A Promise Concerning the Spirit, John 1.32, 33

‘The same is He which bapttsrtm with the Holy Ghost’. The phenomenon of the descending dove identified the Messiah to John the Baptist. It had been a remarkable incident, involving as it did the Trinity. The symbol seen was not tongues of fire, but a dove, emblematic of the purity of the One upon whom the Spirit came, identifying Him as the appointed sacrifice and implying His mission of peace. But with all that there came, too, the promise that here was the One who would be the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit.

The expression ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’ is found seven times in the New Testament, Matt. 3. 11; Mark. 1. 8; Luke 3. 16; John “1. 33; Acts 1. 5; 11. 16; 1 Cor. 12. 13. In all seven references the Greek preposition which is used is en, meaning ‘in’. Because the same phraseology and preposition are used they must be understood as referring to the same event, that is the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Again, because in the first six references the Baptizer is the Lord Jesus Christ, it must be consistent that He is the Baptizer in the seventh, 1 Cor. 12. 13.

John had earlier pointed out the Lord Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’, John 1. 29. He then refers to Him as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, John 1. 33. The two are closely associated. Salvation involves the negative putting away of sins, John 1. 29; it involves also the positive blessing of an indwelling Spirit, John 1. 33. So in the Epistles the work of conversion and regeneration cannot be separated from the Spirit’s work in indwelling and uniting. Indeed, if ‘any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’, Rom. 8. 9. There is no place in the Epistles where any teaching is given about a baptism in the Spirit distinct from the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion and regeneration. Neither do the Epistles contain any appeal to the person already in Christ to seek a baptism in the Spirit.

The adherents of the teaching of a baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion, the so-called second blessing, claim that the basis for their teaching is found in the book of Acts. Now it ought to be said first of all that it is a dubious practice to make historical incidents in the Acts the sole basis of doctrine unless that same doctrine is borne out in the teachings of the Lord Jesus, or in the Epistles, the didactic books of the New Testament.

Next, we need to examine the basis of the teaching in the historical incidents of the Acts. The promise of the Spirit was given by the Lord Jesus in Acts 1.4. The promise was not the baptism, but rather the Spirit Himself. An explanation is given by the Lord Jesus. That promise will involve, among the other things, the baptism in the Spirit. The baptism involves the placing of the believer in the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12. 13. There are those who object to this interpretation, and maintain that there are two baptisms-a baptism into the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12. 13 and a Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Acts 1. 5. However, the bible teaches only ‘one baptism’, Eph. 4. 5.

The argument for a baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion is often derived by its supporters from the events of Pentecost. Here were those who were believers already, who were not yet baptized in the Holy Spirit, so, it is pointed out, salvation and baptism in the Spirit did not occur at the same time in their experience. They were ‘washed’, John 13. 10, that is, saved but had not received the Spirit. The fact is that they could not have received the Spirit until Acts 2. He was ‘not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified’, John 7. 39; 16. 7. He is now glorified. The parallel cannot justly be drawn. The analogy falls down.

Pentecost was the birthday of the church. The church was created by the baptism of the Spirit. In this sense, therefore, Pentecost can never be repeated. After Pentecost, however, a person can become a Christian only by receiving the Spirit, and that happens when he repents and believes, cf. Acts 2. 39; 11. 17.

But it was not only the 120 who received the Spirit at Pentecost. There were 3,000 who did so consequent upon Peter’s preaching, Acts 2. 14-36. It must be noted what Peter preached-the life of Christ, v. 22, the death of Christ, v. 23, the resurrection of Christ, vv. 24-35. He preached Christ. He did not invite his hearers to seek a baptism in the Spirit with attendant evidence of speaking in tongues. He was filled with the Spirit when he preached, v. 4. It is significant that the Spirit does not emphasize and magnify Himself, but, as the bible teaches, John 16. 13-15, He magnified Christ.

In all 3,000 persons were saved. They received the Spirit, vv. 38, 39. They were not a more advanced body of believers-they were not even Christians until they received the promise. They were all brought into saving union with the exalted Christ, and all on the basis of faith. There was no hint that they should fulfil certain conditions after conversion in order to receive the Spirit. It is these 3,000 who are typical of new converts today, and who provide the normal pattern for our Christian experience rather than the 120 mentioned earlier. They received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit together.

Now there appears to be an exception to this in the case of the Samaritans, Acts 8. There the reception of the Spirit waited till the coming of the apostles, Peter and John, vv. 14-17. Why this difference? The Samaritans were a hybrid race resulting from the intermarriage of Jews with foreigners brought into Palestine, Ezra 4. 2. They were alienated from the Jews ever since the Jews’ return from the Babylonian captivity. They had a rival temple at Mt. Gerizim. There were no dealings between the two peoples, John 4. 9. This, then, was not the case of preaching the gospel to Jews-it was an extension of the gospel to another people. The Samaritans form o bridge racially and religiously to the Gentiles.

The Samaritans were to be brought into the same body. The former antipathy was to be broken down, but the extension of salvation to those formerly alienated needed to be authenticated. Apostles were sent down, Peter and John, and they laid hands on them to indicate their oneness and the linking of the church in Jerusalem with believers in Samaria. The convincing proof of that oneness was their reception of the Spirit in the presence of the apostles and the probable accompaniment of signs, which Simon saw, v. 1 to authenticate that reception, of Heb. 2. 3, 4. Yet again, however, there were no special conditions for receiving the Spirit apart from faith. Neither were there conditions laid down for the reception of the Spirit by Gentiles in Acts 10 in the house of Cornelius. Here there was no time lapse between believing and receiving, as indeed is the case in the Acts except in the few exceptions we are noting. There was but one condition and that was faith, v. 43. That Cornelius was not saved prior to this is indicated by Acts 11. 14. It was not, therefore, a post-conversion experience. It was simultaneous with and an integral part of conversion. Acts 10 is not a repetition of Pentecost, which was a once-for-all, historical event of the Spirit’s outpouring, but it meant the bestowal of the Spirit for salvation upon people who were not believers in the Christian sense before this bestowal. In this sense the baptism of the Spirit can be repeated, the introduction into the body of Christ, Jews at Pentecost, Gentiles here, and so on, but it is not an experience distinct from and subsequent to salvation.

They spoke in tongues. It was a sign to the Jews present that Cod had given the same gift, that is the Holy Spirit, to the Gentiles as to them. Peter was to use this later in Jerusalem to convince his critics, Acts 11. 15-17, and to counteract the claims of the Judaizers even later at the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15. 7-9. Speaking in tongues was not a sign of the baptism in the Spirit, but a sign particularly to Jews that Gentiles were fellow members with them of the same body of Christ.

The final passage which is invariably taken to prove that the baptism in the Spirit is subsequent to salvation is Acts 19. 1-7. The people here were disciples, but whose? That they had been baptised with John’s baptism perhaps supplies the answer. But what is the point of the story? Simply that no one can be converted without the reception of the Holy Spirit, cf. Rom. 8. 9. Because of this Paul asks the question, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ v. 2. rv, niv, New Translation, etc. Paul was not sure about these disciples. ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ is a question indicating that this was the normal situation. Their answer was not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As to their knowledge ‘the Holy Spirit was not yet’. That phraseology is used in John 7. 39-’the Holy Ghost was not yet; because that Jesus was not yet glorified’. As the two go together, were they ignorant also of the ascension of the Lord Jesus? Their knowledge was certainly defective. What did they know? What baptism had been theirs? They had been baptized with John’s baptism. This was the baptism of repentance. These people had repented, but they had not put their faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord and thus received the indwelling Spirit to enable them to live the Christian life. And so it is that Paul acknowledges repentance, but goes on to present the necessity of faith in Christ, v. 4. Conversion consists of ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 20. 21. Paul was adjusting the abnormal. He knew they should have received the Holy Spirit if they were true believers. They accepted his word and received the Spirit accordingly. The dramatic evidence of speaking in tongues was necessary here because these people who previously had not known whether the Holy Spirit was given had to be firmly convinced that the Spirit had been poured out on the church, and that they now had received Him.

The didactic commentary is found in 1 Corinthians 12. 13, which ascribes to all believers a baptism in the Spirit. The emphasis in this particular passage is not on an experience which some have had and others have not, hence dividing them. The emphasis is on the unity of all believers, and the baptism of the Spirit is the great uniting factor, They were all baptized. It was something which had happened in the past and the tense points to an accomplished fact. This was so despite the spiritual condition of those to whom he was writing-carnal Corinthian Christians, guilty of immorality, entering into lawsuits one with another before heathen judges, etc. But then the baptism of Spirit is not connected with our state as Christians, but with our standing, and it is the means of our incorporation into the mystical body of Christ.

We would do well to listen to the spiritual advice of Handlfy Moule: ‘In view of the facts of scripture, may I say, with tenderness and deep spiritual sympathy, that a mistake seems to underlie the practice, not uncommon now amongst earnest Christians, of waiting for a special “Baptism of the Spirit” in order to give more effectual service for the Lord. Surely “by one Spirit we have been baptized into one body”. And now our part is to open in humblest faith all the avenues and regions of the soul and of the life, that we may be filled with what we already have’.