Chapter 6: Baptisms

He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They answered him, "We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Acts 19:2
Opening prayer: Father, there is a lot of misunderstanding about baptisms. Please open our hearts to understand both water baptism and being baptized with the Holy Spirit, we pray in Jesus' name.

"Into what, then, were you baptized?"

When we were kids, we used to enjoy bending the rules. It was a fun game to see how much we could get away with. It didn't seem like much fun if we had to be completely obedient to our parents.

Durable joy comes from a completely different source. Durable joy comes from acting in faith on God's word in Scripture, even if it seems peculiar or unpleasant to do so.

The next few chapters will help you understand subjects that often puzzle and trouble new believers. These subjects must be important to your joy, because the devil has inspired centuries of conflict and confusion around them.

The first of these subjects is baptism. Most people are familiar with the concept of water baptism, but there's another baptism that can bring even more joy to a believer, as we shall see.

Good Intentions Don't Count

The apostle Paul met folks in Ephesus that thought they were Christians but didn't have a clue. We read the beginning of the story in Acts 19:

1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all. (NKJV)

This little group apparently had sincerity and faithfulness, since they were observing something besides the local flavor of idolatry. They might have even called themselves disciples of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit gave Paul the discernment that they were missing something.

Paul took three steps to get the Ephesians on the right track:

  • He explained the plan of salvation more clearly, as we have done in the preceding chapters of this book.
  • He explained the proper meaning of water baptism. This is implied by the fact that they wanted to be baptized in water again.
  • He introduced and explained the concept of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Water Baptism

Our word baptism translates the Greek word baptisma, which means dipping or immersion. It is related to another Greek word baptismos, which refers to ceremonial washings performed by Jewish people.

John the Baptist taught baptism (baptisma) as a symbol of repentance from sin. Later, the disciples of Jesus taught baptism as a symbol of identification with their Lord.

The symbolism of Christian water baptism is very simple. When a person is lowered under the water, the picture is that of a person dying or drowning voluntarily, without putting up a struggle. When the new believer is lifted back above the surface of the water, it is a picture of being raised from the dead by God's power.

The obvious parallel is to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus permitted the Roman soldiers to take His life, and His lifeless body was laid into an underground tomb. Three days later, God raised the body of Jesus to life.

When we are baptized, we declare that we're voluntarily dying to our old way of ignorance and spiritual death. We thereby identify with our Lord, who died for us. We confess that our old life (our old religion) was powerless to save us, and we willingly give it up.

When we're lifted to the surface, we declare that by trusting in God's power and grace, we will be raised to walk in newness of life.

You should be baptized in water

Jesus voluntarily submitted to be baptized by John the Baptist, not to earn His salvation but to serve as an example for us. You should be baptized in water as a sign to the outside world that you are a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. You should be baptized as an act of obedience to the commands of Jesus.

In the last two verses of the gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 19-20 we read:

19 Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This is clear and simple. Jesus is not describing the plan of salvation. He is telling the disciples to go and teach other people to follow Jesus. People who follow Jesus should do certain things as an act of faith in the principles shown in Scripture.

Does water baptism save you?

At Calvary, one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus repented and gave his heart to Jesus before he died. Jesus said to him, "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Nobody took that criminal down from the cross and baptized him before he died. But he had Jesus' personal assurance that he would instantly go to Heaven on his death.

Most of us have a bit more available time than the criminal on the cross. We can surely find time, between now and the grave, to obey a simple request of Jesus.

Some denominations teach that baptism - in accordance with their rules and doctrine - is required for salvation. Don't believe it. If you study the Scriptures for yourself, you might discover that these same denominations deviate from Scripture in some of their other doctrines, too.

Infant Baptism

Only one group of people ever got baptized in the Bible: those old enough to make a conscious decision to follow the Lord. Baptism was (and should be) an act of obedience performed after a person begins to trust in Jesus. Infant baptism is not discussed in Scripture, so any doctrines concerning infant baptism originate from denominational traditions. My personal opinion is that infant baptism has questionable value. A baby is too young to make a conscious decision to follow Jesus. It's commendable that the parents want the child to follow Jesus, just as it's commendable to pray that a particular stubborn sinner be converted. However there is no Scriptural assurance of salvation attached to infant baptism.

On the other hand, many churches perform Baby Dedications. The parents bring their young ones forward for the pastor and congregation to pray over them. In this way, the parents dedicate themselves to raising the children to follow Jesus, in accordance with the Scriptures.

If you were baptized as an infant, please don't be angry if your pastor suggests getting baptized to celebrate your new birth in Jesus. If you rebel against this simple command of Jesus, then ask yourself "Why not?" It's just part of growing up. You should make a public identification with the death, burial and resurrection of your Lord. Receive water baptism, so you can move on to the more exciting baptism: being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Immersed in the Holy Spirit

The people that Paul encountered said they were disciples of John the Baptist. They had been baptized in water as a symbol of their repentance from sin. But they very likely were converted and baptized secondhand, by traveling disciples of John. Their ignorance of the Holy Spirit was not John's fault.

John's teaching concerning baptism and the Holy Spirit is featured prominently in all four Gospels. Let's start with Matthew chapter 3, verses 11-12:

11 "I indeed baptize you with water unto 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 fire. 12 "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (NKJV)

These verses introduce the concept of Holy Spirit baptism as well as the fire of judgment. Jesus will baptize His people with the Holy Spirit and gather them like wheat into His barn. Those who rebel against His Holy Spirit will be torched. It's a simple black-and-white choice. There will be no half-burned weeds in Heaven, and no half-toasted wheat grains from Purgatory.

We see the same message in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 7-8:

7 And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. 8 "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (NKJV)

In Luke 3:16-17, we see the same message:

16 John answered, saying to all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." (NKJV)

This account is very similar to the one in Matthew, with its reminder that not everything growing in the Lord's field is real wheat.

The Gospel of John, chapter 1 verses 32-33 has a slightly different perspective, quoting John the Baptist after he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan:

32 And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'" (NKJV)

When you see the Gospel accounts side-by-side, several points jump out at you:

  • This must be an important subject, to be mentioned in all four Gospel accounts.
  • John the Baptist taught this on multiple occasions, both before and after he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
  • The precise phrase is being "baptized with the Holy Spirit."
  • The baptism with the Holy Spirit is an important part of the Christian experience. Like water baptism, it is not an absolute requirement for salvation. However, like water baptism, it is a matter of obedience. If you rebel against either type of baptism, maybe you aren't really saved.

As we saw earlier, the word baptism means dipping, used in the Greek language to describe the process of dying a garment or drawing water from a pot. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit means to be immersed in God and brought up filled or drenched in Him.

This is a very precious offer from God. The Creator of the universe is willing to immerse you in Himself. The implications are staggering. To refuse this precious offer ("My denomination says that stuff is from the devil.") is to insult the One who created you, and to risk being left behind on the threshing floor.

If you have been innocently ignorant of this baptism, please keep reading. The Lord has a very special treat for you.

The Lord's Opinion

Jesus also spoke of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in Acts chapter 1, verses 4-8:

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; 5 "for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (NKJV)

This passage gives us even more insight:

  • This was our Lord's final conversation with His disciples before ascending to Heaven.
  • The disciples' minds were cluttered with ambitious notions and questions about Jesus' Kingdom. Jesus brushed all that aside to focus their attention on their upcoming baptism with the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus commanded the disciples not to begin their evangelistic work until after receiving this baptism. The disciples were already saved. They had trusted in Jesus for their salvation and had been baptized in water.
  • The disciples were already trained. They had been personally tutored by Jesus for three years. They had already made missionary trips, preaching the Gospel. They had worked powerful miracles and cast out demons in Jesus' name.
  • The disciples were saved, water baptized, trained, sincere and enthusiastic. They had already achieved certain things in Jesus' name. But they had not yet received power.

You might be saved, water baptized, trained, sincere and enthusiastic. Perhaps you have already achieved certain things in Jesus' name. But until you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, you have not received the power that Jesus considered essential.

Until you receive this power, you will be trying to do the work of God in your own strength. God may bless you partially, but the fullness will elude you.

The very first Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not subtle, as we see in Acts 2:

2 And suddenly there came a sound from Heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (NKJV)

This was different than anything the disciples had ever experienced before. In fact, it's probably different from anything that you have ever experienced.

Wasn't this a one-time event, never to be repeated?

To a certain degree, that is true. God chose a special, spectacular manifestation of the Holy Spirit to officially launch His church.

However, special outward manifestations of God's power accompanied several events in the Book of Acts. One notable event was Acts 4, verses 29 through 31:

29 "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 "by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (NKJV)

The disciples were praying for boldness, because they were beginning to encounter opposition. The disciples had great faith, and they were praying for God to keep His promises (always a good idea). God sent a tiny manifestation of His power to shake the building, and sent a mighty manifestation of His power to give His people boldness.

Another special event is recorded in Acts 10, verses 44-47:

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (NKJV)

Peter was preaching the Gospel to Gentiles who feared the God of Israel but were not born Jewish. As Peter spoke, they believed his message and began trusting Jesus for their salvation. In response to their faith, God sent the Holy Spirit upon them in great power. The believers who were "of the circumcision" were astonished because the Gentiles had: "...received the Holy Spirit just as we have."

A third special event is in Acts 18:25-26.

18 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. (NKJV)

Wait a minute! None of these events happened just like Acts chapter 2.

That's exactly my point. God often manifests His miraculous power for a special occasion. But He never allows Himself to be put into a ritualistic pattern.

God does this for a reason. In the five books of Moses, God precisely spelled out important worship procedures. He called for special types of sacrifices to be performed by specially dedicated priests on specially designated occasions in a specially designed Tabernacle. He did this for a reason: to point forward to His Son, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. All the rituals and Tabernacle furniture painted a picture of Jesus, so we would be sure to recognize Him when He came. Only the Messiah could fulfill every symbol of Tabernacle worship.

In the New Testament, Jesus came and perfectly fulfilled the prophecies. The Mosaic Law and Levitical worship procedures are now like maps in a museum. They still paint an accurate picture, but we no longer put our trust in them. The Messiah has already come. Now we put our trust in Him.

Under the New Covenant, Jesus says, "Follow Me." If we obediently follow Jesus and become baptized with the Holy Spirit, God Himself comes to dwell in our hearts. If we submit to the Holy Spirit and walk uprightly, He will transform our lives from the inside out.

If we continue steadfastly walking in faith, submitted to the Holy Spirit, we become a functional part of the Body of Christ, the Church, with Jesus Himself as our Head. This composite picture, then, will look like Jesus. Individually we still have good days and bad days, but we still have a role to play in His body.

The net effect is that when a non-believer encounters the Church, he or she should encounter Jesus. The Holy Spirit will work through us to speak to that person's heart. From time to time, the Holy Spirit may require a miracle to be done through our hands or through our prayers. If we are functioning parts of Christ's body, miracles should be a normal part of our lives.

Many denominations teach that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit happens at the same time as conversion. They think all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit automatically.

There is a grain of truth in that. All believers do receive the Holy Spirit in their hearts at the moment of conversion. That's what it means to be born again: to be given a supernatural implant of God's own nature within us. The Lord's disciples were saved. They were born again, and had an implant of God's Holy Spirit in their hearts. But until Pentecost, they were not yet empowered for service.

Empowered for Service

A passage in Acts 8 illustrates this principle:

5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city. 9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. (NKJV)

Make no mistake about it: God was working powerfully through Philip. People were repenting of their sins and being baptized. The sick were healed. Demons were cast out. "And there was great joy in that city" (verse 8). Even the local sorceror was impressed. God was working mighty things - through Philip. But there's more to the story:

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

We learn quite a bit from this story:

  • There was nothing wrong with the work that Philip had done. God had used him mightily to accomplish His will.
  • The people of Samaria were genuinely saved and water-baptized before being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • The joy they felt was genuine, and proof that the Holy Spirit had already begun working in their hearts.
  • The miracles were done by Philip, who had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We are not told why Philip didn't pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. My personal conjecture is that God deliberately worked this way to illustrate a principle: that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is separate from the infilling of the Holy Spirit in power.

So what happens when people become baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Good question! We've already seen some examples in the Book of Acts. At Pentecost, the disciples miraculously spoke in other languages, so that all the foreigners in Jerusalem observing the feast were able to hear in their own languages. At other times, people spoke in unknown tongues or began to prophesy. Sometimes there were miracles and healings. In every case, the believers seemed to have a different type of experience.

Despite the diversity of experiences, we can generalize that the baptism with the Holy Spirit does two things to the believer:

  • The believer receives spiritual gifts.
  • The believer begins to bear spiritual fruit.

Both the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit are profound subjects, discussed in later chapters of this book.

Now let's return to our original story in Acts 19 and read verses 4-6:

4 Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (NKJV)

What should strike you about this scene is how normal it is. You can see these activities (conversion, water baptism, laying on of hands, and Holy Spirit gifts) on a regular basis in a good, Bible-believing church.

This was a small group of people, and the display of the Holy Spirit's power didn't shake the ground or part the river in the middle. And it's clear that Paul and the other early believers believed the infilling with the Holy Spirit and the gifts were a separate transaction from salvation and water baptism.

What's the formula for getting baptized with the Holy Spirit?

In our Scriptural examples, we saw believers receive the Baptism several different ways:

  • The disciples at Pentecost received the Holy Spirit by praying as a group as commanded by Jesus. They had been specifically promised this baptism by Jesus, and were acting in faith, expecting to receive it.
  • The Gentiles at Cornelius' house received the Holy Spirit while Peter was still explaining the basic Gospel message to them. They had no expectation of this baptism, but God blessed them with it for His glory and for our education.
  • The believers in Samaria received were baptized with the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed for them. This appears to be the most-common method in Scripture.

A few friends of mine (actually, only two, and they live in opposite ends of the country) received the baptism with the Holy Spirit almost by accident, like the people in Cornelius' house. Both were members of churches that taught against the Holy Spirit gifts. Both began speaking in tongues spontaneously, without any effort or expectation. One was just a teenager at the time. This type of baptism might happen to you, but don't hold your breath.

At various times in Church history, groups of believers (from non-Spirit-filled denominations) have sparked revivals by gathering together to pray persistently for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. These Christians just knew that God wanted to baptize them with the Holy Spirit, and were determined to pray until they received that blessing.

In my personal experience, the surest way to be baptized with the Holy Spirit is to find a good Bible-believing, Spirit-filled congregation and have a responsible person (pastor, counselor, home group leader, deacon, or elder) pray with you.

I tried that, but I haven't experienced anything special yet!

Not everybody has an "experience" at the time. As a home group leader and counselor, I've seen the full range of possibilities:

  • Some have felt a peaceful joy come over them, moving them to tears.
  • Some have immediately begun speaking in tongues.
  • Some (very few) have passed out.
  • One fellow (at an outdoor evangelistic crusade) prayed with us to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, and asked for the Holy Spirit baptism - anything that might help him get free of drugs. As we prayed, he passed out and lay on the ground - twitching occasionally - as we continued praying over him for release from the demons that had run his life. When this man finally came to his senses 15 minutes later, his first words were: "What was that?" We explained that the Holy Spirit had immersed him, filled him, and done a healing work in his heart - under a general anesthetic. The experience was dramatic and real, but rare.
  • Some other people haven't felt anything at the time. Your teacher was in this group. That's a story to be told in another chapter. If you have not yet received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, you have a wonderful experience ahead of you. If your church congregation teaches against the baptism with the Holy Spirit, ask God to lead you to another congregation. If you aren't sure where to look or what to look for, try finding the nearest Calvary Chapel.

The next step

Once you have received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, you are uniquely equipped for two very peculiar activities:

  • As you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you will be empowered to work miracles in God's service, to help build up the body of Christ.
  • As the indwelling Holy Spirit works in your heart, you will begin bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit - the distinctive character traits of our Lord Jesus. Then you will begin to experience the durable joy that God promises to those who believe in Him.

    Bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is much more important than operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Character change is a greater miracle than a medical healing. Character change makes the power and love of Jesus Christ seem real to nonbelievers. Character change is unmistakable proof that God takes a personal interest in every sinner who repents and follows Jesus.

    Proceed to the next lesson and learn more.

    Closing Prayer: Lord, I earnestly desire all that You have for me, even if it sounds a little strange at first. Fill me with Your Spirit, and guide me in Your truth, I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

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