I want to share my thoughts on one huge area of confusion that surrounds the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I want to talk about the phrases “baptism with the Holy Spirit” – a phrase written in Scripture, but that has caused a lot of misunderstanding and even abuse.
At the outset however, I want to clarify that what I share is my present understanding of these terms. I still look through a mirror dimly, and fully recognizing that I am talking about the 3rd Person of the Divine Trinity. So I do not speak as one who knows – but rather from the experience and understanding I have to date. So I hope that you read this (and for that matter, all of my thoughts), knowing the humility and limitations with which I write this.
One of the incredible facets of the Holy Spirit’s interaction with us is that He comes to live within us. See these verses written about the Holy Spirit who has been given to us:
§ John 14:16-17 – I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
§ 1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
I want to make sure we recognize the impact of the word “abide” and “live.” He doesn’t want to drop by every now and then. He doesn’t want to visit on special occasions (when I’ve been particularly holy). He has come to this earth to LIVE and permanently reside within us. So He wants to make our hearts to be His permanent home.
It is the permanence of the Holy Spirit’s intentions that is truly humbling to me. And with that in mind, it is especially sad when I think about how I disgrace the home of the Holy Spirit when I choose to intentionally sin. To sin is to insult the home that I have invited the Holy Spirit to live in. So it is sad that I don’t always see it that way. And even when I am quick to each for the blood of Jesus to cleanse me of my sins (as I should – 1 John 1:7), I still forget to recognize that my sins dirty the home of the Holy Spirit.
So how can we understand the way the Holy Spirit resides within us? Because of Who the Holy Spirit is, He doesn’t come to occupy merely a part of us. We are His temple, so He desires to occupy ALL of ourselves. So the Holy Spirit comes to FULLY inhabit us. And it is in this context that I understand the baptism and filling with the Holy Spirit.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit:
In the gospels, we read that Jesus would be completely different from the greatest of the Old Covenant saints (John the Baptist) because He would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist immersed people with water. But Jesus would immerse us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples just before His ascension that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). And this happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1).
And I believe that all of us need to be baptized or immersed WITH the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Who we are to be IMMERSED in, and by Whom we are washed clean by His regeneration and renewing power (Titus 3:5).
The word baptism can be misleading because it is a confusing religious word. So let’s use the word immersion instead of baptism, because that’s easier for all to understand, and that is really what baptism means. And to be immersed in water is to be completely surrounded and covered by water.
And here are some truths that we must remember about the immersion with the Holy Spirit:
1. The immersion with the Holy Spirit is NOT a one-time event that happens solely at conversion.
We can incorrectly think that the immersion with the Holy Spirit is onetime because our immersion with water IS one-time. But let’s remember, water immersion is just a one-time external symbol of what should be a constant inner reality – of our death to self and life with Christ. But the immersion with the Holy Spirit is NOT a symbol.
Now I believe that our initial immersion with the Holy Spirit happens when any person first FULLY surrenders his/her heart to Jesus Christ. Now, let me be clear that this can be very different than saying a prayer and confessing one’s sins. Surrender is not complicated, but it can be very difficult to do – because we love ourselves. But when folks readily recognize their sinfulness, and also readily recognize the power of the Holy Spirit to wash them and make them completely clean (just like water makes our dirty physical bodies clean, the Holy Spirit alone can make our dirty spiritual bodies clean), then Jesus is faithful to immerse (baptize) all such believers with the Holy Spirit.
2. Immersion with the Holy Spirit is a lifestyle, not an emotional experience
All of us Christians can readily admit that we are ALL in need of repeated such immersions with the Holy Spirit – because we constantly sin and fall short of God’s glory.
So we should constantly seek to be re-immersed with the Holy Spirit, where we surrender all of our selves to Him, and ask Him to rule our lives. I find that the majority of what passes off as the immersion with the Holy Spirit is just an explosion of emotions. There are countless counterfeit stories of the baptism with the Spirit because people subject themselves to psychological manipulators who lead them into a baptism and immersion of emotions. And many are sadly satisfied with such a counterfeit, because all they want to do is “to belong to the club” or “to have a good testimony with others.” But so much of this is the blind leading the blind.
3. For the born-again Christian, being immersed with the Holy Spirit is the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit
With what I have written above, it should be clear that this expression of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) and being “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3; 7:55) can easily be understood as well. If we see the immersion of the Holy Spirit to be the perpetual longing of our hearts, then we will also automatically seek to be completely immersed with the Holy Spirit, so that we are filled with Him, and are always full of the Holy Spirit. Just like we are most at ease when our cars and motorbikes re filled with petrol and its tires filled with air, so also we are most at ease spiritually when we have gone to God and been filled again to the brim (and overflowing) with the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, He said that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). But in the actual account of that event in the next chapter, we read that they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). So I see that the baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit are fundamentally linked.
4. Being immersed with the Holy Spirit NEED NOT be accompanied by some gift of the Holy Spirit (some Charismatic groups usually specify this to be speaking in tongues).
While I do believe that all the gifts, including the gift of tongues, is very present today, I do NOT believe that a gift of the Holy Spirit is the definitive sign of being presently immersed with the Holy Spirit. The gift of tongues does accompany the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, so it is definitely one possible way in which the Holy Spirit can . But I read clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:30 that all do not speak in tongues. And in this passage, Paul was NOT rebuking such people, but equating it with the reality that all did not heal or all did not work miracles. So to me, it is clear that I cannot tie the immersion of the Holy Spirit to the evidence of a supernatural gift.
But here’s the biggest reason why I think looking for one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts can be misleading: The Holy Spirit FIRST desires to seal me as a part of God’s family, BEFORE He desires to make me a useful member of God’s family.
Good earthly parents do not seek for their children to first develop various talents of music, language, art, etc – that can be useful to others. Rather, good parents want their children to develop solid and healthy relationships with the parents. So also, God wants His children to first learn to relate to Him as a Father, way before they are useful to Him and can help others in His family (that is what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us).
And for people to relate to God as a Father, we need the Holy Spirit, “by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). Many Christians are busy looking for supernatural gifts, rather than seeking to be rightly connected with their God as their altogether loving Father.
5. Being immersed with the Holy Spirit creates a LONGING for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The balance to what I have written in 2 above is this: Jesus immerses us with the Holy Spirit so that we can be placed as members into the Body of Christ. But here’s where the rubber hits the road: If indeed I am a member of the Body of Christ, then I have a specific function that I MUST play in order that the Body of Christ functions properly.
There is a false humility that is downright evil that believes that I am of no use to God. We think this way because we know that God is self-sufficient and doesn’t need us. Yes, that is true, but that is only a part of the truth. The whole truth is that Jesus GAVE Himself to be broken, but SO THAT we could be His Body. So it is not that Jesus NEEDED us to complete His Body, but that Jesus offered His Body to be broken and CHOSE us to complete His Body.
This grafting into the Body of Jesus Christ is done by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). So it is an insult to the sacrifice of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit when we act as meaningless members of Christ’s body.
And as I close, let me quote what I had written earlier in this series on what must be the state of our hearts to constantly welcome the Holy Spirit to immerse and fill us:
So if we maintain our honesty, hunger, and humility before God, we can also believe with FULL CONFIDENCE that God freely gives us the Holy Spirit when we ask Him – just like any earthly father or mother would feed their children when they are hungry. So may we also open up our spirits to God, and accept with gratitude the FREE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
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