What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? How does a person receive it?

It's ironic that Christians have argued so much about the baptism of the Spirit, when the apostle Paul used it as one of his main arguments to prove that we are all united in Christ!

Some churches believe that the baptism of the Spirit is an experience different than initial salvation. They see it as a second experience that gives a person much greater spiritual power and boldness, and the ability to live a more victorious Christian life. Some groups teach that the baptism is accompanied by such signs as speaking in tongues.

The Bible does not actually use the term “baptism of the Spirit” very often. John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would come and baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). In Acts 1:5, Jesus recalled John's words, and told His followers that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from then. The spectacular events of the day of Pentecost ten days later seem to be the obvious fulfillment of His words (see Acts 2). The only other mention in Acts (11:16) refers back to Pentecost, explaining that Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, had an experience very similar to the Pentecost manifestations.

While these passages make it clear that the believers in Acts 2 experienced a baptism of the Spirit, we do not find a clear explanation of what that baptism means. Nor do we know whether there were other works of the Spirit that were happening at the same time.

The clearest explanation of the baptism appears in I Corinthians 12:13. Paul is dealing with a situation where the Corinthian church was splitting into factions over the issue of spiritual gifts. Overemphasis on certain spectacular gifts had led to the attitude that some people had the most desirable gifts, while others were deficient. In response, Paul exclaims, "We're all one! Don't divide up into cliques!" And to prove his point, he explains, "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" (I Corinthians 12:13).

His main point? All believers share the reality of being baptized by the Spirit.

What does it do? It makes us part of the body of Christ, the Church.

When did it happen? If every believer has been baptized in the Spirit, then it must happen at the moment you accept Christ and become a Christian.

Great Christians down through the years have often experienced dramatic encounters with God after salvation. There is no reason to deny that this is a genuine way that God works with His people. It is also true that equally devout, effective Christians have gone through life without such a “second work” of grace.

We may use whatever words we want to describe our experiences with God. But it is most accurate to say that the Bible uses “baptism of the Spirit” to refer to one of the wonderful things that God does for us the instant we trust Christ and enter His family!

Author: Dr. John Bechtle.

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