The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: The Source of Our Power

Acts 1:4-5

February 22, 1998 | Ray Pritchard

“I believe baptism in the Holy Ghost is exactly on the same plane as baptism in water—we never need to repeat it.” W. H. Griffith Thomas


With this topic we venture deep into the waters of theological controversy. While those outside the church may have no knowledge of it, evangelical believers are deeply divided over the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is disagreement over what it is, when it occurs, and how it occurs. It is not too much to say that this doctrine is one of the central issues between traditional Pentecostal believers and conservative evangelicals.

I realize that to put the matter this way may sound as if my intention is to be entirely polemical in this message. That is not the case because for the most part I think we ought to respect believers who see things differently than we do and shouldn’t attempt to stress those differences unless there is some particular need. God’s family is very broad and includes true believers found in every church and every denomination. No doubt we’ll discover when we get to heaven that some of the things we thought were so important are not as crucial in the eyes of God.

But even though I don’t wish to be controversial, I really have no choice because I am preaching through Acts 1 and we have come to verses 4-5, which speak plainly about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In order for us to get the issues before us, let’s first take a look at those two verses:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Several observations are in order: First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift promised by God the Father. That means it comes wholly apart from anything we do. It is an undeserved blessing from God. Second, Jesus had previously instructed his disciples regarding this promised gift. This evidently refers to the instruction Jesus gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse—John 13-17, especially John 14:16-18 and 16:7-15. Jesus pointed to a day when the disciples would experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit unlike anything they had known up until that moment. Third, water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism are somehow related to each other. Fourth, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was absolutely necessary for effective Christian witness. That’s why Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem. He knew they could never reach the world with the gospel unless they had the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.

With that as background, we turn now to some basic questions about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.(1)

I. What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

I have a friend who spent some time in an airport chatting with someone who asked him an interesting question. When this person discovered that my friend was a born-again Christian, she asked point-blank, “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” My friend said yes, but the woman wasn’t satisfied. She wanted to know, “Have you spoken in tongues?” My friend said no, so the woman said, “You haven’t been baptized with the Holy Spirit then.” And so it went. My friend could never convince her and she could never convince him.

So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? I think we can find an answer from the central passage in the New Testament on this topic—1 Corinthians 12:13, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Note how universal this language is. Paul says we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body and that is true no matter what ethnic group we come from or what station in life we occupy. We were all given the one Spirit to drink. This verse tells us what the baptism of the Holy Sprit is. It is that act by which the Holy Spirit places us into the body of Christ at the moment of our salvation. It is the universal experience of every person who comes to faith in Jesus Christ. The word “all” means just what it says—every person without exception.(2)

There is one Holy Spirit. He is the one who baptizes us into the body of Christ. Everyone comes to Christ the same way—by faith. Everyone is forgiven the same way—by the blood of the cross. Everyone comes into the body of Christ the same way—by the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t have two ways of salvation, two methods of forgiveness, two bodies of Christ, or two Holy Spirits—one for the “minor” gifts and one for the “major” gifts. All true Christians share the same Holy Spirit. There is no secondary position in the body of Christ.

Before you are saved you are outside of Christ. The moment you are saved the Holy Spirit places you “in Christ”—thus making available to you all the riches of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit deals with our standing before God, not our present subjective state. It deals with our position, not our experience.

That leads me directly to the second question.

II. When does the baptism of the Holy Spirit take place?

The answer is, it takes place the moment you are saved. Article E of the Calvary Memorial Church Articles of Faith states the matter this way: We believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of conversion and is that act whereby believers are united with Christ as part of His body. That’s a sentence we added when we revised the constitution in 1992 because we wanted to be crystal-clear on this subject. Consider the words of Romans 8:9b, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Possessing the Holy Spirit is one mark of what it means to be a genuine Christian. If the Holy Spirit is not in you, then you’re not a Christian at all. But how do we come into possession of the Spirit of Christ? 1 Corinthians 12:13 has already answered that question. The moment we are saved the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. We come into Christ and his Spirit comes into us.

This means that when someone asks, “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” if you are a Christian, the answer is always yes. If you answer no, you’re really saying that you are not saved.

Let me mention four things the Holy Spirit does for you the moment you come to Christ:

1. Born again by the Spirit—John 3:5

2. Indwelt by the Spirit—1 Corinthians 6:19-20

3. Baptized by the Spirit—1 Corinthians 12:13

4. Sealed by the Spirit—Ephesians 1:13(3)

These four things happen when you trust Christ and are never repeated. They are all performed by the Holy Spirit in the life of the child of God and are not related to any extraordinary emotional experiences.

III. Should I seek to be baptized in the Holy Spirit?

The answer is no. Nowhere in the New Testament are believers told to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to quench not the Spirit, to make sure that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit. All these things are ongoing commands for the people of God—and all should be on our hearts and minds everyday. But nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.(4)

If we ask why there is no such command, the answer is not difficult to find. If you are a Christian, you were baptized with the Spirit the moment you were saved so you don’t need to seek what you already have. If you aren’t a genuine Christian, you don’t need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, you need Jesus first and foremost. When you find Jesus, you’ll get the baptism at no extra charge. It’s like ordering a meal and then discovering that dessert is included in the price. The baptism of the Spirit is part of what it means to come to Christ in the first place.

One question might be asked. Why were the early disciples told to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit? The answer is simple: It hadn’t happened yet. It happened for the first time on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The church as the body of Christ came into existence on that day. Acts 2 marks the birthday of the Christian church. They had to wait for Pentecost in order to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But ever since then, no one has had to wait.

(That raises a side issue. What is the “sign” of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Some people say it is speaking in tongues. But that only happened in connection with the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Acts 10 and Acts 19—all three unique, never-to-be-repeated occasions.(5) Nowhere does the Bible suggest that all believers should speak in tongues. The most we can say is that tongues is a gift given to some believers—but not to all. Biblically speaking, there is no “sign” of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It simply happens to us the moment we trust Christ. Don’t worry about seeking a sign. Just make sure you’re trusting Christ for your salvation. That’s the only “sign” you need.)(6)

IV. What is the relationship between water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism?

I find it interesting that Jesus makes a comparison between the water baptism of John the Baptist and Holy Spirit baptism. What is the point of comparison? On one hand you had John the Baptist dipping believers in the waters of the Jordan River. On the other hand the Holy Spirit takes new believers and places them into the body of Christ. I see three similarities here: First, just as water baptism is the outward sign of new birth, Holy Spirit baptism is the inward sign of new birth. Second, just as water baptism is the universal experience of all Christians, even so Holy Spirit baptism is the universal experience of all believers. Third, just as water baptism immerses a person completely in water, even so Holy Spirit baptism immerses a person spiritually in the body of Christ.

By the way, this comparison makes no sense if Jesus regarded water baptism as an optional exercise. It also doesn’t make sense if you baptize babies. The words of Jesus make sense only if you assume that A) every Christian should be baptized in water, and B) that baptism is not of infants but of believers who have trusted Christ as Savior.

V. What is the difference between being baptized in the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit?

We can answer this question very simply with a little phrase that was coined over a hundred years ago to answer this question. It’s only four words: One baptism, many fillings. By “one baptism” I mean that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of conversion and is never repeated. By “many fillings” I mean that the moment-by-moment experience of the Holy Spirit’s power may and should be repeated many times. Ephesians 5:18 clearly says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Let me make myself very clear on this topic. I believe that every new Christian is born into God’s family filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is not something reserved for a select few super-saints. God intends that all his children be filled with the Spirit all the time. This is to be the normal experience of the people of God. The contrast in Ephesians 5:18 is crucial. Just as wine fills the body and alters our behavior, even so the Holy Spirit fills us and changes the way we act and think. What alcohol does in a negative way, the Holy Spirit does in a positive way.

When believers disobey the Lord, we may lose the filling of the Spirit. When we grieve the Spirit through sinful attitudes and lukewarm behavior, the Spirit does not fill us with power. At that point we must repent—turn from our sins—confess our need—return to the Lord and cry out for his help. As we do that, God’s Holy Spirit fills us once again and we are under his divine control.

That is what I mean by “one baptism, many fillings.”


Two Questions

I close my remarks with two simple questions:

1) Have you ever trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? This is the most important issue you will ever face. Until you come to Jesus, you can never know the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. If you have the slightest desire for a new life, if there is a stirring within to turn from your sin, if you are conscious of your need for the Lord, I urge you to seek the Lord, call upon his name, run to the cross, lay your sins on Jesus Christ, and believe that he died for you and that he rose from the dead. Trust all that you are to all that he is and you will be saved.

2) Is the Holy Spirit indwelling you in all his fullness? This is the most important question a Christian can face. The question is not, do you have all the Holy Spirit? but does the Holy Spirit have all of you? Until you yield your life to his control, you can never know what the Holy Spirit can do for you.

My Heart, Christ’s Home

Whenever I preach about the Holy Spirit, I am reminded of Robert Boyd Munger’s wonderful little book, My Heart, Christ’s Home, in which he compares the heart to a beautiful house with many rooms.(7) All of us have special rooms that we reserve for entertaining our guests. Most of us also have closets, basements and attics that we try to keep out of public view because they are messy or contain items we don’t want others to see. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Many of us have welcomed Christ into a large part of our hearts. But there are areas of life where he is not welcome to enter. We have “Presidential Palaces” in our hearts that are marked “Off limits to outside inspectors.” It might be the kitchen or the bedroom or the recreation room that we keep locked from public view. Usually there is some hidden sin—anger or bitterness or greed or lust or theft or jealousy or promiscuous behavior—that we would be ashamed for the Lord Jesus to see. Perhaps we don’t want him rearranging that part of our lives. Perhaps we like things as they are. But we will never be happy and Christ will never be fully at home until every door is opened to him.

If you want to know the power of the Spirit, the price is simple but not easy to pay. You must open those hidden doors and allow the Lord Jesus to come in and make all things new. Will it be painful? Perhaps, but the hardest part is opening the doors one by one. If you have the courage to let Christ into every part of your life, he will come in and redecorate your life into something more beautiful than you ever imagined possible.

But you’ll never know until you start opening those doors one by one. May God help us to unlock every door and open every hidden closet until Christ is fully at home in our hearts.


(1)I should mention that the term “baptism of the Holy Spirit” does not occur in the New Testament. Instead we have the phrase “baptized in/with/by the Holy Spirit.” The “in/with/by” means that the Greek word en could be translated with any of those English words.

(2)Billy Graham makes the helpful point that 1 Corinthians 12:13 is in the past tense—”we were all baptized”—and not the present tense—”we are all baptized.” This shows that for the believer the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a completed past action. (The Holy Spirit, p. 90).

(3)Lewis Sperry Chafer offers this list in Powerlines, p. 54.

(4)John F. Walvoord develops this point very effectively in The Holy Spirit, p. 140.

(5)Charles Stanley offers an excellent treatment of this in The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, pp. 152-162. He argues that the gift of tongues in each instance is a sign that a major new group is being incorporated into the body of Christ—Jews (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 10), and the followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19). Once those different groups had been incorporated in the church there was no necessity for the gift of tongues as an authenticating sign. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of the “gift of tongues” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

(6)I do not mean to stand in judgment over anyone’s spiritual experience. I’m delighted when I hear of people who have had a profound experience with the Lord that led to deeper devotion, increased prayer, new zeal for the lost, and a hunger for personal holiness. This is to be commended—not condemned. However, I do not think we should call that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or even a “second work of grace.” The first term is clearly a misnomer and the second implies two tiers in the Christian life. Experience is always valuable but should never be the standard for evaluating our own life or anyone else’s. We must judge our experience by the Word of God—not vice versa.

(7)It was first published perhaps 30 years ago and has recently been revised and reprinted. I highly recommend it to every believer.


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