The Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What are the conditions for receiving it? How is it communicated? What is the evidence for its reception? These are urgent questions. They demand a clear answer, especially since the "charismatic" movement is growing rapidly within the Christian churches.
The apostle Paul challenged believers by asking them, "Have ye received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" Acts 19:2. Paul considered the Spirit's baptism to be imperative. To the Ephesians he wrote:
1. The Condition Upon Which the Holy Spirit Is Given
The gospel of the New Testament takes the law of God seriously. No man can be accepted (or justified) in the sight of God, nor share in the life of His Spirit, apart from perfect and absolute obedience to the law of God. Notice:
If God bestowed His Spirit on any other condition but perfect obedience to His law, this would condone sin and compromise His justice. Above everything else, God's law must be honored, maintained and reverenced.
There are two ways in which a man may go about meeting this condition of perfect obedience. There is the way of legalism, and there is the way of the gospel. Between these two methods there is no compromise. A man may take one road or the other. He cannot take both.
If a man could obey God's law at all times without any falling short of the divine ideal in any instance, he would be entitled to claim God's promise of life. "Of legal righteousness Moses writes, 'The man who does this shall gain life by it.' " Rom. 10:5, N.E.B. Whether the man aspires to this attainment with or without God's help makes no difference to the principle.
Yet the reception of God's Spirit is in no sense a human attainment. It is not a reward for a sanctified life. The Bible is clear: "For all have sinned [past tense], and all continue to come short of the divine ideal [present continuous tense]." Rom. 3:23. The human predicament is precisely that no son of Adam has rendered an obedience that would merit the Spirit of God. And because of man's fallen, sinful nature, no one will ever be acceptable to God on the basis of his performance. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Rom. 3:20.
How then shall a sinful man fulfill the conditions upon which the Spirit of life shall be given? This brings us to consider the way of the gospel. In the person of Jesus Christ, God paid a visit to this planet. He took His place as the new Head of humanity. He became the Representative Man, the Substitute for every man. He undertook to obey the law perfectly for us. He covenanted Himself to die in our stead and thereby release us from the penalty of disobedience. Thus it is written:
Christ's sinless life and atoning death fulfilled the Law's demands, When He died He made provision for the full satisfaction of the Law's penalty against sin. Thus, He made forgiveness available for every repentant sinner to have his sins forgiven. So Paul declares: "We look at it like this: if One died for all men, then, in a sense, they all died." 2 Cor. 5:14, Phillips.
The atonement of Christ was the fulfilling of every condition upon which God is able to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. When the Son of God cried, "It is finished!" every barrier was then broken down which intercepted the freest fullness of the gift of the Spirit to the most guilty of Adam's race. The Spirit is given on the basis of perfect obedience to the law — not our obedience, but Christ's. The Spirit is given, not because of our attainment, but because of His atonement. His work, and His alone, brings the Spirit to us. This is Paul's message to the Galatians:
Summary: The one indispensable condition of receiving the Spirit is perfect obedience to God's law. Christ has fulfilled that condition for all. Therefore all repentant sinners who put their faith in Christ are entitled to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Channel of the Spirit's Communication
In the Roman Catholic tradition, divine life and power is regarded as being communicated to humanity through the sacraments of the church. In the tradition of the Pentecostal bodies, the Spirit is regarded as being communicated by some high-powered ecstatic experience. But in the Apostolic and Reformation view, the Holy Spirit is communicated through the Word of God.
The Word of God is the instrument of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul said: "The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God." Eph. 6:17. "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Heb. 4:12, R.S.V. Jesus said, "The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life." John 6:63.
The Word and the Spirit agree. They cannot be separated. That which the Spirit does it does through the instrument of God's Word:
The life of God is in His Word. It is through the Word that God created this earth and gave life to men. It was through His Word that Jesus healed the sick, cast out devils and raised the dead. "His Word was with power." He said, "Be clean," and lepers were cleansed; "Rise and walk," and the lame rose.
We must guard against the idea that the Spirit of God works independently of the Word, or that He comes in some experience which is outside of the Word. Those who insist on signs and miracles outside of the Word are "an evil and adulterous generation." In fact, they are wide open for Satanic deception, for the Bible warns us that especially in the last days will Satan work "with power and signs and lying wonders…in them that perish: because they received not the love of the truth." 2 Thess. 2:9-10. In the day of judgment many will say, "Lord, Lord, have we not… done many wonderful works?"' But Christ will say, "I never knew you." Matt. 7:22-23.
There is always a danger that people will want something outside of the Word to create feeling. Through this avenue Satan leads many away from the Word of God into the vagaries of human impressions, impulses, fanatical exercises, and finally into practices contrary to the plain Word of God. There is safety for our feet only in keeping close to God's Word. Here is the source of all truth and power.
Summary: The life of God is in His Word. Through His Word God communicates His Spirit to men.
3. The Method of Receiving the Holy Spirit
The part that man is called to play in receiving the Spirit is so exceedingly plain and simple that it is an offense to human nature. As we have already seen, Christ has fulfilled the conditions for the Spirit's bestowal. The Word of God in the gospel of Christ is the channel through which the Spirit is communicated. Men receive the Spirit simply by the hearing of faith:
The Spirit, therefore, is received by no other way but by hearing the Word. The ear is the most passive organ of the personality. It creates nothing, emotes nothing and sees nothing. It is completely receptive. So man cannot obtain the Spirit; he must be endowed with the Spirit. The sinner cannot get to the Spirit; the Spirit gets to the sinner. It is received by hearing—the hearing of faith. It is received by faith alone.
The book of Acts furnishes us with a practical illustration of how the Spirit is received solely by the hearing of faith. Peter was commanded to go to the home of a Roman centurion and preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles. The apostle uplifted Christ and declared, "Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." Acts 10:43. And the record immediately adds, "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word." Verse 44. There were no exceptions. All who heard the Word received the Spirit.
This is just as true today. The Word comes to us, saying: "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Mark 2:5. "He has taken us into His favour in the person of His beloved Son." Eph. 1:6, Knox. "In Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven." Eph. 1:7, N.E.B. The Spirit of the Almighty is present in this Word to create faith. If we receive that Word, we receive the Spirit, for it is still true that the Spirit falls on everyone who hears the Word, not as the word of a mere man (as in Acts 8:12-16), "but as it is in truth, the Word of God." 1 Thess. 2:13.
Wherever the Word of the gospel is preached, it may be said, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost." 1 Thess. 1:5.
Not only is the Spirit initially imparted through faith, but it is continuously imparted by faith—"from faith to faith." Rom. 1:17. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." Col. 2:6. Any subsequent operations of the Spirit in life come in the same way as the initial reception.
Summary: The Holy Ghost comes to men in the Word of God. Whoever hears, and repents and believes the gospel, receives the Holy Ghost.
4. The Evidence of the Spirit's Reception
God's Word plainly tells us how we know if we have received the Spirit of God. It does not tell us to look to some audio-visual sign. Remember the words of Jesus: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign." Matt. 12:39. The primary evidence of the Spirit is faith—simple, fussless, unspectacular, gospel faith.
When the Corinthian believers were caught up with the idea of the superior value of demonstrative, spiritual ecstasies, Paul directed them to the primacy of faith: "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." 1 Cor. 12:3. As if to say, Demonstrative spiritual exercises are not necessarily evidence of the Spirit's working ["Brethren, be not children in understanding" —1 Cor. 14:20], but the supreme evidence of the Spirit's power is that a sinful, fallen man comes to repentance and confesses his faith in Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of his life.
That one who was in rebellion against God can now cry, "Abba [dear) Father," is the primary evidence of the Spirit's presence and power.
Along with faith, hope is also the evidence of the gift of the Spirit. Says the apostle, "For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." Gal. 5:5.
Faith looks to a victorious past (to Christ's work for us on the cross) and to the present (to Christ's intercession for us at the right hand of God). Hope looks to the glorious future of Christ's second coming—"Being justified by faith, we . . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Rom. 5:1-2.
Hope in the coming of Jesus in glory is evidence of the Spirit's presence. Just as the Spirit gives faith to accept Christ as our righteousness, the Spirit inspires hope in the consummation of life at the glorious return of Jesus Christ:
The gift of God's Spirit in this life is called "the firstfruits of the Spirit." Rom. 8:23. In Ephesians 1:14 it is called "the earnest [or the down payment] of our inheritance." This is a most important point. Our experience in this life is always incomplete. Life is not fulfilled within the historical process. We can never find satisfaction in our own spiritual experience, for at best it is only a "down payment" of what God has in store for us. The Spirit inspires us to groan, wait, long for and press toward the hope of receiving an infilling of the Spirit not possible in this mortal life. Beyond this present feeble existence there awaits us "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 2 Cor. 4:17. Meanwhile we walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), knowing that although we are imperfect and incomplete, Christ Himself is our completeness (Col. 2:10). Thus our consolation is always in Him and never in our own experience.
The third evidence of the Spirit is love. Love (the Greek word is agape) is not an emotional or ecstatic experience. It is not "a funny feeling in the tummy." It is a holy principle of life wherein God and our fellow men, rather than ourselves, become the object of our concern.
An absorbing preoccupation about one's own spiritual enjoyment and experience is not love, for love "seeketh not her own." 1 Cor. 13:5. Finding satisfaction in feelings of spiritual ecstasy, so far from being evidence of the Holy Spirit's working, is evidence that the Spirit is not working.
Love is more likely to be manifested in patience and self-control, in doing good to others. But most of all, it is not absorbed in experientialism—the lusting after an exhilarating and satisfying experience. Experientialism is a form of legalism—the most subtle form of legalism. But the gospel received and believed lets God be God and man be man. It lets God be God in that it rests salvation solely on Christ's experience (Isa. 53:12), and thereby ascribes salvation to God's work alone. When a man is released from doing some work or having some experience upon which to ground his salvation, he is released from egocentric concern and begins to think of his fellow men. In short, the gospel lets men be human. Those who accept the gospel of their deliverance in Christ, make their fellow men the object of their works. They work to make all men see something of "the fellowship of the mystery."
Of course, the Christian will experience the selfishness of his sinful nature always trying to get in the way. He will be tempted to live for himself and to make himself the terminating point of God's mercy and love. That he feels this sin within him is no evidence that he is without the Spirit. But that he fights against the flesh and walks not after it is the surest evidence that he is fighting the good fight of faith in the might of the Spirit's power. Love is not measured by flights of happy feeling, but by willing conformity to the commandments of God—feeling or no feeling.
Summary: The evidence of the possession of the Holy Spirit is faith, hope and love. From human sight they are not the most spectacular graces; but from heaven's view they are the supreme miracles of divine grace.
5. The Sign of the Spirit's Baptism
Baptism is the sign of the Spirit's baptism. In the book of Acts we see that the gift of the Spirit was associated with baptism:
The baptism of water and into Christ is not some deficient initiation that needs to be supplemented by some further baptism. Jesus spoke of a man's entrance into the kingdom of grace as a baptism "of water and of the Spirit." John 3:5. He commanded His disciples to baptize men "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matt. 28:19.
Therefore, this initiating baptism is the baptism of the Holy Ghost as much as it is the baptism of Christ. Neither is the Spirit bestowed stintingly at the Christian initiation. Says the apostle:
The church of God is not like the great passenger ships which 'have first- and second-class passengers. The church is the only true class-less society in the world. To a community of believers who were in danger of making distinctions such as "ordinary Christians" and "Spirit-filled Christians," Paul declared, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . . and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." 1 Cor. 12:13. Again he said, "There is one body, and one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Eph. 4:4-5.
There is no such thing as ordinary Christians and Spirit-filled Christians. Either a man is a Spirit-filled Christian or he is not a Christian (Rom. 8:9). God does not give to a few individuals an experience differing from the body. There is one Christian baptism – it is the baptism of water and of the Holy Ghost. There is only one gospel; and it is the full gospel. The Trinity is indivisibly One. The baptism of the Spirit is not a higher experience than the baptism of Christ.
Although the ordinance of baptism itself is the sign of the Spirit's reception, it is no guarantee of the Spirit. The sign must not be confused with the evidence. Plenty of "gate crashers" get into the church on earth by taking the sign; but the church roll in heaven does not always correspond with the roll on earth. To take the sign apart from the evidence is hypocrisy and blasphemy.
When we say that true Christian initiation is the baptism of water and of the Spirit, we do not deny that the Spirit may not come at some subsequent times to renew faith, to give power for special occasions, or to impart special gifts for the prosecution of the gospel commission. God is not bound, and the Spirit may reveal Himself as He chooses. Just as the Christian age opened with a mighty outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost which mightily equipped the believers for service, so the Bible teaches us that the gospel age will close with no less power before the coming of the Lord. This is what the ancient prophets called "the latter rain," and the time of its bestowal is at hand.
The prophet exhorts us, "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain." Zech. 10:1. We shall be safe in doing this if we realize that the Spirit's work is to make us Christ-conscious rather than Spirit-conscious, Christ-centered rather than experience-centered. The Spirit does not speak of Himself (John 16:13). We do not know His name. His sole mission is to glorify Jesus and to make us more and more sensible of our own sinfulness and dependence on a righteousness outside of and above ourselves.
The Spirit's work in us is not the end and Christ only the means to that end. Rather, Christ is the end, and the Spirit is the means of laying hold on Him. Christian experience, however Spirit-filled, does not recommend us to God's favor. The sanctification of the Spirit does not lead a believer to attain higher than, or to surpass the primacy of, justification. Indeed, as one has well said, "Sanctification is our taking justification seriously," and the Spirit is given to us for that end.
Summary: Baptism is the sign of the Spirit's baptism. The Trinity is indivisible in His work. The members of the church all enjoy one baptism and one Spirit. The ongoing work of the Spirit will not lead us to another experience, but will re-enforce us and settle us more firmly in the truth of justification by grace through faith.
6. The Fullness of the Gift of the Spirit
While in this life we only possess the first fruits of the Spirit, yet in the gospel sense we possess a fullness of the Spirit that can never be transcended or superseded. This is the message of the book of Colossians. The Christians at Colosse were troubled by a "higher life" group who were not content to live the normal Christian life of faith and hope. (The problem is still with the church. Human nature does not want to endure its sense of weakness, sinfulness and finiteness. It does not want to endure the day-to-day reality of dirty dishes, frayed nerves and a persistent fight against the flesh.) Thus some of the Colossians advocated seeking a fullness of the Spirit that would lift them into such spiritual ecstasy that they would soar above their poor, struggling, earthly Christian brethren. (How nice! And what Christian has not thought that such a charge of spiritual power might lift him above the tedious conflict of life.)
So this holiness group sought for a fullness of the Spirit that transcended a "mere" enjoyment of Christ and a "mere" justification by faith. Of course, since their aspirations went beyond the simple "by faith alone" formula, they began to practice and impose rules and formulae of their own devisings. (These are still seen in modern books that specialize in subjectivity – i.e., Secrets of a Victorious Christian Experience – 70 Steps Which Show You How, or Preparation for the Spirit's Baptism – 7 Conditions for You to Receive It.)
The apostle Paul showed the Colossians that this program of making the attainment of a high spiritual experience the center of concern was legalism. His answer to this "holiness" group was a magnificent exaltation of the person of Christ and the absolute centrality of Him in the church's faith. Paul's key word was fullness. Meeting the heretics on their own ground, he showed the church where that fullness can alone exist in Jesus Christ and never in another. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." "For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Col. 1:19; 2:9.
As our Substitute, Christ not only rendered to God everything that we owed in perfect obedience; as a Man in our place, He also received from God everything that God had to give and longed to give us – even all the fullness of His own life. In Christ, humanity has received the totality of God's life. In Him we have been filled with all the fullness of God. It could never be any other way but in Him, for no one other than this God-Man could contain all the accumulated fullness of eternity. Faith staggers not at the gift God has given us in Christ, but confesses that in Christ God has given all; and in simple faith the Christian possesses all. Thus Paul says: "And ye are complete [have been made full] in Him." Col. 2:10.
In this sense a repentant believer can never have anything more than when He accepts Christ as the Savior and the Lord of his life. He lives "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." 2 Cor. 6:10. Faith embraces Christ and that fullness in Him; hope patiently waits for the inheritance, knowing that life is not fulfilled here and now.
Summary: In this life we can never experience enough of God's Spirit to satisfy either God or ourselves. Yet the humanity of Christ has received all the fullness of God for us. We have it now by faith, and shall possess it by visible reality at the coming of Christ.