Paul shared the gospel with them, they were baptized in the name of Jesus and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in new languages and prophesied.
Some Pentecostals point to this as an example of the baptism in the Spirit being a second and subsequent work of grace, after salvation. But these weren’t disciples of Jesus who were missing the Spirit—these were disciples of John who hadn’t heard the gospel yet. And when they heard the gospel, they received the Spirit. So this is another example of someone believing in Jesus, receiving the Spirit and being baptized in water, all part of their conversion experience.
And notice again the experiential nature of this. Paul asked an experience question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This is like me asking you, “Did you receive the birthday gift I sent you last week?” You did or you didn’t—and you know the difference. Paul didn’t ask, “Do you understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit?” Receiving the Holy Spirit was an experience, not just a point of doctrine. Something happens to you! There’s more!
So, in my humble opinion, what happened on the day of Pentecost was unique—it’s difficult to use that day as the norm due to the uniqueness of the historical situation. But the other 3 examples in Acts 8, 10, and 19 all share these traits in common:
- The baptism in the Spirit was given at (or very near conversion); this was part of the normal conversion or salvation experience.
- The baptism in the Spirit was experienced, not just understood; it was accompanied by clear signs or evidence: speaking in tongues, praising God, prophesying.
That leads us to the final place where baptism in the Spirit is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul is talking about spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Don’t be thrown by the word “by”—it could be translated “in” since it’s the same Greek word en as in all the other passages we’ve read.
Paul says that all of us were baptized in one Spirit so as to form one body. This can only be true if baptism in the Spirit is what makes us Christians. It’s not a second separate experience that some Christians have and others don’t. It’s what makes us Christian: our sins are forgiven and we receive the gift of the Spirit.
This also squares with the use of the word “baptism.” This word was always used of a rite of initiation. The Jews practiced proselyte baptisms. When a Gentile converted to Judaism in the first century, they were baptized as an act of initiation into the community. The first Christians in the book of Acts were baptized in water as soon as they believed. As an act of initiation, they were baptized into Christ, into His church. So the term “baptism in the Spirit” is most naturally understood as an act of initiation. This is what initiates you into Jesus. You are born of the Spirit. This part of my understanding of the Scriptures squares with most evangelicals who see the baptism in the Spirit as part of conversion.
However, it also seems clear to me that the baptism in the Spirit was a powerful experience that filled and changed and empowered people. People spoke in new languages, prophesied, and praised God. They became powerful witnesses to Jesus. This part of my understanding of the Scriptures squares with most Pentecostals and charismatics who emphasize the experiential nature of the baptism in the Spirit.
I told you that I’m a theological mutt. I’m comfortable with a theology of the Spirit that doesn’t fit neatly into either camp. I’m comfortable because I think it is true to Scripture, and to the nature of the Spirit, who is wild and free, a fire, a wind, a dove, running water.
So where does that leave us? There’s more!
There’s more next week when we see what the Scripture says about being filled with the Spirit.
And there’s more today, right now. If you want more of the Spirit—a new or deeper experience that would change and empower you—I invite you to come forward as we sing these last two songs. Come with an open heart. God will fill whatever you bring Him.