GraceLife Church of Pineville

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Holy Spirit Baptism

Table of Contents


The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way;
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.’”

John the Baptist1The aforementioned “messenger” in Isaiah. appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1–8)

There’s part of me that’s jealous of John. He got to spend most of his ministry in the wilderness. The people came to where he was. He got to interact with country folk and city folk (from the country of Judea and the city of Jerusalem). His audience understood their flaws—they came confessing their sins. No part of his day was taken up with wardrobe or meal planning (camel hair and locusts, every day!).

It would be tempting to be jealous of his preaching as well (though not necessarily the whole repentance and forgiveness of sins part). I’m almost tempted to be jealous of the simplicity with which he was able to preach about baptism. It was a water baptism associated with repentance and forgiveness. That’s so much simpler than our current study on baptisms.

But I’m not jealous of John—and not just because I’ve still managed to keep my head.2A reference to John’s beheading at the request of Herodias. See Mark 6:17–28. Preaching on baptism is a more complicated matter today because we live in a time of greater revelation than John had. We know more about baptism now. For that, I am grateful, even though it means we have more ground to cover, more untangling to do.

Before we move forward, though, let’s get the lay of the land and review where we’ve been.

Review: Oracles and Baptisms

We’re in the middle of a larger series on the oracles of God—which is just a fancy way of saying the utterances or words of God. The phrase “oracles of God” comes from the book of Hebrews.3See Hebrews 5:12. Oracles refer to elementary principles, foundational principles, or basic principles. We’ve covered two of these oracles or principles: repentance from dead works and faith toward God. Now we’re studying baptisms, and next we’ll discuss laying on of hands. After that we’ll talk about the last two oracles: the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

In the introduction to this baptisms subseries, we talked about the idea that there are baptisms (plural) in Scripture—baptisms with different mediums (water, the Holy Spirit) and different purposes. We also said that baptism is controversial and baptism is identification.

The second sermon in this subseries laid out a blueprint for baptism in Acts. The key thing to hold on to from that message is this: The book of Acts explains the baptism blueprint for the establishing of the church. If you’re searching for normative baptismal practices in the book of Acts, you won’t find it. Instead, Acts tells us how the church, through the apostles, was established. The remainder of the New Testament tells us how the church grew upon that foundation.

Here’s a short recap: God established the church according to the pattern that we see elsewhere in Scripture, giving the Spirit to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. He followed a logical progression in establishing the church:

  1. Acts 2—baptism of the Jews
  2. Acts 8—baptism of the Samaritans (half-Jew, half-Gentile)
  3. Acts 10—baptism of the Gentiles

If we hadn’t established that pattern and purpose, questions would arise in your mind throughout this series—questions like, “What about Acts 2, which says you have to be baptized to have your sins forgiven?” Now we’ve established that baptism for forgiveness of sins was specific to the Jewish population at Jesus’s time, which was guilty of rejecting John’s baptism and crucifying the Messiah.

We’ve established that baptism for forgiveness of sins was specific to the Jewish population at Jesus’s time.

“He Will Baptize with the Holy Spirit”

Here’s the difficulty in moving forward: Do we address some of the controversies? Do we focus on whether baptism saves you? Do we discuss whether you should be immersed or sprinkled when baptized? Should we discuss whether to baptize infants?

Here’s where I’ll start, and I’ll draw the cue from John the Baptist, also called John the Baptizer. (A man by that nickname, after all, probably knew a thing or two about baptism.)

We’ll start by discussing medium of baptism: what one is baptized with. John said there are a few options, and two he mentions in Mark 1:8:

I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Besides water and the Holy Spirit, a third medium of baptism mentioned in the Gospels—but not recorded by Mark—is fire (e.g., Luke 3:16 and Matthew 3:11 both record John the Baptist saying that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire”). There’s some debate as to what baptism of fire means; I think it refers to a baptism of (eternal) judgment—which comes to those who are not sealed (baptized) by the Holy Spirit.

In this sermon, we’ll focus on Holy Spirit baptism.

Three Pre-Warnings

Warning 1: This Is Systematic Theology

The sort of teaching in this sermon would normally be classified under the heading “systematic theology.” We’re building a doctrine of baptism, a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine of the establishment of the church. The fancy words for this are pneumatology (the study of the Spirit) and ecclesiology (the study of the church).

Because we’re dealing with systematic theology, I can’t camp out on one verse. We’ve got to pull several verses from across the Bible.

At the same time, this isn’t a comprehensive study. We can’t cover all the verses—only a representative sample. There’s more to know about Holy Spirit baptism than what will be in this one sermon.

Warning 2: Strip Away Previous Associations

You may hear/see the word “baptism” and immediately think of water. Try to strip away previous associations and remember there are multiple baptisms.

In addition, the phrase “Holy Spirit baptism” may carry some baggage with it for you, based on the church tradition you grew up in (if you grew up in church). For example, if you grew up in the charismatic tradition, you may think of an ecstatic experience associated with speaking in tongues. That is not what I’m talking about when I speak of Holy Spirit baptism.

By the same token, if you grew up in a non-charismatic tradition, you may immediately think, “That Holy Spirit baptism stuff isn’t for me.” That’s also not what I’m talking about. When you hear/read “baptism,” think “identification.” At a basic level, Holy Spirit baptism is about being identified with or by the Holy Spirit.

Warning 3: Don’t Get Too Caught Up in Prepositions

Are we baptized by the Holy Spirit, with the Holy Spirit, or in the Holy Spirit? The short answer is yes. 

Let’s use water as a clarifying example. If we were to talk about water baptism and say, “Hey, you’re going to be baptized by water,” it would mean essentially the same thing as “You’re going to be baptized with water” or “… in water.” The same is the case for Holy Spirit baptism—you can use the prepositions by, with, and in interchangeably.

Now we’re ready to dive into our three main points about Holy Spirit baptism.

Point 1: Holy Spirit Baptism Is Distinct from Water Baptism and Greater Than Water Baptism

This first point is straight from John the Baptist. Mark 1:7–8 says:

And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

If we talk about water baptisms without understanding Spirit baptism first, we might as well not study baptisms at all. We have to start with understanding the greater thing—Spirit baptism—and then we can understand the lesser thing—water baptism.

We have to start with understanding the greater thing—Spirit baptism—and then we can understand the lesser thing—water baptism.

But you are going to see water and the Spirit linked in many places in Scripture. And when you see that linkage, your tendency will be to default to the physical. Physical things are, after all, easier to understand, given that we learn via the senses. Visible representations are easier to understand than spiritual realities. We can picture the material substances, whereas we can’t picture immaterial substances, because by their very nature, they are not taken in by our senses. But that doesn’t mean those spiritual realities don’t exist.

In baptism, water is a physical representation of a spiritual reality—a visible representation of an invisible reality. It would be foolish to dismiss the physical, because that’s how we understand the spiritual. But if you put the physical in the primary position or on equal footing with the spiritual, you’ll miss the whole point.

In baptism, water is a physical representation of a spiritual reality—a visible representation of an invisible reality.

Let’s look at just one example of where water and the Spirit are linked:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39)

The Gospel of John often records Jesus speaking of physical things to make spiritual points—often to the annoyance (or confusion) of the crowds to whom He was speaking. This passage is no exception.

Most people I know who have believed in Jesus don’t have physical water gushing forth from their innermost beings. The water isn’t physical in these verses—it represents an inward reality (which was yet to come, since Jesus spoke those words before His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and subsequent sending of the Spirit at Pentecost).

Point 2: Holy Spirit Baptism Happens to All Believers

From the John 7 passage above, it’s clear that all believers receive the Spirit (v. 39). That all believers receive the Holy Spirit isn’t controversial. How they receive the Holy Spirit is controversial.

Arguments abound, partly because of the differences discussed in the previous sermon (Baptism Blueprint)—some got the Spirit straight from heaven, some via laying on of hands; some got the Spirit before water baptism, some after.

The chief mistake is in thinking that just because Holy Spirit baptism is universal, it has been uniform (in how it occurred) across history. It hasn’t been. The Scriptures are clear: There was a period in history in which believers in Jesus had to wait until the Holy Spirit was given. That story—found in Acts 2, 8, and 10—was also in the last sermon. It’s in the book of Acts that God tells us, “Here’s how I did it—here’s how I sent the Spirit.” He completed that work during the lifetime of the original apostles; once the Jews, then the half-Jew/half-Gentles (Samaritans), and finally the Gentiles received the Spirit, all categories were covered. There were no more people categories in the world, and the church was established. Since then, the normal pattern has been believing in Jesus, then receiving the Holy Spirit.

Since then [the time of the original apostles], the normal pattern has been believing in Jesus, then receiving the Holy Spirit.

And what you read about in Acts is baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Here’s what you need to understand: Holy Spirit baptism for today is invisible.

But I want to see it.

Yeah, me too.

But as we saw in our series on faith toward God, we walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

I’d like to see Jesus, too, and there was a generation that got to. But you and I didn’t live then. And what was that generation asking for? “Lord, show us the Father, and it is good enough for us” (John 14:8).

There’s a verse that speaks to the idea that all believers received the Spirit—it’s found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. When you get to the New Testament letters like this one, you have to make a decision on the nature of baptism. It’s my position that this verse is speaking of Spirit baptism, not water baptism. Not everyone holds that position. Why? First, like I said already, we tend to default to the physical because it’s easier to understand. Secondly, we tend to stick with our presuppositions about baptism. Many people who grew up in the church are taught about water baptism before they are taught about Spirit baptism. They’re like the Acts 19 disciples (“We have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit”; see vv. 2–6).

Here’s the verse:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

The way water baptism proponents read this verse is, “In connection with one Spirit, we were all baptized, because we were all baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” But the drinking of the Spirit phrase is the same term used by Jesus in John 7—where he uses that physical representation (water) of a spiritual reality.

Paul in this letter to the Corinthians even appeals to the universal acceptance of Jews and Gentiles. All have been Spirit-baptized, he says. 

Because we’re in this passage, let me clear something up: there is an erroneous teaching that equates Spirit baptism with speaking in tongues. Here’s how the error is taught:

  • Our Pentecostal brothers rightly discern that all believers receive the Spirit.
  • They wrongly interpret that receiving the Spirit is always evidenced by speaking in tongues.4I don’t see evidence in Scripture that the gift of speaking in tongues has ceased or been mandated to go away. I am not a cessationist. I’ve never seen the gift of tongues used appropriately. And we must always remember the orderly, purposeful way in which the church was established, as recorded in the book of Acts.

We must not get distracted, but here is one reason why I don’t think every person receiving the Spirit speaks in tongues. It’s found earlier in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. (vv. 1–10)

This text seems to be saying that all have received (gifts) from the Spirit, but not all have received the same thing (i.e., the same gifts). Gifts are distributed universally but not uniformly. All believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit, but not all speak in tongues.

Point 3: Holy Spirit Baptism Places Us into the Body of Christ

We see this third point about Holy Spirit baptism at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …” What’s the “body” of Christ? Again, it’s a physical representation of a spiritual reality. Paul isn’t speaking of the literal body of Christ. You and I, if we’re followers of Jesus, aren’t literally His body. But we are, in some mysterious and invisible way, united to Him. United to him in love, in purpose, in service. We’re part of the body.

Here’s another verse that I think is a reference to spiritual baptism, not physical baptism:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

By the way, it’s not that big of a deal if you decide this verse does reference physical baptism (some Bible scholars would say that it does). Here’s my purpose in quoting this verse: We again get a physical representation of an inward spiritual reality. This time, it’s a reference not to water but to clothing.

Remember, baptism is identification. It’s like the clothes we wear. We put on Christ because we have been baptized by the Spirit.

Baptism is identification. It’s like the clothes we wear. We put on Christ because we have been baptized by the Spirit.

Again, we see this concept of universal acceptance of Jew and Gentile in the next verse—and more evidence that Galatians 3:27 was about Spirit (not water) baptism:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

I think the following passage—and others like it—also references Holy Spirit baptism, because of the reference to the unity of the body of Christ:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4–6)

Could Paul be referencing water baptism? Possibly. But the context lends itself to Spirit baptism in my estimation. Placement into the body of Christ is of utmost importance. I haven’t counted the different terms for this idea of being placed into His body, but it’s just one more way of saying, “I’m a Christian; I’m in Christ; I’m a believer; I’m born again; I’m saved; I’m a child of God.”

Placement into the body of Christ is of utmost importance.

I will emphasize again, as I did in the previous sermon, that the body of Christ was a radical concept to the early church. It was utterly unexpected, and to some, it was scandalous and disappointing.

A chapter earlier, in Ephesians 3,5By way of context, this verse comes after Paul has begun a prayer for the Ephesians (v. 1), which he won’t continue until verse 14. During his 13-verse interruption, he talks about his apostleship to the Gentiles. Paul wrote that he was going to reveal a mystery that had been revealed to him by Jesus (v. 3); here’s what that mystery, that special revelation, was:

… that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:6)

The body of Christ truly was a radical idea at that time. Remember how Acts began: the apostles were looking for a kingdom for Israel, but God had something else to create—a kingdom of God created through preaching to all the world.  

Notably, outside of Acts, you never again see the outward manifestation of the Spirit associated with baptism. The reason is because God’s giving of the Holy Spirit in these special instances signified the beginning of the new body of Christ. God was calling all people, both Jews and Gentiles, into fellowship with Him; there is no one people group that has advantage over the other when it comes to the blessings of the Christian life.

Having already demonstrated that He supplies His Spirit to all peoples, God now gives His Spirit to all believers upon the moment of belief, and it is not bestowed through apostolic authority or special demonstrations. The church has been established.

God now gives His Spirit to all believers upon the moment of belief.

Conclusion: Unique, Universal & Unifying

Here’s a recap of what we have said about Holy Spirit baptism:

  1. Holy Spirit baptism is distinct from water baptism, and it is greater than water baptism (Mark 1:7–8).
  2. Holy Spirit baptism happens to all believers.
  3. Holy Spirit baptism places us into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

An alternative way of describing these three main points is this:

  1. Holy Spirit baptism is unique.
  2. Holy Spirit baptism is universal.6That is, universal in that it happens to all believers.
  3. Holy Spirit baptism is unifying.7Despite what we’ve made it, it unifies believers because it places us into one body, the body of Christ.

Let’s summarize all of this as plainly as possible.

When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, the Holy Spirit marks you. It happens before you ever think about getting baptized in water. It happens to people now, just like it happened to the Roman centurion Cornelius (in Acts 10): When you believe in Jesus, you are baptized by/in/with the Holy Spirit. In that moment, you are sealed by God for eternity. No amount of water can accomplish that. You could be baptized in an ocean of water by the most righteous person in the world, and it would not gain you eternity. Only God can do that—it’s a mark or seal that comes directly from Him.

This unique identity with the Holy Spirit—and by “unique,” I mean “unequalled”—is the universal identity of all believers. That is why the church, ultimately, is unified in one body. It’s a spiritual unity held in place by the Spirit—and thank God it is, because if it depended upon a unity that we could visibly see on earth, we’d be in trouble.

If you believe in Jesus, you possess something unique. You partake of something universal. And you participate in something unifying. All of this happens in the realm of the unseen.

If you believe in Jesus, you possess something unique. You partake of something universal. And you participate in something unifying. 

My prayer is that you will begin to see these invisible realities through further study of God’s Word.

I also pray that this awareness of the invisible and unseen will help you better understand the visible practice of water baptism, which we’ll begin to cover in the next sermon.