The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Rev. Danny McCain



John's statement about Jesus baptizing in the Holy Spirit is found in all four gospels: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:15-18, and John 1:33. Jesus gave a similar teaching shortly before he went to heaven (Acts 1:4-5). It was only about a week later that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples and others on the Day of Pentecost. This was apparently what John and Jesus were talking about when they predicted the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I want to look at that event and three other events in Acts to see if we can determine the pattern of the way one is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit something that takes place at conversion or is it something that takes place after conversion? Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the speaking in tongues or not? Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit something that requires the laying on of hands or not? Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit a theological doctrine or an actual experience?

Pentecost: Acts 2:1-13

After the disciples had selected a replacement for Judas, they waited for that which Jesus had promised would come. While they were waiting, suddenly something amazing happened. A sound like a mighty wind was heard. There was no wind blowing in the room. This only sounded like wind. Tongues of fire were seen resting over each believer. This was something that looked like fire but it was not actual fire. No one was burned. The temperature of the room did not rise. Tongues were supernaturally spoken. From the descriptions a few verses later, it appears that these were languages from all over the Roman Empire. The people who had received the Holy Spirit were able to praise God in many different languages although they had never learned those languages before. This was an amazing miracle.

The three main characteristics of the baptism of the Holy Spirit were the sound like wind, the tongues like fire, and the strange languages. And Acts says that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit." If you had asked any of the people present on that day what was involved in being baptized with the Holy Spirit, they would have mentioned those four things.

Samaria: Acts 8:14-25

After the stoning of Stephen, the gospel had spread north to Samaria. A number of Samaritans accepted that truth of the gospel. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Peter and John to Samaria to inspect what was happening.

What was this event like? There was some time from the point they believed until they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. There had been enough time for word to spread down to Jerusalem, for the leaders in Jerusalem to have a meeting and for Peter and John to travel back to Samaria. So there may have been at least one to two weeks between the time these people believed and were baptized and they received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John laid hands on them. Acts says they "received the Holy Spirit."

Although Peter and John were present at Pentecost, these Samaritans were not present. All they knew about the Holy Spirit was what they had experienced. And their experience of receiving the Holy Spirit was a good bit different from those who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There is no mention of any sound like wind, tongues of fire or speaking in tongues. Therefore, it can be assumed that these things were not present. Whereas the people at Pentecost had been believers in Jesus for at least three years prior to the time they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, these people had been believers only a few days or weeks. At Pentecost, Luke says the believers were "filled with the Holy Spirit" but at Samaria, Luke says they "received the Holy Spirit." Was there any difference? Apparently not. Peter and John seemed to be satisfied that the same thing that had happened to them at Pentecost had happened to these new Samaritan believers. Although the way they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" was much different, both had apparently experienced the same thing.

Cornelius: Acts 10:44-48

Cornelius was a Roman soldier. God spoke to him to invite Peter to his house. The Lord also spoke to Peter and told him to go to Cornelius' house. Since Jews did not normally go into the houses of Gentiles, the Lord gave Peter a special vision of a sheet lowered from heaven with all kinds of clean and unclean animals in it. The meaning of this sheet was that the Christian believers should not consider any people "impure and unclean." When Peter got to Cornelius' house, Cornelius welcomed him and explained why he had sent for him. Peter stood up and explained why he had come and also started telling Cornelius and his family about the nature of the gospel.

What were the characteristics of this event? Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit while Peter was preaching to them. They spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit came on them. They were baptized after they received the Holy Spirit. A variety of expressions are used related to the Holy Spirit:

However, there were some differences from the previous occurrences. There is no mention of any sound like wind or tongues of fire. There was no praying for them or laying hands on them. The record does not say that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit."

Here is the summary of the event: The Holy Spirit came upon them while Peter was preaching to them. He did not even get to complete his sermon. And amazingly, these people had not even been baptized yet. They were not baptized until after they had received the Holy Spirit. Was this a different experience than the disciples had received at Pentecost? When Peter was reporting this incident to the Christian leaders in Jerusalem, he said:

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So if 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 oppose God (Acts 11:15-17)?

Note these additional facts: The "Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning." Whatever experience Cornelius and his household experienced was the same as what the disciples had experienced at Pentecost. "So if God gave them the same gift." This was the same gift that the disciples had received at Pentecost. Peter remembered that Jesus had said that "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." Peter apparently identified this experience with what Jesus had said about being "baptized with the Holy Spirit."

If you had asked Cornelius and his household how to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, they would have narrated to you exactly what happened to them. However, Peter had been present at all three of the times when the Holy Spirit had been poured out and each one of them was a bit different."

Ephesus; Acts 19:1-7

Paul had briefly visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey. He had left Priscilla and Aquila there to make preparations for his return. While he was gone, Apollos from Egypt had passed through there and had made some converts. When Paul arrived, he met Priscilla and Aquila and the new converts. Paul questioned the new converts about their relationship with the Holy Spirit. They stated they had not heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul followed up and asked them about their baptism. They had been baptized by John's baptism.

What were the characteristics of this event? Since they were apparently ignorant about the Holy Spirit, Paul gave them instructions about the Holy Spirit. Paul then re-baptized them. He was not satisfied that their earlier baptism had been Christian baptism. Paul laid hands on them. The Ephesians spoke in tongues. The Ephesians prophesied. Acts says "the Holy Spirit came on them."

There were also some differences: There is no mention of any sound like wind or tongues of fire. The Ephesians had repented and been baptized according to John's baptism but apparently knew little or nothing about Jesus. Paul did not pray for them but did instruct them. Paul baptized them before the Spirit came on them, not afterwards as Peter had done with Cornelius.

This was the most extensive way people had experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Note these steps:

When these things were completed, three things happened:

There is only one reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Epistles (1 Cor 12:13). Therefore, we learn most about the Holy Spirit from these four events in Acts. So what have we learned? What do we know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? The baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts follows no consistent pattern. If I have made anything clear up to this point, I hope it is that there was a variety of ways that the believers in the early church received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Here are two important questions:

How do we receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

If you ask the Christians from Pentecost, they will say you need to gather in a room and wait. Eventually you will hear the wind, see the fire and speak in tongues. That is how you know you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask the Christians from Samaria, they will tell you that none of those things are important. All you need is to have the man of God pray for you and lay his hands on you and you will receive the Holy Spirit. All of the noise and fire and tongues are totally unnecessary.

And both of these groups will tell you that it is important to be baptized before you can experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit although they have a little disagreement between themselves. The Pentecostal Christians believe that you need to be baptized several years in advance and the Samaritan Christians tell you that is not necessary. You only need to be baptized a few days in advance.

If you ask the Christians from Cornelius' house, they will tell you another story. If you want to receive the Holy Spirit, you need to have had a vision. And then you need to have a man of God really preach a hot sermon. It is while the sermon is being preached the Spirit will come into your life. The speaking in tongues is OK but all of the wind and fire is not necessary. And the laying on of hands is not necessary either. And about baptism - you don't need to be baptized with water until after you have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. How can water baptism have any meaning until you experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit? And certainly there is no waiting time between one's profession of faith and the baptism of the Spirit. All of these things happen simultaneously.

If you ask the Christians from Ephesus, they will give you a completely different story. They agree that the laying on of hands is good and that speaking in tongues is a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. However, the really important thing is to be examined carefully by the man of God and taught about the Holy Spirit . How can you receive the Holy Spirit if you are not clear in your understanding of who Jesus is? And how can you receive the Holy Spirit if you do not know who the Holy Spirit is? Because of this, you need to have some clear teaching. And speaking in tongues is good but if you only speak in tongues, you did not really get all you were supposed to get. You need to prophesy. So if you are examined properly, are taught correctly, have hands laid on you, speak in tongues and prophesy, that is a sure sign that you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit.

According to these four groups, there are a variety of ways we can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Who is right?

All of them are right because they are telling their individual experiences that were indeed genuine experiences of being baptized by the Holy Spirit. However, all of them are wrong if they insist that every other person's experience related to the Holy Spirit be exactly the same as theirs. All of them may be right and they all may be wrong if they demand that everyone experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit exactly as they have.

Here is an important observation: The Book of Acts gives us the practices of the early church whereas the epistles give us the teachings of the early church. Do you realize that none of the epistles stresses the way or manner in which one is to be baptized by the Holy Spirit?

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is associated with the entrance to Christianity

From the record of the four outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, it is clear that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is associated with the beginnings of Christianity. In each of the cases, the Holy Spirit came upon people at the beginning of their Christian journey. The clearest, most straightforward description of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13 where Paul states, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." Note these important questions:

Therefore, the baptism of the Spirit is the event or time when the Holy Spirit places a believer into the body of Christ. This takes place at conversion. Though there are often powerful spiritual experiences that occur after conversion, the term "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is not the appropriate term to describe those experiences. At least, that is not the way the term is used in the New Testament.

Though the disciples were certainly believers before Pentecost, they were not members of the body of Christ. The body of Christ or the Church was not officially constituted until Pentecost. Pentecost was the initial or the grand baptism of the Holy Spirit. The disciples and the others who had put their faith in Jesus Christ while He was on earth were "upgraded" and constituted as the Church on its "birthday." However, every person since that time who has become a Christian, has been baptized directly into the body of Christ when he or she repented, without having to go through any kind of waiting period.

All of those who were followers of Jesus before Pentecost were believers-they were saved-they were ready to go to heaven but they were really not part of the body of Christ. They were not "Christian citizens" as such. However, on the Day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were baptized into the body of Christ. Most if not all of them were "adult believers" at the time. However, all of those who entered the body of Christ after that point were baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

In fact this is confirmed on the Day of Pentecost. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many people came together to witness this strange phenomenon. Peter took advantage of this event to stand up before them and explain to them what they were seeing. After hearing Peter's sermon, they said, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:37b-39). Peter declared that they would receive this amazing experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit and baptized into the body of Christ when they repented and were baptized which would result in the forgiveness of their sins.

Note these differences:

One cannot be baptized by the Holy Spirit without experiencing change. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in praise. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in witnessing. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in power; power to witness, power to heal, power to live victorious lives. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in unity. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit results in changed lives.


[PREACHED AT CHURCH OF CHRIST IN NIGERIA HEADQUARTERS CHURCH, JOS, NIGERIA ON 31 JULY 2005]

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