This is one of the more misunderstood ministries of the Holy Spirit and unfortunately the subject of some abuse as well. Some professing Christians tend to believe there is a series of baptisms that take place in the believer – one at salvation, one later when tongues is given, and even one when God empowers us for some task or duty, etc.
And granted, the Bible refers to different types of baptisms in the Bible – water baptism following salvation, baptism of the dead, Spirit-baptism, consecration to a task or role.
Others misunderstand this with indwelling or filling. Being filled with the Spirit can come and go, but baptism is a one-time event that needs not be repeated.
Let me give you a definition of the Spirit’s baptism and then we will consider a few verses. Spirit baptism is “an act which results in every believer becoming a member of the body of Christ and uniting us with Christ by identification with His death.” In other words, it is our placement into Christ at the moment of salvation that enables us to receive all the benefits of being part of the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:12-13 says,
“12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 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.”
In Bible interpretation, grammar matters. “Baptized” appears in what Greeks call the aorist tense. The aorist tense describes action occurring at one time and was not repeated. Thus, Paul says every Christian was baptized by the Spirit one time, and one time only.
John the Baptist recognized this – “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” (John 1:33).
Jesus told the disciplines before His ascension, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; or John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5).
Spirit baptism identifies us with Christ. And the outward baptism that we see modeled in churches as an ordinance is a visual symbol of that spiritual baptism taking place. But it doesn’t mean that the Spirit’s baptism doesn’t occur until we are physically baptized into the water. The Spirit’s baptism happens at salvation; physical baptism happens when the new believer chooses to obey Christ by entering the waters of baptism. By Spirit baptism, we are “officially in Christ.”
Let me give you a few characteristics of the Spirit’s baptism that will hopefully fill out the meaning just a bit more.
- Spirit baptism is universal among believers of this age. There isn’t a single Christian alive today that has not been baptized by the Spirit and can now identifies themselves as being in Christ. (I Cor 12:13)
- When the Holy Spirit falls on someone (e.g., Cornelius in Acts 10-11) that can be understood as Spirit baptism. It happens right at the moment of conversion.
- Spirit baptism is non-experiential. This means you do not actually know when it happens. You just know that whenever that transfer of eternal destinies takes place, so does the Spirit’s baptism. Contrary to what some teach today, you are not slain or knocked over or feel warm fuzzies and that is indicative of the Spirit’s baptism. There is no biblical credence for such an interpretation of events.
- Spirit baptism only happens at conversion. We know this for the aorist tense(s) mentioned before. We also know it because we are never commanded to be baptized by the Spirit – unlike being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18 – present tense).The Spirit’s baptism identifies as members of His body (I Cor 12:13), unified with Him and His church (Eph 4:3-6), and empowered to live the Christian life.
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