The Baptism in the Spirit

I do not know why he chose to confide in me that day, but as we sat together he poured out his story. A sad tale of a life blighted by alcohol and illicit sex. He turned to me. “It’s all right now, though”, he said, “last night I got it all”. “Got what?”, I asked. “Oh you know, ‘the baptism’ and I spoke in tongues”. Then he told me how he had waited behind after the meeting of a local Pentecostal church (in an English city) and how by the laying on of hands he received “the baptism of the Holy Spirit”. I cannot remember what I said to him—I did not help him very much. My own acquaintance with the system of teaching that he had accepted was then too recent. One thing is certain, a few weeks later he had lost whatever it was he had received. I ran into him, by accident, but he was too drunk to recognize me.

“Not a typical case”, someone will say hastily. I wish that were true. The fact is, however, that there are many such cases worldwide. In Brazil, where Pentecostal and charismatic doctrines have made more impact than perhaps in any other country in the world, in nearly every town and city you find many disillusioned ex-Pentecostals back in the world, completely impervious to any gospel appeal because they have “tried Christianity and it did not work”. It is true that there are false professors from other Christian groups. It is equally true that there are many thousands of true believers in Pentecostal and charismatic circles— dedicated servants of God who dearly love the Lord Jesus Christ. However, is it not true that even among the best of the “charismatics” it cannot be demonstrably proved that they live more holy, more dedicated and more Spirit-filled lives than many who would never claim to have had their experience? Yet if charismatic doctrine be true, then surely this is what we are entitled to expect. In terms of experimental results, serious doubts must be thrown on current charismatic claims.

Another reason we must doubt the charismatic interpretation of the “baptism of the Spirit” is very much more important. As Christians our conscience, our thinking and our experiences must be measured by the Word of God. When we examine the baptism in the Spirit in the Bible we find something quite different from what is now being commonly taught. There are in fact only 7 references to this subject in the New Testament. In Matthew 3. 11, Mark 1. 8, Luke 3. 16 and John 1. 33 it is prophesied by John the Baptist, who compares it to another terrible baptism, yet in the future for the unbeliever, the baptism of fire, or the judgment of the Lord on the impenitent in the day of the Lord, Matt. 3. 11; Luke 3. 16. In Acts 1. 5 it is again prophesied, but this time by the Lord Jesus Himself. As distinct from John’s prophecy which was general, the Lord predicts an imminent event— one which took place on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2. 1-13.

When we come to the next mention of the baptism of the Spirit, Acts 11. 16, Peter is in Jerusalem telling his brethren of the wonderful work of grace which had just recently taken place among the Gentiles in Caesarea. He recounts to them how the Holy Spirit had fallen on these Gentiles as had happened to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost—thus they had shared in the fulfilment of the Lord’s prophecy about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. What had happened here, Acts 11. 18 explains quite clearly—God had granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. The participation in the benefits of the baptism in the Spirit was linked to conversion not to consecration. In 1 Corinthians 12. 13 r.v. this is confirmed. “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body”, or in other words, the baptism in the Spirit was. the historical event fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost by which the Body of Christ, His Church, was formed. All believers since then partake of the benefits of this baptism. In no way could the carnal Corinthians be said to be spiritual believers, 1 Cor. 3. 1, but even so, they had all received the blessings of the baptism in the Holy Spirit! Praise God that it is so with us—Christ has given us His Holy Spirit—we are part of the Body of Christ, His glorious Church! 1

One incident that is often misused to bolster the charismatic case is Acts 19. 1-7. The question which Paul asked, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”, Acts 19. 2 a.v., is lifted out of context and used to prove the necessity of a second work of grace. The position of these “disciples” is quite clear. They were followers of John the Baptist, and as such had never received the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. When they heard the complete gospel from Paul they became disciples of the Lord Jesus, thus receiving the Holy Spirit. They were not Christians before, and when Paul asks them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?” R.V., he is simply making some preliminary enquiries as to their current spiritual state.

In conclusion let us note that when we believe in the Lord Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit and partake of the benefits of the baptism in the Spirit, thus being incorporated into the Body of Christ. There are no true Christians who are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit; cf. Rom. 8. 9. Thus we must never be led astray by anyone (no matter how ‘alive’ as a Christian he may seem to be) who would seek to tell us otherwise. On the other hand, while we may have the Holy Spirit, are we sure that He has all of us? The baptism in the Spirit is a historical event but the fulness of the Spirit is a present command, Eph. 5. 18. May God help us not only to believe but also to live that life more abundant—centred in Christ and walking in the fulness and power of His blessed Spirit!



For further study see H. P. Barker’s excellent book Christ’s Vicar (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie, 3rd ed.), pp. 38-55.