Questions to Answer:
Why has God given us the Holy Spirit?
Who has He made the Holy Spirit available to?
What is meant by Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Why has God given us the Holy Spirit?
Acts 1:7-8, “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.’”
The Holy Spirit is working to bring me into submission to God through revelation of His Word. In this, I receive power to participate in His plan of salvation.
Who has God made the Holy Spirit available to?
Acts 10:35,”but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
As seen in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit is given to anyone who would turn to the Lord. This passage of Scripture, Acts 10:44-46, is often quoted for the purpose of proving that in order to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, one must speak in tongues (other languages, unintelligible to the speaker). Context is key. Cornelius’ household speaking out in tongues happened so that Peter and the other Jewish Christians would know that Gentiles—non-Jewish/those who are uncircumcised—can receive the Holy Spirit just as they had. This is a similar purpose as we can observe in Acts 2. Speaking in “tongues” was all about the spread of the Gospel message to people of all “tongues,” nationalities, etc.
If tongues was the normative manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit even in the time of the Apostles, we may have seen it referenced in such passages as Acts 4:31-32, “…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness…those who believed were of one heart and soul…all things were common property to them.” Here, being filled with the Spirit is evidenced by speaking the word of God with boldness, unity and unmatched generosity. Acts 19:6 points out “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” It does not necessarily say all spoke in tongues, but prophesying is also clearly a manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Notice in Acts, the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is only explicitly used in chapter 1, then quoted by Peter in chapter 11, in the context of carrying out the Great Commission. Acts 11 is another case in which it is all about the Jewish Christians understanding that salvation in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for Gentile believers, too. This is further reinforced when Peter reports to the church in Jerusalem in chapter 15:6-9. Here, Peter notes the work of the Holy Spirit is “cleansing their hearts by faith” (vs. 9). 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that there are various gifts of the Spirit, who “works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (vs. 11). Yes, we should “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (vs. 31), but they should all be for the building of the Body of Christ in love, according to the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14. It is hard, given careful exegesis of all these Scriptures, to come to a conclusive doctrine of “tongues” being a normative manifestation of being filled with the Spirit. (Also of note is the fact that Paul does not use the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in 1 Corinthians).
“Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is a huge focal point for charismatic churches, especially, but not always understood and used properly. We know that we need the Holy Spirit to carry forward Jesus’ mission and to live in submission to God’s will. The first reference in the New Testament of this is Matthew 3:11, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John the Baptist speaks of two baptisms: baptism in water, and baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire.
Let’s look at these two baptisms side-by-side (picture below)
Romans 8:9-17. My body is dead, but spiritually I have been made alive. This allows my dead body to be brought into obedience
If one truly takes a text-critical reading of Scripture with careful exegesis, then the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit according to a lot of churches is just not accurate, despite what one’s experience might be. That said, I am not one to limit the working of the Spirit. In the context of multicultural churches and the spread of the Gospel in new regions, the gift of tongues may still be actively used. The point is that it is not NORMATIVE, nor a necessary sign, that one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit as Jesus meant. Again, it should be an ongoing experience, evidenced by a transformed life—all to the building up of the Body of Christ.
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!