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What Does It Mean to Be Baptized in the Holy Spirit?

November 14 2018
November 14 2018

Usually I don’t answer my phone if I don’t recognize the number, but this time I did. It was a deacon at a small Baptist church not too far away from where I lived. They were currently without a pastor and looking for someone to fill the pulpit for an upcoming Sunday. Was I interested in doing the service for them? I was still in seminary and it was only the second time I had been invited to preach a service anywhere before – of course I was interested in doing the service!

When I got there on Sunday morning, I realized we had very different understandings of what it meant to “do the service.” I came prepared to preach the sermon and lead the various prayers. That’s what I had always seen pastors do, so that’s what I thought it meant to “do the service.” However, “doing the service” at this church also meant leading the singing! I’ll leave it to your imagination to paint the picture of what that must have been like…

Even when we say the same thing, we don’t always mean the same thing. “Doing the service” is just one example. I meant one thing; they meant something else. Another example is being “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” All Christians say it, but not all Christians mean the same thing. So, what do we mean when we say Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit?

For some of our brothers and sisters, being baptized in the Holy Spirit is a second blessing that comes after conversion. It’s an expression of maturity and is often marked by speaking in tongues or miraculous gifts. The problem with thinking about it this way is that we end up with two classes of Christians: some who have less of the Spirit and some who have more. Is that what the Bible intends? I don’t think so. As I read the Bible, I don’t see “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as something that stratifies us. I see something that points us to the supremacy of our Savior.

When the Bible talks about being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is usually a contrast between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. For example, Matthew 3:11 says:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

John’s baptism was wonderful – but it was limited. All it could do was point to our sin and call us to repentance. It couldn’t do anything to wash that sin away! It could make us aware of something caught between our teeth, but it couldn’t remove it. The baptism that Jesus offers is different. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, this baptism doesn’t just make us aware of our sin. It washes it away.

If your faith is in Jesus, you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. It isn’t a blessing reserved for only the most mature. It’s a gift that Jesus gives everyone who comes to him in faith. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit means that what your water baptism symbolized, the Holy Spirit realized. When we say we’re baptized in the Holy Spirit, we mean our sins are really forgiven in Jesus Christ as we’re united to him by the Spirit. Being baptized in the Spirit is to be baptized in his power!


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