The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

“John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ ” (v. 16).

- Luke 3:15–17

One well-known historian of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has referred to the twentieth century as the “century of the Holy Spirit.” This is because of the renewed interest in the Holy Spirit that has accompanied the growth of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the previous century. Today, the growth of these churches continues, and their doctrine of a second, postconversion baptism of the Holy Spirit continues to be taught in both their local congregations and in their seminaries.

In our next study, we will discuss the timing of the baptism of the Spirit in more detail and why we believe that it is not to be understood as a postconversion experience. Our purpose today is to consider what the baptism of the Spirit actually is. John the Baptist, we read in today’s passage, looked forward to the Messiah’s work of baptizing the people of God with the Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). In so doing, he was undoubtedly drawing on texts such as Joel 2:28–29, wherein the Lord promised the old covenant people that in the last days He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh.

This was a precious promise for old covenant believers, for it is evident that they did not have the same experience of the Holy Spirit that we do. Certainly, they enjoyed the Spirit’s regenerating work, but the work of regeneration is not the same as the gifting of the Spirit. Not all old covenant believers were empowered for ministry as we are today. This is evident from Numbers 11:29, wherein Moses expresses his desire that all of God’s people would receive the Spirit and prophesy. He was looking to the day when the Spirit’s gifting would not be limited to just a few Israelites but would belong to every believer.

Acts 2 also shows us that the purpose of the baptism of the Spirit is to empower people for ministry, but it describes the first baptism of the Spirit in the new covenant era as well. Prior to the events of that first Pentecost, the disciples were timid and fearful. After Pentecost, however, they went forth from Jerusalem with boldness, planting churches and equipping other believers for ministry. The rest of the book of Acts details the empowered ministry of the early church.

In baptizing the people of God with the Holy Spirit, our Creator distributes spiritual gifts to us. First Corinthians 12 informs us that all of these gifts are necessary to the healthy functioning of the body. So, we should not be envious of the gifts of others, and we should endeavor to use our gifts to benefit other believers.

Coram Deo

If you are a Christian, you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and have been empowered for ministry. Thus, if you know what your gifts are, you are responsible to use them for the benefit of others. If you do not know what your gifts are, you are responsible to discover them so you can put them to use. Talking with your elders and church leaders as well as mature Christian friends can help you discern and use your gifts for ministry.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 61:1–4
Zechariah 4:6
Acts 1:5
Ephesians 4:1–16

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.