This is the ninth in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, What Every Christian Should Know About Salvation, available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the means by which God places new believers into the body of Christ. As the Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells our human spirits, bringing us new life and ensuring our everlasting fellowship with God, the Spirit also immerses us into the universal church.
New believers share the common bond of the indwelling Spirit with every other person who has been born of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). All followers of Jesus are given “one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13), regardless of our denominational affiliation, language, nationality, ethnicity, or culture. We truly are the recipients of “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5).
Seven passages in the New Testament speak of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In the first four references, John the Baptist is speaking about Jesus and declaring that Jesus will baptize people in the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). The next two passages refer directly to the Day of Pentecost, when Spirit baptism takes place (Acts 1:5; 11:16).
The seventh verse comes from the pen of Paul, who reminds believers that we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). So, something dramatic happens at Pentecost, just as Jesus predicts and Peter affirms (Acts 11:16). Yet, the work of the Spirit continues, as He keeps on baptizing new believers into the church.
It should be noted that when the Day of Pentecost comes, Luke does not use the phrase “baptized” to describe the miraculous work of the Spirit. He writes that the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Later, Peter and John laid hands on new Samaritan believers, who then “received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17).
Then, as Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household, “the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message” (Acts 10:44). Finally, as Paul shares the gospel with disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus, “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:6).
What’s happening here? Are new believers baptized? Filled? Recipients of the Holy Spirit? In a word, yes. They are all of the above. Not that these terms are synonymous, but simultaneous. Since the Day of Pentecost, when the promise of the Father is fulfilled and the Holy Spirit is given as the permanent, indwelling presence of God in the spirit of every believer, various terms are used to describe the Spirit’s work.
Spirit baptism is that rite of initiation whereby the Spirit places us into the body of Christ (the universal church). New believers also “receive” the indwelling Spirit, who “comes down” (or “falls”) on them and takes up residence in their spirits. And the Spirit “fills” new believers, although Paul later commands all Christians to be filled with the Spirit, an indication that filling, unlike indwelling and Spirit baptism, is not permanent (Eph. 5:18).
So, just as water baptism is a one-time, non-repeatable act in which new believers publicly profess their identification with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection, Spirit baptism is a one-time, non-repeatable act in which He immerses believers into the universal church.
There are many different views about baptism in the Holy Spirit, including the Assemblies of God position that it is an experience subsequent to conversion that equips believers for holy living and effective service. Speaking in tongues is evidence the baptism has been sought and received.
Supporters of this view often cite unique events involving the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and beyond, specifically among the Samaritans (Acts 8), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), and the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19).
Taking these events in the context of the entire Book of Acts, however, we should see them as dramatic ways God confirms His new covenant with Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and lingering disciples of John the Baptist as the gospel spirals outward from Jerusalem.
We also should note that the New Testament never instructs believers to seek baptism in the Spirit. It is a promise of Christ to His followers without qualification (John 14:16-17; Acts 1:4-5).
Finally, while Evangelicals may disagree about this doctrine, it’s important that we recognize it as a secondary issue that should not divide us as followers of Jesus committed to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is key to our security and spiritual growth. The Spirit’s unbroken fellowship with us ensures our eternal destiny as adopted children of the King and citizens in the kingdom of heaven. Further, once He baptizes us, the Spirit begins the lifelong work of making us more like Jesus. This is known as sanctification, which is the topic of the next column.