Baptism of the Holy Spirit:
What is it and why is it so misunderstood
From time to time we get letters from well-meaning brothers and sisters in the Lord that want everyone to understand that the writers of the Nicene Creed were somehow remiss because they failed to mention the “other” baptism in the Bible. In their opinion, the fact that the Creed acknowledges only “one baptism for the remission of sins” is somehow short-sighted or willfully ignorant of what they refer to as a second “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
At the Creation Studies Institute we affirm the tenants of the Nicene Creed; however we realize that statements of faith, creeds, affirmations, etc. are summaries of biblical truth and not on the same level as the Holy Scriptures.
Comments concerning the term “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” are often misunderstood. Sometimes, as is the case with this term, the word or phrase takes on another meaning in certain Christian circles. As the Nicene Creed indicates, there is only one baptism that is essential for salvation and that refers to the following verses in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the body of believers at Ephesus.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all, Eph. 4:4-6.
The baptism referred to here is what happens when a person is born again, John 3:3. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when He immerses or baptizes the believer into the body of Messiah at the time of their salvation experience. This is the one and only baptism that leads to salvation. It is therefore essential that every child of God understands the significance of this experience. It is analogous to the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit, which takes place when a person enters into the New Covenant by grace through faith in the risen Savior, Eph. 2:8-9. This is opposed to the “filling” of the Holy Spirit, Eph. 5:18, where a child of God is overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit usually for service during the exercise of spiritual gifts or for spiritual edification.
Some sects and denominations of Christianity have taken the phrase, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and applied it to the “filling of the Holy Spirit” or the experience of being completely overwhelmed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Statements of this sort tend to cause confusion among many in the kingdom and may become a source of dissention and disunity. It is one of the major reasons that Pentecostal and charismatic Christians find themselves having difficulty when they desire to share this experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit with other believers of non-charismatic denominations.
All believers are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit until the day of our final redemption to the praise of His glory, Eph. 1:13-14. This occurs at the time of our salvation. This may be a separate experience (as it was for the Apostles, prior to being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John 20:22) or you may be sealed with the Holy Spirit, e.g. saved, and filled at the same time as was common in the early days of Christianity. This combination of sealing and filling of the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Acts was intended to prove that the Gentiles had truly experienced the same salvation the Jewish disciples and Apostles had experienced before them at Pentecost (Shavuot) in Acts chapter 2.
Another source of confusion has to do with the gift(s) manifested during the Feast of Pentecost after the resurrection of the Messiah. Here the disciples were waiting for the filling of the Holy Spirit as promised to them by the Lord. Remember, 50 days after the first Passover God gave the Torah/Law and instituted the Mosaic covenant. That was the first Pentecost. 50 days after the fulfillment of the Passover by the Messiah, God gave His Holy Spirit and the New Covenant, Jer. 31:31-37, went into effect, I Cor. 5:7-8.
The “Pentecostal gift of tongues” as manifested in Acts chapter 2 was the ability to speak a foreign language that the person speaking had never learned and could not previously speak. The gift of the interpretation of tongues (languages) was the ability to understand a language that you previously could not have understood. This was the gift manifested at the initial fulfillment of the New Covenant, and was used to confirm the gospel by the fulfillment of prophecy, Joel 2:28.
Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Acts 2:7-8.
So the promise in Acts 1:5 is the experience of being overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit and manifesting spiritual gifts (or a particular spiritual gift). It was the fulfillment of the promise the Messiah made to His disciples in John 14:15-20. That is what baptism means in the original Greek, e.g. to be completely immersed. In the case of water baptism, the meaning is to be completely immersed in a fluid, e.g. water, as an act of obedience and a public profession of our faith. We are acting out publically our identification with the Savior in salvation by physically demonstrating the spiritual experience of Rom. 6:3-4.
It is good to encourage people to offer themselves as living sacrifices, Rom. 12:1, and thereby insuring that they will be experience the filling of the Holy Spirit for service. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit through the manifestation of spiritual gifts is a righteous goal. However, we need to keep in mind that you do not have be “saved” to be overwhelmed, or under the influence of, or “filled” with the Holy Spirit. Balaam was an unrighteous false prophet, II Peter 2:15, yet he experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit at least four times when he was forced to speak the Word of the Lord, against his own human (carnal) will, Nu. 24:2. Judas experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit when he was sent out with the other disciples, Luke 9:1-2, so this is not necessarily an experience that is limited exclusively to God’s children.
This is mostly a problem of semantics, because words and phrases have meanings and sometimes we add a meaning to a phrase, connecting it to a spiritual experience. When we speak of the experience of filling and then indicate that God may be withholding certain essential gifts or experiences from His children due to their own lack of faith or inability to interpret the Bible according to some denominational formula we are committed to, we do ourselves and others a disservice. We end up playing a spiritual blame game with God’s children by suggesting that if you do not experience this or that you are missing something, you are less than all you could or should be.
One of the most important truths I have discovered in ministry is that God does not play the blame game with His children. He does not withhold from us any good thing. When we preach the Gospel, we are preaching the truth of God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense (GRACE). The new life we receive in Messiah brings with it the glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparably great power for us who believe. These riches are promised in the Gospel, but only truly understood with the aid of the Holy Spirit. That is the reason that Paul included the prayer in Eph.1:18 that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened.
In my time in the kingdom I have found that many believers do not know who they are in Christ. They have not yet solved the identity crisis of Christianity. Through the letter to the Ephesians, God tells us that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Messiah, that we are holy and blameless before Him in love, Eph. 1:3-4. What “blessings” are not included in this verse? We should never tell people they are missing something or that the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is love is not sufficient to please God and minister effectively to others. That failure to manifest this or that spiritual gift makes us second class citizens in God’s kingdom, less powerful, less effective or somehow ill-equipped for ministry. Yes, the Holy Spirit is essential for empowerment, but is it the “empowerment” that is all important or is it the Gospel, I Cor.15:3-4, that is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile? Rom. 1:16.
God gives to each one of His children spiritual gifts “severally,” e.g. more than one, as He wills, I Cor. 12:11. We are told that we can earnestly desire certain spiritual gifts, but no one has all of them, I Cor. 12:29-31. God gives us the gifts that will be essential for successful ministry when we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, e.g. saved. Desiring other gifts is kosher, but there is no promise that we will get the ones “we think” we need, only the ones God’s knows we need to fulfill our calling as His priests and priestesses of the Most High God, ministers of the gospel of reconciliation. If everyone had all the gifts, we would not need one another in fellowship and ministry. We would all be self-sufficient and the teaching concerning the parts of the body where the Messiah is the Head and the body of believers is firmly fit together under God’s direction would be useless. Even the reality of having the treasure of the new creation in an earthen vessel (our carnal body) forces us to depend on Him, II Cor. 4:7.
God’s Word teaches us that all of God’s beloved children are His “good works in progress” and we should therefore see one another the way the Father sees us in His Son. Remember, God’s agape love fulfills the Law, Rom. 13:10, and that, not signs and wonders, is the true fruit of the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders in the days of the Messiah’s earthly ministry were looking for a sign, I Cor. 1:22-23. They already believed in the one true and living God, they wanted to see if Yeshua (Jesus) was really the Messiah. For them, signs and wonders validated God’s prophets. Still, with all the ‘signs and wonders’ Jesus did, the religious leaders were unconvinced. They were looking for the conquering King Messiah, not the Suffering Servant Messiah. Don’t get hung up in these matters or they may become a distraction to the real issue at hand, e.g. people are dying in their sins without hope in this world or the next.
I understand that those who have experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit want everyone to experience the overwhelming power that God has ordained for His children. That is a godly desire, e.g. to experience more of Christ through His Spirit. I am only asking everyone to reconsider the words and phrases that are used. Phrases that are not accurately describing the experience being associated them like calling the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of spiritual gifts as being the “Second” Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the disciples were saved (sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption, Eph. 1:13) at the time Jesus breathed on them and gave them the indwelling Holy Spirit in John 20:22. They were filled 50 days later at Pentecost.
It is legitimate to ask why some believers in the book of Acts were sealed and filled at the same time. This pattern was the way God confirmed to the Jewish believers that the Gentiles were truly saved in the book of Acts 10:46, 19:6. In Acts 10:46, these Gentiles were most likely praising God in Hebrew, a language that the Gentiles of that day would not have known. Hebrew was the language of the Temple and the synagogue, only Jewish men used it at all. The fact that the Lord had these ‘saved’ Gentiles praising God in Hebrew was to convince those Jews that the Gentiles were truly saved and were experiencing the “Pentecostal gift of tongues” (languages) by causing them to speak a foreign language, Hebrew, that they would not have know by natural means. This is exactly what happened in the second chapter of Acts.
When reading the book of Acts it is important to remember that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write this book as an historian relating what happened in the early church. It is not really a book of doctrine concerning spiritual gifts or the filling of the Holy Spirit. For this reason it is best to always compare Scripture with Scripture and remember the historical and cultural context in which the Brit Hadasha or New Testament was written should be the guiding hermeneutical principle when “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
Pastor Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D. (c)