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Baptized With the Holy Spirit

Returning to Ephesus, Paul finds a group of disciples, but something seems missing. To clarify matters, he asks them about the Holy Spirit and about baptism. This is how Paul’s thinking goes: if something is lacking in someone’s discipleship, check for the presence of the Spirit. If the Spirit isn’t present, check their baptism! This passage, therefore, raises a number of important questions surrounding baptism and the Holy Spirit.

How many baptisms are there? While (historically speaking) there are two types of baptism recorded in Scripture, the best answer comes from Ephesians 4: one Lord, one faith, one baptism. In the New Covenant, there is only one Christian baptism, that is, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If you have not received this baptism, then you are not following Jesus.

Does this teach us that we should re-baptize people? Many people who were baptized at a young age later have a meaningful experience of re-committing their life to Christ, and seek to mark this by being baptized again. Does that practice find support from this passage? No. Christian baptism is only properly administered once. The disciples in Ephesus had never received Christian baptism in the first place. If you have a powerful experience with God later in life after baptism, this means that your baptism is still working, not that it needs to be replaced!

Why do we still baptize with water? A baptism is a water-washing, and so a Holy Spirit baptism is still a watery action, but now with a more powerful agent than mere water. Jesus washes with fiery Spirit water, whereas John used regular old Jordan River water. This is why Christian baptism is much more than a symbol that pictures cleansing – it is a sacrament that effects cleansing through the Spirit. Still water, but now more than water.

What is “the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” This phrase means: the baptism by which you enter fellowship with the Holy Spirit. It is not a different baptism than water baptism in the Triune name, or some kind of “second blessing” experience. When you are baptized into the strong name of the Trinity, you enter into a new relationship with the Holy Spirit. You are now able to bear His fruit, to display His gifts, and to benefit from His graces, especially His work of uniting you to Christ and assuring you of your salvation.

When does the Spirit come relative to baptism? The short answer is: whenever He wants! As we have seen all throughout Acts, the Spirit blows where He wills – sometimes He fills people before baptism, sometimes during, and sometimes after. But Paul’s line of questioning so strongly connects baptism with the presence of the Spirit that we cannot say that they are unrelated. They are connected realities, but the timing is up to God.

Should all Christians expect to speak in tongues and prophesy as evidence that they have received the Spirit? No. These Christians do, many Christians don’t. 1 Corinthians 12 was written because some Christians didn’t experience such gifts and wrongly concluded that they didn’t have the Spirit, but Paul assured them that they’d been baptized into one body in one Spirit. If you confess Jesus as Lord, and if you have love for God and your fellow believers, then you can be sure that you have the Spirit, even if no one has ever laid hands on you so that you spoke in tongues.

Is “baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus” different than “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” No. This way of referring to baptism is simply a kind of metaphorical shorthand. But just because they are referring to the same baptism doesn’t mean that it is proper to use shorthand language for an actual baptism, and that’s not what Luke describes here. When Paul baptized these men, he used the Triune name.

Two lessons for us: First, if you have not been baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then get baptized! If you have been baptized in this way, then rest assured that you are a partaker of the Spirit of God. Since this is true, you should walk in the Spirit’s love toward God and neighbor.

Second, be content with your experience of baptism – don’t seek to be re-baptized, look for a “second blessing”, or be jealous of what the Spirit enables other believers to do. Rejoice and be glad that you have fellowship with God the Holy Spirit.

Posted on Wednesday, March 04, 2015 by CJ Bowen