• Eric Carpenter

Recovering the Biblical Ministry of Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Part 2: PURPOSE AND PRECEDENT(S)

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Meet Josh, a mild-mannered, Catholic-raised follower of Christ. Because Josh had lived in France and was fluent in French, he graciously volunteered to be an interpreter for Charlene, a recent arrival from the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) where French is the national language. Both participated in our church’s Kingdom Courses, and Josh quietly translated for Charlene during classes. One weekend we held a Kingdom retreat during which we focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Charlene volunteered to receive laying on of hands and prayer especially for the filling of the Spirit. I laid hands on Josh who, in turn, laid hands on Charlene. (He was also trying to keep up with interpreting.) In the midst of these prayers, many of us experienced what Josh would later call “an incredible power surge.” This was such a moving experience that Josh threw his head back and cried out in wonder. His eyes filled with tears. Meanwhile, Charlene slid from her chair to her knees and began to cry out in prayer. Josh did his best to keep translating her prayers—a mixture of confession, praise and tears. What a thrilling experience for all of us!

Stop now and think how you would explain this experience from a biblical perspective. For many Christians, it would not qualify as baptism in the Holy Spirit, because—from their perspective—baptism in the Spirit only happens at conversion. Both Josh and Charlene were already Christ-followers when this power surge occurred. For other believers who consider tongues as the initial evidence of baptism in the Spirit, this event doesn’t fit their theological model. Neither Josh nor Charlene had spoken in tongues.

Hmm… I would disagree with both positions. But before we get into the various arguments (this will come in later articles), I will take a fresh biblical look at baptism in the Spirit. And before hunkering down on one theological position or another, let us again all declare our willingness to approach the pertinent scripture passages with open minds. First, I will focus on the purpose of Spirit baptism and then on the precedent(s) of this ministry.

A Clear Purpose

A form of the phrase, baptism in the Holy Spirit is found six times in the New Testament[1]. Recorded in all four gospels, it is also mentioned twice in Acts. Here is Matthew’s version:

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11 (See also Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5; 11:16)

In Matthew’s version, John the Baptist clearly states the purpose of his water baptism, repentance. But he contrasts his baptism with that of the Messiah’s. Much later, Jesus himself declares the purpose of Spirit baptism.

I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49

Jesus’ Spirit baptism was unmistakably about power. This difference in purpose was what the Apostle Paul explained to the disciples in Ephesus who had not yet heard of the Spirit:

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” Acts 19:4

I have also wondered if this wasn’t implied in the basic teaching about the faith referred to in Hebrews:

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Hebrews 6:1-2 (NRSV)

The different purposes of John’s and Jesus’ baptisms are certainly foundational to our understanding. Spirit baptism is about empowerment— power for life and ministry.

Clarifying the purpose of Spirit baptism also helps us understand its Old Testament precedents (background). A quick survey of some Old Testament passages reveals the Spirit empowering people in significant ways prior to Jesus’ coming to earth.

Old Testament Precedents and Foreshadowing of Jesus’ Baptism in the Spirit

A surprising amount of Old Testament precedent exists for the empowering ministry of the Spirit. Consider the following passages:

The Seventy Elders of Israel: Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. Numbers 11:25

Samson the Judge: As he [Samson] approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Judges 15:14 (See also Judges 14:6, 19)

Saul the King: The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you [Saul], and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 1 Samuel 10:6

David the King: So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:13

Micah the Prophet: But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. Micah 3:8

Key Observations:

1) These OT stories of empowerment had nothing to do with conversion. The Spirit vested the person with power for service/ministry.

2) Often, an indicator of power, such as prophecy, accompanied the experience, but not always. Note that speaking in tongues is not mentioned.

3) All of these Spirit experiences empowered leaders of God’s people.

In addition to these stories, there are many other examples of the Spirit’s empowerment in the Old Testament. Scripture doesn’t always use the words Spirit or power, but from the context of the stories, you can see the powerful work of His Spirit—especially in the prophets. Reread some of the dramatic experiences of Elijah and Elisha or Isaiah and Jeremiah. Certainly, they were anointed and empowered by the Spirit for their ministries.

The Transition Between the Two Testaments

Many Christians talk of a “greater power” of the Spirit in the New Testament. For example, the ESV Study Bible explains Pentecost by saying, “the Spirit was coming to people in a new, more powerful way.”[2] However, I can’t find this kind of language in scripture regarding the transition between periods. There is no difference in the intensity of power, but rather in who experiences the power of the Spirit. Read what Joel says:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29

Peter quoted this very passage as he explained Pentecost. When he urged the crowd to repent and receive the gift of the Spirit, he extended the invitation beyond the leaders to everybody. (See Acts 2:38-39). The empowered ministry of people like Elijah in the Old Testament was incredibly effective. This type of ministry, however, was primarily demonstrated in the leaders and prophets. Look again at the promise in Joel. It didn’t focus on potency but on people. Pentecost and its empowerment would be for all people. The Spirit certainly revealed to the early apostles that the gift of the Father (Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4-5) was not just for Jewish leaders, but for all people, for us …“for our children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:39

Jesus, our Model

Jesus lived his life as a perfect model for us. Not just a model of morality, as is so often noted, but also a model of ministry, including Spirit baptism. Yes, he came to John for water baptism as an example for us. But look at the second, often neglected, part of the story— Jesus received the Spirit’s empowering for ministry. Luke’s record makes this explicit:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. Luke 3:21-23

At that very moment, God the Father declared Jesus as the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy. Note that this was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. None of the gospels record a miracle until after Jesus was baptized by the Spirit. This event signaled to John that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Spirit:

And I myself [John] did not know him [Jesus], but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “This man on whom you see the Sprit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One. John 1:33-34

The scriptures confirm that this Spirit baptism was the source of Jesus’ power. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit… (Luke 4:14). Jesus himself quoted the scriptures that revealed the source of his power, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to…” (Luke 4:18 [Isaiah 61:1-3]). Later, when Peter preached to Cornelius and his friends and family, he explained:

…beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. Acts 10:37b-38

The early church recognized that Jesus’ power source was the anointing of the Spirit. This was strikingly similar to the kings, prophets and judges of the Old Testament. It is also clear that the early church understood the baptism in the Holy Spirit as not only modeled by Christ, but as central to the lives of all who would follow Him. It was a vital part of Gospel ministry.

Charlene and Josh

As I have reflected, both Charlene and Josh were empowered for life and ministry at the moment when they felt the “power surge.” They had already been walking with the Lord, but it was then that he gave them the promised gift of the power of the Holy Spirit. Josh’s wife signed up for the next Kingdom Course, saying “I want some of what my husband experienced.”

Josh and Charlene’s “power surge” shouldn’t be rare in the body of Christ today. Scripture and experience model it as part and parcel of all Christian ministry.

[1] Some Evangelicals would argue that 1 Corinthians 12:13 is a seventh reference to Baptism in the Spirit but I will discuss this at great length in a later article.

[2] The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway, 2008. p. 2082

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