Last week we looked at Philip's ministry in Samaria in Acts 8:4–25. These verses paint one of the more vivid pictures of what John the Baptist described as being “baptized in the Holy Spirit”:
And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32–33)
As we worked through the passage we said a few things on the baptism in the Holy Spirit (with Part 2 on this coming this Sunday). We raced through a lot of complex ideas on this so we wanted to follow-up the sermon with a blog post to recap some of the key ideas.
All Christians Have the Spirit
The first key idea was that all Christians have the Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we are all dead as stones, spiritually lifeless because of our sins. The Spirit is the Person in the Trinity who takes our lifeless heart and brings it to life so we can even respond to God in faith and repentance. As Paul says, “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Cor 2:14). Truly, as Jesus tells Nicodemus:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
And as Paul will tell the Romans:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Rom 8:9)
In Acts 8 this is critical to remember, since the Samaritans become Christians in 8:12. They “believed” and were appropriately “baptized.” The Spirit of God was in them and had enabled them to be born again.
“Continuationist Pneumatology?” Say, what?!?!?!
A second key idea to remember is that what I say in this post is not “The Official Church Position” on this concept. Our church is “officially” one that holds a “Continuationist Pneumatology.” It unfortunately seems to be the case that theologians must come up with really long words to capture their ideas. “Pneumatology” means “the study of the Spirit” or words to that effect. But “Continuationist”? Here's some simple definitions to explain what we're talking about (the concept is much easier than the words to name it):
Continuationist Pneumatology: The view that says the spiritual gifts in the NT continue throughout the church age until the return of Christ.
Cessationist Pneumatology: The view that says there are several “sign” gifts in the NT that ceased after the writing of the NT and the death of the first apostles (typically speaking in tongues, prophecy, the gift of healing, apostles).
Our church is a “CONTINUATIONIST” church. But within that view there are different perspectives on certain texts and topics. One of these is the BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT. The two basic views on this are: (1) All Christians are baptized in the Spirit when you become a Christian; or (2) You can be baptized in the Spirit at conversion but it can also happen a later time (subsequent). My perspective is that the second of these views is the best description of what the NT teaches.
Based on my reading of the NT, here’s what I think the baptism in the Holy Spirit is:
A Definition of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a special giving of the Spirit by Jesus to the Christian either at conversion or afterwards. It is separate from regeneration and sanctification, though it’s the same Holy Spirit at work. It is an encounter with God that is undeniable and evident to others and accompanied by such things as new boldness, new assurance of God’s love, new fruitfulness, new displays of spiritual gifts, a new awareness of God, or even new joy. It is like a personal revival that enables someone to fulfill their callings with much greater spiritual power.
This differs from a traditional Pentecostal position, because it allows for a variety of evidences that it has occurred. Pentecostals focus on tongues as the initial physical evidence of the baptism with the Spirit.
But this also differs from a typical Third Wave position, because it says it can happen after conversion (subsequent to conversion). A Third Wave position says it always happens simultaneous with conversion with the six occurrences in the gospels and Acts each being exceptional cases.
Luke's account of Samaria is a helpful one to unpack to see some of the basics of the baptism with the Spirit.
It Can be Described in Various Ways
In Acts 8, after Peter and John arrive, Luke matter-of-factly tells us that they
came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:15–17)
In a lot of writing about the Bible, “baptism with the Spirit” becomes a kind of technical phrase that means something very specific. In the Bible, however, it is one phrase of many that is used to capture an experience, an encounter with the living God that is inherently beyond words. It is one thing to use words to describe a concept or define something, but here we're trying to use words to capture an experience. It makes sense that the Bible would use a variety of expressions to define the same basic event in a person's life. Here are a few:
- “Receive the Holy Spirit” (vv15, 17); also 1:8; 2:38; 10:47; 19:2;
- “Filled with the Spirit” (2:4; 9:17; 13:52);
- The Spirit “came on them” (1:8; 19:6);
- “Poured out” (2:17; 10:45);
- The Father will “give” the Spirit (Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38; 11:17);
- “Fall on” (8:16; 10:44; 11:15)
These different words remind us that describing a spiritual experience is not easy. It feels like something being “poured out” on you or something “falling on” you. Maybe the only thing in common with all these words is a clear sense that the Holy Spirit came from outside of me and then came into me. When this happens to the Christian, it's the same Holy Spirit as is present inside of them (there aren't two Spirits, after all!). Yet, it's a different work of the Spirit so dramatic that terminology like “receive the Spirit” feels appropriate to the recipient.
Most of the Bible is written by people living in a desert or in a wilderness. In an environment like that, water is life-giving, refreshing, cleansing. Maybe that’s why the Spirit is so often spoken of in water-like ways.
Reading accounts of people experiencing this you sometimes find phrases like, “wave upon wave of God’s love pouring out on me.” It’s hard to put the work of the Spirit into words, but the Spirit is often compared to water and so terms that connect to what you do with water are often ones chosen—Filled, received, poured, give.
You Can Be a Christian and NOT Receive Spirit Baptism
The Samaritans vividly illustrate that someone can believe and be baptized (Acts 8:12) and yet not be baptized with the Spirit. The 120 on the day of Pentecost illustrate that as well. The Ephesians in Acts 19:2–7 make that clear also. The apostle Paul had this experience, though like the Ephesian dozen in Acts 19, the time delay between conversion and Spirit baptism was very short.
As Marty Lloyd-Jones has said:
It is possible for us to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ without having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable
Of course, the most vivid example of this is Jesus Christ himself. He was clearly a believer and follower of God from birth (speaking in terms of his human nature), but was not anointed with the Spirit until the beginning of his ministry (Luke 3:16, 21–22; 4:1, 14, 18–19).
In Sunday's sermon we'll look at the rest of the NT and see how it is consistent with this position. There is obviously more than one way to interpret the data of Acts!
The Spirit Often Comes Through Laying on of Hands and Prayer
Acts 8:17 illustrates something that occurs regularly in Acts and the early church, which is the Spirit coming through the laying on of hands and through prayer. We dare not treat this as some secret formula or mathematical formula, but neither do we want to ignore this general pattern. If we lack the baptism with the Spirit, the basic remedy is to ask for it and lay hands on others to receive it:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)
The Receiving of the Spirit Can Be “Seen” and “Heard”
One of the clear aspects of receiving the Spirit in the NT is that it can be “seen” and “heard.” This language is borrowed from Peter in Acts 2:33:
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)
We can see this in a more subtle way in Acts 8:18. When Simon the former magician “saw” the Spirit fall on the Samaritans, “he offered them money” to buy this gift. He obviously “saw” something and didn't just take it by faith that something had occurred. Tongues and prophecy accompany the giving of the Spirit in 10:44–48 and 19:6.
But we shouldn't at all limit the evidences of the Spirit baptism to tongues and prophecy—or visible “divided tongues as of fire” above our heads as in Acts 2:3!
There are other powerful evidences in Acts and the NT we need to include here.
One such evidence is witnessing with boldness (Acts 4:31). Spiritual gifts are certainly part of what can happen. This is the clear message of the Joel prophecy in Acts 2:17–21. Dreams, visions, signs, wonders, and prophecy are all part of the Joel promise.
A precious one we don't consider often in this context is joy:
And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)
This is one of the rich truths I’ve been meditating on through this study. “Joy” is not a personality type. It’s connected to character and our general hope in the gospel. But it can also be something even greater, a fullness that we experience in God that comes from a direct work of his Spirit.
Blaise Pascal, the mathematician scientist had an experience of such joy that he tried to describe in a kind of free-verse poem. He stuck this in the pocket of his jacket. His encounter of God was undeniable but also beyond words, it’s a mix of Scripture phrases and his own outbursts of prayer and praise:
The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology. Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others. From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,
GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Your GOD will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
Blaise Pascal, “Memorial”
Spiritual gifts, witnessing with boldness, and joy are three demonstrations of the baptism of the Spirit given by Luke. We’ll look at more next week.
Ask, Seek, Knock
There are many more questions to consider with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We'll address more next week—not all, just more! But let Luke's descriptions in the book of Acts be read like invitations. They are invitations from the Lord to experience him, to encounter him, to go deeper, further, and higher. For some of us, we need to hear see those words throughout the NT that connect a felt joy with the power of the Spirit. Let all of this be inspiration to ask, seek, and knock—and to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, which is the weight of these words in their original Greek:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13)