Baptism in the Holy Spirit


Hey, friends— this piece has been a long time coming. I’m excited to share with you about what the Bible has to say about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, an experience that Jesus deeply and ardently desires for His people to have. Every so often I really enjoy writing a more academic and extensive piece than what I usually write, but my prayer is that it would be a resource for you as you investigate this important subject. (For other more academic pieces I’ve written, check out What is Water Baptism? and The Bible, or browse under the “Teaching” topic.)

First, I am aware that there are many opinions and theological slants out there, but I encourage you to read through this piece slowly. And thoughtfully.

Second, nowhere in the Bible will you find the exact terminology “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” but the expression derives from Luke 3:16 where John the Baptist exclaims of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” and in Acts 1:5 where Jesus pronounces, “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” among other places in the New Testament. I will use ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ in this piece to mean: an act in which Jesus immerses the believer in the Holy Spirit, for the purposes of equipping him with supernatural power for Christ-exalting ministry (the level of which he would otherwise lack) and of being an evangelistic witness of the Gospel (the effectiveness of which he would otherwise lack). In this post, I will use ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘baptism with the Holy Spirit’ all interchangeably and synonymously.

Lastly, it is important as we launch into this that you “let God be true, and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). In other words, no matter what your tradition teaches or experience suggests, the Bible is the final authority on this—and all—matters. Perhaps after studying, you may find that your personal theology is actually quite different from what the Word of God teaches. If so, then a revision of your personal theology is in order, which, while that may certainly be challenging, will be gloriously rewarding. (For more on the authority of the Bible, click here to read my thoughts.)

And with that, let’s dive in! (Pun intended?)

1. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is different from salvation.

The Bible is clear that receiving salvation through Jesus Christ and being baptized with the Holy Spirit are two separate experiences. The first experience, salvation, occurs when a person confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9), and the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell inside that person immediately. Ephesians 1:13-14 so gloriously announces, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.” When you believed… this means that the very instant a person chooses to believe in and follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit enters that person and takes up residence. That verse alone is enough to convince me: the Holy Spirit fills a person immediately upon salvation.

I also point to Romans 8:9 (“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ”) and 1 Corinthians 12:13 (“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”) as further evidence that the Holy Spirit fills a person immediately upon salvation.

But this indwelling of the Holy Spirit referenced in the selections above is altogether different from baptism in the Holy Spirit; it cannot be a mere nuance of word choice. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a unique experience subsequent to salvation. The Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal movement in the world, says on their website, “It is significant that the New Testament nowhere equates the expression filled with the Holy Spirit with regeneration (or, salvation through Jesus). It is always used in connection with persons who are already believers.”

I lean on contemporary theologian and pastor John Piper here from his article “You Will Be Baptized in the Holy Spirit”:

“I don’t think that what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the same as what is happening [in Acts 2]. Paul says, ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.’ The context shows that he is referring to a work of the sovereign Spirit who unites all believers to Christ. This is virtually the same as conversion…

“I used to just assume that Paul and Luke were talking about the same thing when they used the word ‘baptism’ and connected it to the Holy Spirit—in other words, that the baptism by the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the baptism with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 were the same… The view I am about to give you [however]…is one that I am increasingly persuaded is correct and desperately needed in the Church.

“We are trying to answer the question: What is the heart or essence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit? I have said that I do NOT think the essence is new birth or conversion or being united to the body of Christ. What then is it? And why do I not think it is the same as what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12:13? I think the essence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit is when a person, who is already a believer, receives extraordinary spiritual power for Christ-exalting ministry.”

Let’s turn to the Bible, the final word on this and all subjects, now, shall we?

Listen to what happened in Scripture: “Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit’ (Acts 19:1-2).” So we find here a group of people who were already believers and who had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Here, obviously ‘receiving’ the Holy Spirit, or being baptized in the Spirit, was a second work of the Spirit to be done in the lives of this group after they had received salvation.

In Acts 1:6-8, the disciples asked Jesus if He would restore the Kingdom to Israel now that He had been resurrected; Jesus responded by saying, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We must interpret this faithfully within its context: nowhere is this scenario is Jesus discussing conversion. In fact, nowhere in Acts 1 and 2 is the issue of regeneration (salvation) in view at all. Jesus must be referring to a different, subsequent work of the Holy Spirit.

This special baptism of the Holy Spirit also happened numerous times in Acts to individuals who were already believers, the clearest example in Acts 2 of course, where a mass of believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit after they had clearly received salvation. All in all, we can conclude that salvation and baptism in the Holy Spirit are two separate experiences.

Now, I want to make abundantly clear in this paragraph that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a requirement for salvation. It, in fact, occurs after salvation, as I have already addressed. Salvation is by faith, through grace—to add further requirements to salvation is an introduction to a works-based faith, which is not only misguided but damning. Therefore, salvation is not the least bit contingent on any deed on our part, such as receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or baptism in water, or church attendance,  or tithing, or anything else. (I explained this in greater detail in a previous post on water baptism, under the heading “Is water baptism necessary for salvation?” so please check that out if you want further clarity on this important note.)

2. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is non-negotiable for believers.

After His resurrection, Jesus bodily lived and interacted with people for 40 days before He ascended into Heaven. Many are familiar with the now-famous “Great Commission,” or the charge from Jesus to the Eleven to declare and demonstrate the Gospel to the entire globe. But before His disciples could begin this thrilling adventure, Jesus instructed, “Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

To put it differently, Jesus was saying to His followers that they would not be fit for service until they were clothed with power via ‘the promise of the Father.’ They were not to start ministry, plant a church, continue the work of Jesus—until they encountered the promise. Based on the context of John 14, 15, and 16, we understand that this promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit. It would have been outright disobedient for any of the Eleven, after Jesus’ command, to ignore waiting for this experience and to continue living life as normal (or, dare I present: sub-normal). Jesus didn’t propose this plan or suggest this idea; He commanded that they were to be filled with the Spirit.

Again I reference John Piper, as he paraphrases Jesus’ words in Acts 1:5 this way: “This is going to happen in just a few days—you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. John [the Baptist] immersed you in water; I am going to immerse you in the Holy Spirit. John drenched you in water; I am going to drench you in the Holy Spirit. This you need to be effective instruments of My life in the world. You need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t you find it remarkable—poetic, even—that Jesus’ earthly ministry was launched by the Holy Spirit coming upon Him (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32) and so was the early Church’s ministry? Clearly, the Book of Acts is really an extension of the Holy-Spirit-empowered ministry of Jesus.

But this emphasis on the Holy Spirit shouldn’t surprise us. We see in various places in the Gospels that an important component of Jesus’ ministry is to baptize people in the Holy Spirit; for example, in Luke 3:16, John the Baptist claims, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming (Jesus), the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” (seen elsewhere in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, and John 1:33, repeated by both Jesus [Acts 1:5] and Peter [Acts 11:16])—and Jesus Himself remarks in John 16:7, “It is to your advantage that I go away (am ascended into Heaven), for if I do not go away, the Helper (Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

We know, too, that seeing believers baptized in the Holy Spirit was a non-negotiable tenet of the early Church’s ministry. It was normative for them to see people receive salvation in Jesus, get baptized in water, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Some instances include Acts 8:14-17 (Peter and John prayed for Samaritans to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit), Acts 9:17 (Ananias was sent to pray for Saul to be filled with the Holy Spirit), Acts 10:34-48 and Acts 11:15-17 (Peter preached the Gospel message to Gentiles and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and later Peter recounted this experience in language that lists salvation, baptism in the Holy Spirit and baptism in water as standard for believers), and Acts 19:2-6 (the first question Paul urgently asked to believers was if they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit).

Of course, you might think my choice to use the term “non-negotiable” when discussing the baptism in the Holy Spirit is dramatic or maybe misleading, but I do not. I am firmly convinced, especially after studying Jesus’ own words on the subject, poring through the Book of Acts, and investigating what other trusted Christian thinkers (ancient and contemporary) have to say, that Jesus never intended this baptism to be a mere suggestion or simply one of many options to assist along the journey. No, He required it of His first followers so that they would be best suited to minister with courage, tenacity, and faith. Today, as then, it is not the Scriptural norm for believers to operate without this baptism, and it results in such believers functioning on a less-than-standard level. As far as my understanding of the Bible has taken me at the time of my writing this piece, I am persuaded that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is absolutely non-negotiable for believers.

3. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is accompanied by a physical, measurable sign.

For the purpose of understanding Scriptural responses to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I did an exhaustive study on every situation in the Book of Acts where a person or group had an explicit interaction with the Holy Spirit. It’s fascinating… but far too lengthy to post here! What I will point out below is every narrative where it was clear that a believer, who had previously accepted Christ, had a supernatural infilling by the Holy Spirit for the first time.

  • Acts 2:4 famously depicts believers in the Upper Room being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” To the best of my study, the original Greek makes use of the word pimplemi which means “to fill; to be completed; furious; uproar.” Students of the Bible will remember that the result of this dramatic infilling was a phenomenon called ‘speaking in tongues.’
  • Acts 8 records a fascinating narrative, sometimes called the Samaritan Pentecost. While on a missions trip to Samaria, Peter and John were preaching the Gospel and were laying their hands on people so that they would receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:16 uses a new piece of Greek language to describe this: baptizo and hyparcho, which together means to have or possess, contain, or be the property of.
    • Once the believers were filled with the Spirit, we can confidently conclude that a physical sign occurred, because Simon, a new convert to Christianity (whose previous profession was a sorcerer), was dazzled by what he observed when people underwent the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It must have been more than a personal feeling or an internal adjustment in those who received, because Scripture accounts that Simon saw evidence (8:18).
    • Luke, the author of Acts and a theologian himself, does not specify what Simon saw; this is the only narrative of the four explicit narratives in Acts that does not record ‘speaking in tongues’ as the result of baptism in the Holy Spirit. As I mentioned previously, however, the evidence must have been objectively measurable. It would not be inappropriate to suggest that these believers spoke in tongues, or at least had a verbal response. Even scholars who find speaking in tongues as related to baptism in the Holy Spirit controversial, still agree that speaking in tongues is probably what happened.
  • Acts 10:44-46 tells the story of Peter preaching a powerful sermon, and suddenly his listeners (who were all Gentiles) were filled with the Holy Spirit and started to speak in tongues and vocally praise God.
    • Then in Acts 11:15-17, Peter recalls the words of Jesus (“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”), and identifies their speaking in tongues as the evidence of this baptism.
  • Finally, Acts 19 recounts Paul coming across some of John the Baptist’s disciples, faithfully looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. After briefly sharing the Gospel with them, they “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5), and then, “when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (verse 6).

These four instances are largely accepted by all credible theologians and scholars as recorded narratives of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit for the first time. The result of 3 out of the 4 included speaking in tongues (at least), leaving us to conclude that the Samaritan Pentecost likely involved a similar result with observable consequences.

From both a pastor’s standpoint and a teacher’s standpoint, I think it’s absolutely fair to expect that baptism in the Holy Spirit will include speaking in tongues. Let me point out, though, that speaking in tongues is not the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but rather happens because of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

As a follow-up question to what I’ve presented, scholars of the Bible will inevitably look to 1 Corinthians 12:30, in which Paul fairly asks, “Do all speak in tongues?” The answer Paul is looking for is no. The context of 1 Corinthians chapters 11 (and possibly some preceding chapters) through 14 is proper practices for believers during corporate ministry gatherings (think “church”), including instructions on leadership functions, dress codes, Communion around the Lord’s Table, and spiritual gifts. In fact, during chapters 12-14, when Paul discusses spiritual gifts, he is only addressing the gifts’ roles in public, not private, ministry. He even specifies that speaking in tongues publicly during “church” is typically for the purpose of evangelism of unbelievers (see 1 Corinthians 14:22) and ought to be followed by the interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). In other words, one can rephrase Paul’s question as, “Does everyone have the gift of speaking in tongues, to be accompanied by an interpretation, for the purpose of public church ministry and evangelism?” to which we can obviously answer, “Of course not.” So, it is essential that believers clearly differentiate between this sort of gift that God gives to some for public ministry, and the sort of manifestation that spontaneously occurs as a result of baptism in the Holy Spirit. One is for public ministry use; the other is necessarily personal. And because baptism in the Holy Spirit is intended for every believer, we can rightly conclude that speaking in tongues (not the public gift but the personal manifestation) is also for every believer.

And, my last point:

4. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for every believer.

If you want more power, more boldness, and more of the ability to influence the world for Jesus, then you need the baptism in the Holy Spirit! To function without the baptism in the Holy Spirit is to function on a level of power and evangelism lower than what Jesus intends for you.

It’s Jesus’ will that you are baptized in the Holy Spirit! It is not just for “super-believers” (whoever they are) and it’s not just for your favorite podcast preacher. Just as baptism in water is for every believer, baptism in the Holy Spirit is for every believer!

For those of you who may not have experienced this wonderful baptism yet, please don’t get bent out of shape or discouraged. It is not contingent on your doing, trying, or hoop-jumping. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a prize for having good morals, and it’s not a reward for being especially favored by God. Let me say that I prayed and sought to receive this baptism for years, but only when I stopped overthinking it did I receive it. I was sitting on the front row of my church in Dothan, Alabama one day while I was still in high school. While listening to my pastor preach a sermon, I suddenly was filled with joy and received the baptism right there during a service! I began to whisper in tongues under my breath. No one knew at the time, and it was not a very dramatic moment. It was personal, sweet, and joy-filled. For others, perhaps it’s around an altar with many other passionate worshipers. Or maybe it will happen while you are reading your Bible tonight in bed!

So don’t be consumed with receiving this baptism. Relax and enjoy Jesus. He will baptize you at the perfect time—and it may be when you least expect it!

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this presentation on the baptism in the Holy Spirit and can use it as a personal resource. I had a lot of fun putting it together! I pray that those of you who are waiting for the Holy Spirit, much as Jesus commanded His disciples to do, would receive!

Yes, receive the Holy Spirit!