Baptism of the Holy Spirit

When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all” (vv. 6-7).

- Acts 19:1-7

Looking back over the twentieth century, few could deny that one of the most significant movements in the church and even the entire world has been the charismatic or Pentecostal movement. Talk of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit has been at the forefront of both popular and academic theological discussions, and this has been due in large part to the spread of Pentecostalism and its claims that sign gifts such as healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues continue today.

A key tenet of the Pentecostal or charismatic movement is the claim that believers receive a second work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. One can believe in Christ without being baptized in the Holy Spirit—without receiving the Spirit in power at some point after one’s conversion to Christ. Essentially, this view teaches that one can be a believer without having the Holy Spirit or at least without having Him in all His fullness. One must pray specifically to receive the Holy Spirit; He does not automatically indwell a Christian with power and gifts for ministry upon conversion.

Belief in this second work—this baptism—of the Holy Spirit comes from personal experience and a certain reading of the book of Acts. Many people have testified to a change that happened to them after experiencing this Spirit baptism, speaking of a movement from a dry or ordinary spiritual life to one that is vibrant and powerful. Further, many people read the Acts of the Apostles, see that God promised to send His Spirit upon the Apostles who were already believers (Acts 1:1-11), read of the Spirit coming at Pentecost and showing His presence by the gift of tongues (2:1-3), and then conclude that this sequence is normative for Christians throughout history. The fact that the book of Acts records some believers as apparently receiving the Holy Spirit after having been disciples for some time (for example, 19:1-7) is also taken as further evidence for a post-conversion baptism of the Spirit.

Few would deny that believers sometimes enjoy post-conversion encounters with God that can be turning points in their spiritual lives. The question is whether these represent the coming of the Spirit to reside in a believer in whom He had never dwelt before. Tomorrow, we will consider this issue more carefully, but today, we conclude with an admonition that our experiences, while important, can never be determinative of our theology. Human beings often deceive themselves (Jer. 17:9), so we need the Word of God for sound doctrine.

Coram Deo

All Christians are theologians because all believers develop ideas about God that shape who they are and what they do. The only question is whether we are going to be good theologians or bad theologians. Good theologians determine their theology by the Word of God, seeking to be faithful to its teaching and not to make their experiences the determining factor of what is true and false. Let us all strive to be good theologians who learn theology according to God’s Word.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 13:1-5
Isaiah 66:2
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Hebrews 4:12-13

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343