When the Spirit Baptizes Us

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

- Acts 1:8

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Pentecostal and charismatic churches have grown exponentially. These churches remain some of the fastest-growing churches around the world, and aspects of Pentecostal and charismatic theology have affected nearly all other Christian churches. Thus, Pentecostal and charismatic thinking will be with us for some time to come.

Distinctively, the Pentecostal and charismatic movements affirm that there is a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, usually accompanied by speaking in tongues, that follows conversion. In essence, this theology creates two kinds of Christians—those baptized by the Spirit and those who have not yet been so baptized.

The doctrine of a second baptism of the Holy Spirit comes mainly from how Pentecostals and charismatics read the book of Acts. In Acts 2:1–41; 8:9–25; 10; and 19:1–10, we read about people who seem to have been believers before receiving the Holy Spirit, although in some of these cases the presence of actual Christian faith prior to the Spirit’s baptism is disputable. Pentecostals and charismatics see in these passages proof that one can be a Christian before receiving the Spirit.

Yet, this view presents difficulties. First, we are to interpret narrative texts in light of didactic, or teaching, texts. The Apostles never tell us directly that some Christians lack the Holy Spirit. Second, Acts reveals that these events occurred in Jerusalem (2:1–41), Samaria (8:9–25), Caesarea (chap. 10), and the gentile city of Ephesus (19:1–10), which the Jews regarded as part of the ends of the earth. This matches the pattern that Jesus gives in Acts 1:8 as to how the gospel will spread. This is no accident. Jesus predicted the spread of the gospel in a particular order, and God gave in each instance a Pentecost-type experience that proved He was bringing people of every tribe and tongue into the kingdom. By giving the Spirit specifically in each case, the Lord showed that Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles are now all part of the kingdom through faith in Christ alone. The baptisms in Acts are not normative but were given to make a particular point about who constitutes God’s people.

The book of Acts describes a transitional period in the history of redemption from old covenant Israel to the new covenant church. The Epistles give us the normative reality for the post-Apostolic era, and the Epistles assume that every Christian has received the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). At conversion, we are baptized in the Spirit.

Coram Deo

One problem with believing that some believers do not have the Holy Spirit is that it creates a two-class system of Christianity and divides the body. Not all of us are at the same stage of spiritual growth, but all of us who have trusted in Christ have received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is working in us to conform us to Christ.

Passages for Further Study

Romans 5:1–5
1 Corinthians 6:19–20
Galatians 3:1–9
Jude 20–23

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