August 1, 2014 Broadcast

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Many Christians today are confused about the meaning and significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some people even mistake it for water baptism. What is the purpose of this baptism, who is it for, and when do we receive it? In this lesson, Dr. Sproul discusses topics such as speaking in tongues and the idea of a temporal "gap" between conversion and baptism in the Spirit.

From the series: Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Baptism of the Spirit

  2. devotional

    The Spirit-filled Life

  3. devotional

    Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The Baptism of the Spirit

Because the charismatic movement has had such a tremendous impact on the church in our day, we need to consider the biblical teaching concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today’s lesson takes up the theme we discussed in last Friday’s study (January 24), and you may wish to reread that page before continuing.

The modern charismatic movement has given rise to several different theological views of the baptism of the Spirit, but the most common one is that Christians need to have a second experience and receive the baptism after they are saved. This view holds that some Christians are baptized by the Spirit and some are not.

This theology arose out of revival experiences. In earlier times, when a person experienced a new release of energy and freedom in his spiritual life, he simply said that he had been revived. The Pentecostal Movement reinterpreted such personal experiences and said that they were baptisms of the Holy Spirit. This Pentecostal theology based its view on the fact that in Acts some people received the baptism at a point after their salvation.

A careful study of Acts, however, does not bear out this interpretation. Follow the order given in Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, all the earth): in Acts 2, Jews in Jerusalem received the Spirit; in Acts 8, Samaritans received the baptism of the Spirit; in Acts 10, God-fearing Gentiles received it; in Acts 19, some Ephesian disciples living outside the Holy Land received it. In each case, these groups received exactly the same gift as was initially given to the Jewish converts in Acts 2. It was a sign that in the new covenant church, there is no longer any distinction between Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile. The visible manifestations surrounding the baptism were a sign to the Jewish believers that these new converts were received by God in the same way the Jews had been.

These were once-for-all historical events. God was forming the new covenant church as one new body composed of people from every nation. By the end of Acts, that formation had been completed, and there was no longer any need for special signs to indicate to the Jewish believers that others were being received as their equals.

The Spirit-filled Life

Beginning in Ephesians 4:17, Paul’s main concern in outlining the practical results of faith in Jesus is to remind us that life as Christians is unlike life as unredeemed people. Holiness and the pursuit of God’s will must characterize God’s people, not falsehood, sexual immorality, theft, malice, covetousness, and foolishness (Eph. 4:17–5:17). Such ungodliness, if engaged in impenitently, leads finally to destruction, but Spirit-animated love, truth, and goodness strengthen us in Christ, restoring us to wholeness (Eph. 3:14–21; 4:15–16; see also 1 Cor. 8:1; 2 Peter 2).

The apostle’s contrast between life in Christ and life as a citizen of this unbelieving world means that his contrast between drunkenness and life in the Spirit is not an abrupt shift in his thinking. Drunkenness is one of the many destructive impulses of the Gentiles (unbelievers); thus, it is inconsistent for those who profess Christ to drink excessively. Like the rest of Scripture, Paul does not forbid alcohol consumption altogether. God’s Word permits the wise use of alcohol, but it forbids drinking to the point of intoxication (Ps. 104:14–15; Prov. 23:20–21; Rom. 13:13).

Being filled with too much alcohol leads to drunkenness and destruction. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, results in sobriety and edification. When the apostle exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, he is not teaching that those in Christ get a measure of the Holy Spirit that comes and goes at will. The Spirit seals every believer until the day of redemption, and He does not leave us (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Given the book of Ephesians’ stress on the work of the triune God in salvation and on the fullness of Christ (1:15–23; 3:14–19), Paul’s stress on being filled with the Spirit points to our need to be conformed to God’s own character. The Holy Spirit exists in perfect, indivisible union with the Father and Son, and He is the agent by which God’s fullness indwells His people. We now experience a taste of this fullness in part, though we do not yet fully enjoy the communion with the Lord that will be ours when are glorified. To be filled with the Spirit is to yield ourselves willingly to His sanctifying work as He prepares us for that final day. In so doing, our union with Christ is strengthened, our fellowship with the Father is enhanced, and we increasingly bear the image of God Himself.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Looking back over the twentieth century, few could deny that one of the most significant movements in the church and even the entire world has been the charismatic or Pentecostal movement. Talk of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit has been at the forefront of both popular and academic theological discussions, and this has been due in large part to the spread of Pentecostalism and its claims that sign gifts such as healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues continue today.

A key tenet of the Pentecostal or charismatic movement is the claim that believers receive a second work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. One can believe in Christ without being baptized in the Holy Spirit—without receiving the Spirit in power at some point after one's conversion to Christ. Essentially, this view teaches that one can be a believer without having the Holy Spirit or at least without having Him in all His fullness. One must pray specifically to receive the Holy Spirit; He does not automatically indwell a Christian with power and gifts for ministry upon conversion.

Belief in this second work—this baptism—of the Holy Spirit comes from personal experience and a certain reading of the book of Acts. Many people have testified to a change that happened to them after experiencing this Spirit baptism, speaking of a movement from a dry or ordinary spiritual life to one that is vibrant and powerful. Further, many people read the Acts of the Apostles, see that God promised to send His Spirit upon the Apostles who were already believers (Acts 1:1-11), read of the Spirit coming at Pentecost and showing His presence by the gift of tongues (2:1-3), and then conclude that this sequence is normative for Christians throughout history. The fact that the book of Acts records some believers as apparently receiving the Holy Spirit after having been disciples for some time (for example, 19:1-7) is also taken as further evidence for a post-conversion baptism of the Spirit.

Few would deny that believers sometimes enjoy post-conversion encounters with God that can be turning points in their spiritual lives. The question is whether these represent the coming of the Spirit to reside in a believer in whom He had never dwelt before. Tomorrow, we will consider this issue more carefully, but today, we conclude with an admonition that our experiences, while important, can never be determinative of our theology. Human beings often deceive themselves (Jer. 17:9), so we need the Word of God for sound doctrine.

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