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Posts Tagged ‘Spirit baptism’

Series on baptism

We’re still looking at baptism today, however we are doing something a little different as we move to the topic of Spirit baptism.

Being “baptized in the Spirit” is talked about in several places, although the key text(s) is connected to John the Baptist, and is repeated in all four gospels.

In John 1:33 God said to John, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain (Jesus), this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (See also John 3:34)

 In the first three gospels it comes not just as an identity statement about Jesus, but in the form of a promise from John. In Matthew 3:11 John himself said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Also in – Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)

 This foundational promise is repeated in Acts. In Acts 1:5, just before his ascension, Jesus said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” In Acts 11:16 Peter, quoting Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So this promise is emphasized in the New Testament.

Finally, this language of Spirit baptism also shows up in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” So the idea of receiving the Spirit as a baptism experience is firmly rooted.

But how is it that we can talk of –

Spirit baptism as a water experience?

Well, we’ve already seen how there can be both literal and figurative baptisms. The creation, the flood, the Red Sea crossing and Christian baptism all involve actual water. However, Jesus’ suffering and death is a figurative baptism. The water is used to speak of the evil and suffering that Jesus went through.

In a similar way, Spirit Baptism is also a figurative baptism. This baptism language works because the Spirit is often likened to water in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. God “pours out” the Spirit. Isaiah 44:3 says, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land. . .; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants . . ..” Joel 2:28 says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . ..” And in Acts 2:33, after teaching that Jesus received the promise of the Spirit, Peter says “he has poured out this that you both see and hear”; talking about Pentecost. In all of these, “poured out” is a liquid or water metaphor. The Spirit is likened to water.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. In John 7:37-38 Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Spirit baptism is here a drinking in of the Spirit.

3. When we drink, we are filled with the Spirit. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Both of these references parallel being full of wine and being full of the Spirit. In Ephesians it’s obvious. But it’s also true in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost the crowds thought they “were filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Peter says, No! It’s too early in the morning to be drunk! This is the Spirit of God coming down (Acts 2:15). We are not to be filled with wine, which is drunkenness. But we are to be filled with a different drink – the Holy Spirit.

Now all of this, as I am sure you have noticed, points to –

The difference between water baptism and Spirit baptism

Even though Spirit baptism is a water experience, this is a different kind of water than the water that’s involved in water baptism:

  • The waters of water baptism are the deep waters that represent chaos, evil and turmoil. To have these waters is not a good thing. That’s why God must act in power to deliver us from these waters so that we can pass through them to the other side.
  • The water of Spirit baptism is good water; drinking water. It’s the water of the stream, the fountain or the spring. It’s the living water of God that nourishes life. We don’t need to be delivered from this water, rather we are to keep drinking of it.

Just a footnote here: Our Christian tradition allows for flexibility in terms of how people are baptized through immersion or pouring, although certainly pouring is the traditional method. Let me just say that our practice has represented Spirit baptism  well,  and not so much the idea of crossing through the waters or death and resurrection.

Alright, despite the difference in the kinds of water, there are still –

Clear connections between water baptism and Spirit baptism

First, both have the core concept of baptism. The root word (βαπτω) means to “dip in liquid” (BDAG). I don’t think it’s helpful to argue about exactly how this happens. But I do think there was a lot of water involved. I think the best word that covers the full range of baptism language (figurative and literal) is “inundation” which means to cover with a flood, to overflow, to overwhelm, to deluge, to engulf.

  • To be baptized in water is to be inundated with water
  • To be baptized in the Spirit is to be inundated with the Spirit

Second, they are connected in terms of timing. Remember? Just after Israel came up from their water baptism, they were filled with the Spirit so that they were moved to sing prophetic songs to the Lord (Exodus 15; Isaiah 63:11). And also, just after Jesus was water baptized the Spirit descended upon him and he had the prophetic experience of a vision (Matthew 3:16-17).

This close chronological connection is also seen in the book of Acts. For example:

  • In Acts 2 Peter links in his teaching water baptism and receiving the Spirit
  • In Acts 8 the Samaritans received the Spirit not long after their water baptism
  • In Acts 9 Paul is baptized and received the Spirit
  • In Acts 10 Cornelius and his family received the Spirit just before water baptism
  • In Acts 19 some disciples in Ephesus are baptized and received the Spirit

Although there is variation in these stories, water baptism and Spirit baptism are closely connected in time.

Why is this? It’s because the coming of the Spirit is what brings about the new life that is symbolized by water baptism. Romans 6:4 tells us that baptism has to do with walking in “newness of life.” But, as John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Now as a part of this we could talk about the fruit of the Spirit which causes us to live in a new way. And we could also talk about the gifts of the Spirit that empower us for ministry in our new life. But the point here is that it’s the Spirit that gives us the new life that baptism points to. So they are connected.

Finally, let me say a word about –

Spirit baptism and Spirit filling

In Acts 2 the disciples are Spirit baptized, but it doesn’t end there. Later, in Acts 4, in a time of need, they are once again filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

So it is to be in our lives. The idea is that we receive an initial outpouring (baptism) of the Spirit in our salvation experience. Spirit “baptism” language seems to focus on this initial experience. But we are also to continue to be filled with the Spirit throughout our lives. The “filling” language can refer to the initial filling (Spirit baptism) or to subsequent fillings of the Spirit. Spirit baptism is meant to be the beginning of a life of being full of the Holy Spirit.

Let me end by asking –

Do you want to receive the Spirit?

Whether you need that first experience of the Spirit that brings new life and power, or whether you need another filling of the Spirit for refreshment and empowerment. Perhaps you are beaten down, weary and need help this morning. Wherever you are at, the promise is there for us to claim.

We saw this in John the Baptist’s words at the beginning. Let’s also hear the promise again in a different form from Jesus: “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

God wants to give us of his Spirit. As Peter says of the gift of the Spirit, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” – Acts 2:39.

All you have to do is ask! As Jesus said, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him – Luke 11:13.

How should we ask? The verses just before this teach us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). We are to be persistent and ask, search and knock.

Take God at his word. He is true to his promise. And God will give you of his Spirit in your life.

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We looked at John the Baptist’s identity last week. We saw who he was not. He was not the Christ, or Elijah or the prophet. And we also saw who he was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ . . .” (John 1:23). Today our focus is on John the Baptist’s identification of who Jesus is, found in v. 33 of our passage. Jesus is “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Let’s read this text –

31 “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John’s identification of Jesus

Let’s follow the train of thought in these verses. In v. 31 John tells us – “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he (the Messiah) might be revealed to Israel.” [Now in the Synoptics (Matthew Mark and Luke called this because they are very similar to each other), the emphasis is on how John prepares the people for the Messiah by calling them to repentance – “Messiah, here are your people.” But in the Gospel of John the focus is from the other end – he is saying, “People, here is your Messiah.” Like the best man or friend of the bridegroom (3:29).]

However, twice in this passage he says that he didn’t know who the Messiah would be. “I myself did not know him.” [Now in the Synoptics we learn in Luke that John and Jesus were cousins. And who knows if they knew each other growing up – probably not. But John’s point, even if he knew Jesus, was that he did not know that he was the Messiah.] So this creates a problem. How will he know who the Messiah is? Well, God gave him a sign. v. 33 – God said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain” – this is the one.

And John saw this happen to Jesus. [Now in the  Synoptics it is Jesus who sees the “Spirit come upon him like a dove. But here John also sees this.] v. 32 – “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” And he “bears witness” to this.

So Jesus is the one! As v. 33 says, Jesus “is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John declares to us a key component of the identity of Jesus – he is the one who gives the Spirit. [Of course he doesn’t fully give the gift of the Holy Spirit until Pentecost – Acts 1:5; John 7:39; 14:26]

This then raises the question –

What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

If this is what Jesus is known for,as John the Baptist makes clear, what does it mean? We begin first with the expectation of the coming of the Spirit in the Old Testament.

The Spirit was active in the Old Testament, but there are a number of texts that speak of a time when God would pour out his Spirit in great measure (for instance Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29.) Joel 2:28-29 is a good representative passage: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Spirit will come in a powerful way on all God’s people, not just a few representatives or leaders.

And also the Messiah was seen to be a person of the Spirit. For instance, Isaiah 11:1-2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” (also Isaiah 42:1). So it makes sense that Jesus would be the one that gives the Spirit.

But what is this baptism with the Holy Spirit?

The word “baptism” has to do with a water experience. It has to do literally with water when, for instance

  • Noah and family went through the flood. And Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that this was a kind of baptism.
  • Or when Israel went through the waters of the Red Sea, which Paul calls a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:2.
  • Or when new Christian converts were baptized with water in the book of Acts.

But the word “baptism” can also be used figuratively, where there is no literal water involved.

  • You can be baptized with suffering. Jesus uses baptism language in this way in Mark 10:38 to talk about the cross. This is because ‘deep waters’ can figuratively speak of going through difficulties.
  • You can be baptized with fire. John the Baptist talked about this in Matthew 3:11. It is an image of judgment. And baptism language can be used because fire or judgment can be ‘poured out’ like water.
  • And in our case you can be baptized with the Spirit. That’s because, as we saw in Joel, the Spirit will be “poured out.” This is also a water image. And so baptism can be used of it.

When we look at the way the word baptism is used in all these cases, the best definition might be “inundation.”

  • Noah was inundated with water as he floated on top of the flood and got rained on.
  • Israel was inundated with water as they went through the Red Sea.
  • In times of suffering we are inundated with difficulties.
  • When judgment comes it inundates those who are judged.

And so Spirit baptism means to be inundated with the Spirit. It means to be flooded, overwhelmed or engulfed with God’s presence, with the life that comes from God, and empowerment and gifts to serve God.

The picture of Spirit baptism. The water in water baptism has to do with deep waters that symbolize judgment, suffering and death. And the picture of water baptism is one of being saved from these and coming up on the other shore. But the water of Spirit baptism is good water; fresh water, drinking water. This is the picture of Spirit baptism:

1. The Spirit is poured out like water, as in Joel 2.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink” – John 7:37-38. Paul says, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:13.

3. When we drink we are filled with the Spirit. We are, as it were, a container of the Spirit that if filled to the top. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18 says, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

There is a contrast in these last verses between being filled with one kind of drink versus another. Many thought the disciples were drunk on the day of Pentecost, but they weren’t. They were filled with the Spirit. And Paul says don’t be drunk with wine, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit. You can be filled with wine – and have this affect you (drunkenness). Or you can be filled with the Spirit  – and have this affect you.

Let me end with the most crucial question today –

Are you baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Have you received this from Jesus, who in known as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps you see yourself as a Christian but have never received the Spirit at all. You just went through the motions of conversion/baptism. You went through the symbolism, but didn’t receive the reality to which it points.

A part of the symbolism of water baptism is that when you come through the deep waters and up on the other shore, you receive new life from God. Well, Spirit baptism is the reality to which this points. When the Spirit comes, this is when you receive new life.

Peter in his message on the day of Pentecost said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38. This is the gospel message and it includes the gift of the Spirit.

So put in place repentance and forgiveness; put in place the faith in Christ – and then receive the gift!

Let’s say you are a Christian and thus have received of the Spirit. The question for you is are you still inundated with the Holy Spirit? [Baptism language may well refer to the first or initiatory experience of the Spirit (just as baptism language is initiatory) with filling language being more flexible and especially applied to later experiences. But in either case the idea of filling and being inundated is the same.] Having received the Spirit at one time, are you still full of the Spirit, of God’s presence, life and power to serve?

A one-time experience of the Spirit at salvation is not enough. And a second experience of the Spirit after salvation is not enough. We are to be continually filled with the Spirit as we just saw in Ephesians 5:18. Notice the present tense, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

But too often I fear we live at a level far below this. God has given us a pipeline for the Spirit to flow through to us, but from our end the faucet is barely turned on – just a few drips. Maybe it’s because there is sin in their lives that blocks the Sprit. Or maybe we are distracted by the things of the world. Whatever the case may be, so often we are not living into what God has given us.

If we want to live the kind of Christian lives God calls us to – we must be filled with the Spirit! And if we want to do the work of the kingdom that God has called us to do in this place – we must be filled with the Spirit. We need to open ourselves up and receive of all that God has for us.

So receive the Spirit! God’s promise to us comes from the word of Jesus in Luke 11:13 – “The heavenly Father give(s) the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As John the Baptist has taught us, this is who Jesus is. He is the one who inundates with the Spirit. Will you receive the blessing he gives?

William Higgins

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