The When of Spirit Baptism

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.”

- 1 Corinthians 12:13

Yesterday, we noted that the modern charismatic or Pentecostal movement derives its theology of a second blessing of the Holy Spirit after conversion from certain texts in the book of Acts in which it seems as if at least some disciples did not receive the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit until some time after their conversion to Christ. We see in Acts 2, for example, the Spirit coming upon the Apostles after they had been following Jesus for many years. In Acts 19:1-7, we read of people in Ephesus who had been disciples for a while without having received the Holy Spirit. It is possible that these Ephesian disciples were not actually Christians but were only disciples of John the Baptist, but it is more likely that they were actually people who had believed in Jesus and were just poorly instructed (since they did not even know of the Holy Spirit). Assuming that they were genuine Christians before Paul baptized them and they received the Spirit, we have another example of people who had been saved and yet did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Making episodes such as these normative for the whole of Christian history is problematic. In the first place, they occurred during the Apostolic period, which is foundational by definition, with many events never to be repeated in church history (Eph. 2:19-22). This is confirmed by Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, where our Lord says that the disciples will receive power from the Holy Spirit to take the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. If we follow the progression of the post-conversion baptisms of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, we see that they follow this geographical sequence. These baptisms occur in Jerusalem/Judea (Acts 2; 10), Samaria (8:14-17), and Ephesus (the ends of the earth; see 19:1-7). They confirm the truth of Jesus’ words that the gospel would go to those areas. Spirit baptisms were evidence to the church in the first century that the gospel was to go forth to all nations and were not meant as examples of the normal Christian experience.

Second, the explicit Apostolic teaching on the baptism of the Spirit indicates that a second blessing experience of the Holy Spirit was never meant to be a continuing phenomenon. When the Apostles address the issue of Spirit baptism in their epistles, it is described as a universal experience and not one that only certain believers enjoy. As Paul indicates in today’s passage, we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). He knows of no group of believers that have not been filled with the Holy Spirit.˜

Coram Deo

The greatest danger of positing a second blessing of the Holy Spirit is its creation of a Christian caste system. It divides the church into Spirit-haves and Spirit-have-nots, separating what God has united. This leads to feelings of superiority and inferiority depending on the group into which we fall, which is contrary to how we are to regard ourselves and others (Phil. 2:5-11). If we are in Christ, we have His Spirit, and we do not need a special experience by which He is conveyed to people.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 11:29
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
Ephesians 4:4-6
1 Peter 3:18-22

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