Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | December 4, 2007

What is and is not Baptism of the Holy Spirit? (Lesson 4: Question 9 Answer

9.  What is and is not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

We yet again encounter another question whose significance surely dwarfs our ability to answer with certainty.  Moreover, the scope of this question could definitely unravel and require much more time and space than we are able to provide.   Thus, we will humbly seek to target our efforts within the boundaries of the question stated above.  As a qualification we should note at the outset that our response will seek to be measured and reliant on others, since we know the limitations of our understanding of this subject.  Nonetheless, we hope to be thorough in our consideration of this topic in at least pointing out the ramifications of the statements we make.  We will continue examining the following verses to undertake this task, which are as follows: 

32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

In our text we have John the Baptist recounting the events that occurred during Jesus’ baptism (which for all intents and purpose had happened at least 40 days prior to this event).   We also have the claim by John that it is Jesus, the One who comes after him, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  It is evident then that the baptism that John administered signified this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that would be administered by his successor.  (This is consistent with our previous definition of baptism from the Larger Catechism question and answer 165.)  Thus, we have in our text an event where the sign and the thing signified intersect and are visibly manifest with the one who would dispense the gift.  When we think of this question we probably immediately think of Pentecost and not of Jesus’ baptism.  However, for us to properly answer this question we believe it is appropriate that we start here and consider the implications of this event.  This event was our Lord’s inauguration, if you will, into His public ministry here on earth.  And as Mark tells us immediately after this baptism where the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted.  Similar to the figures of the Old Testament who were anointed prior to their ministries, our Prophet, Priest and King received His anointing from the Father through the Spirit.  He was endowed with the Spirit who would aide Him throughout His ministry as was foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-9).  About this Geerhardus Vos makes the following comments:

Jesus did not, of course, receive the Spirit as the agent of sanctification, for that would presuppose sinfulness, nor is there anywhere a trace of such function in the Gospels.  But He could and did receive the Spirit as a pledge of the Father’s approval of His mind and purpose expressed in submitting to the baptism, and of the effect God would give to it, when accomplished.  In this there is an analogy to what the sealing with the Spirit means in baptism to every Christian; only in Jesus’ case it was prospective.  Furthermore our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of His human nature for the execution of His Messianic task.  Jesus ascribed all His power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts to the possession of the Spirit (Matt 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38).  And, through qualifying Him in this manner for achieving His Messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.  This explains the statement of the Baptist in John 1:33: ‘(God) said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.’ 81 

As Vos points out our Lord’s receipt of the Spirit in this account was a pledge of the Spirit’s coming upon and sealing believers once His mission was accomplished.  This sealing of the Spirit would be visibly manifested on the day of Pentecost after our Lord’s work here on earth was finished.

In the book of Acts we have four accounts of the baptism of the Holy Spirit among the disciples at Pentecost, the Samaritans, Cornelius’ household and the believers in Ephesus.  In these accounts the visible evidence of the baptism was manifested by the gift of tongue speaking, except the Samaritans are not reported as manifesting this gift.  Some would advocate that this visible manifestation is normative for all those who receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  However, we believe there are serious problems with this view and will seek to demonstrate them.  First and foremost the book of Acts is a narrative account recording historical events that occurred in the life of the early Church.  These events were indicative of a particular period in redemptive history and there is no suggestion within these events that they should continue throughout the rest of the life of the Church.  As we have already labored in other studies to examine (lesson 4 question 3 answer, lesson 4 question 2 answer and lesson 3 question 9 answer) the manifestation of extraordinary gifts had a specific purpose in redemptive history as the author of Hebrews points out:

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The purpose was too authenticate the words spoken by God’s authorized agents of revelation.  This purpose has lost its usefulness and necessity with the completion of the canonical Scriptures meaning these extraordinary gifts are no longer active in the life of the Church.  Second, these visible manifestations were not meant to be normative as can be supported by the rest of Scripture.  At the conclusion of his Pentecost sermon the apostle Peter pronounces the call to all those who witnessed the event to repent and be baptized.  He indicates that all who repent and are baptized will receive the thing signified in their baptism, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-39).  It is interesting that Luke did not continue the account to indicate if a visible manifestation of this occurred with the 3000.  We admit that this is only an argument from silence and should not be the deciding factor, but it is something to ponder.  This principle, however finds support in other texts of Scripture particular in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  He goes on to state that all believers are baptized in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) and yet not all will or should speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).  Thus, not only would we deny the continuity of this visible manifestation historically, but also on Scriptural grounds.  We should note that many charismatics would concede that the manifestation of tongues is not essential with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, however would still hold to the principle of a second blessing endowed through this baptism.  They find support for this principle in the delayed visible manifestation of the Spirit in the disciples at Pentecost, the Samaritans (which is an argument from silence) and the believers at Ephesus.  This then begs the question, why were these visible manifestations delayed and distinct from the water baptism?

There are two things we could point to in order to explain the delay and distinction of water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit during this period of redemptive history.  The first is very simple and provides an explanation for the disciples at the Pentecost event, which is that our Lord had not yet been glorified (John 7:39).  The second reason provides an explanation for both the disciples at the Pentecost event and the Ephesian believers.  As we endeavored to explain in lesson 4 question 5 answer those who underwent the baptism of John were promised to be baptized by the Holy Spirit after the Messiah had come.  Thus, what we see in the book of Acts is the fulfillment of that promise that was foretold by John the Baptist during his ministry.  Moreover, those who were baptized after the ascension/Pentecost were initiated under the complete baptismal formula receiving the “complete sign”.  We should clarify that we do not mean that they received the sign and the thing signified simultaneously, but they received the sign with all the elements that were yet to be revealed (i.e. the Trinitarian formula, the seal of the Spirit, etc). The Samaritans and Cornelius’ household are different from the other two.  There was no delay for those of Cornelius’ household who actually received the visible manifestation prior to water baptism.  It is not clear that the Samaritan believers actually underwent a visible manifestation it just indicates they received the Holy Spirit after the apostles laid their hands upon them.  These events also served a slightly different purpose than the other two, which are essential to the reading of the book of Acts.  The book of Acts records the spread of the early Church from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  A big picture perspective would explain that it was the beginning of the story of reconciliation for God’s elect within all the families of the earth who had been dispersed by the division of tongues at Babel (Genesis 11), who were promised a redeemer (Genesis 3:15) to bring them blessing (Genesis 12:3) through the preaching of the Gospel in the very language that was to be a curse. The Jewish mindset made it problematic to really accept that hated Samaritans and Gentiles were really entitled to the benefits of the kingdom of God.  These other two events in Samaria and among the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household were God’s evidential stamp of approval assuring the apostles that the Gospel was for Jews and non-Jews.  Moreover, these events also authenticated the apostle’s authority here on earth as Christ’s messengers and representatives with the manifestations coming at their preaching or laying on of hands alone.  Hence, not only would Christ baptize with the Holy Spirit, but His authorized agents would also mediate this gift to believers just as Christ Himself.  Another purpose of the book of Acts was to authenticate the apostle Paul’s credentials who being one untimely born (1 Corinthians 15:1-10) was subject to skepticism amongst many in the early Church (2 Corinthians 11:1 – 12:12).  Thus, the account of the Ephesian believer’s who received the visible manifestation after the apostle Paul laid hands upon them.  This event then places Paul on an equal level with the rest of the apostles.  We would suggest that these visible manifestations along with the incarnation, death, burial, resurrection and ascension were part of the accomplished work of redemption not intended to continue throughout the life of the Church.  It is not then proper to use these texts to substantiate a modern second blessing or baptism of the Holy Spirit deferred after salvation.  To accept this logic we would also have to conclude that selling all our possessions and living in a Christian commune should be normative as well.  However, we do not take these actions of the early Church as imperatives for the rest us to follow.  That is not the nature of the narrative genre.  Having endeavored to explain what the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not (at least in our day and age) we must now seek to answer what is baptism of the Holy Spirit for us in the Church today.     

In seeking to complete our response to this question we would like to reference the Westminster Larger Catechism again to assist us in defining the sacrament of baptism:

Q 165: What is baptism?

A: Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

In this answer the catechism appeals to Titus 3:5 in defining what the sacrament signifies, which states “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  Similar to statements we will get to later in John, our regeneration when discussed employs language such as being “born of water and Spirit.”  Here we believe there is some connection between our water baptism, which signifies this regeneration being actually realized when we profess faith in Christ.  This faith in Christ can only be induced by those who have been born again or regenerate.  This event of being renewed by the Holy Spirit in regeneration is a strong candidate for defining what the actual baptism of the Holy Spirit is for us today.  However, we must concede that there is an inherent weakness in classifying the baptism of the Holy Spirit as regeneration of the believer.  For those of us who subscribe to the biblical order of salvation that categorizes regeneration prior to faith we would have a difficulty reconciling this view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit this way.  Since our brothers and sisters in the old covenant and the disciples pre-Pentecost possessed faith (Hebrews 11) they necessarily had to be regenerate.  This would preclude us from assigning the baptism of the Holy Spirit to regeneration.  Rather than pursuing this avenue, which is ultimately a dead end, let us recall Vos’ hints provided above.  Jesus’ baptism was a pledge that the Spirit would later come and be a seal to the believers.  In the New Testament we are informed that this benefit of being sealed by the Spirit is for those in the faith after the accomplished work of redemption:

13In him (Christ) you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The apostle Paul makes a similar statement in the second letter to the Corinthians in the following:

21And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

We would be careful to ensure that we are not saying that the Spirit was not in operation among believers prior to the accomplished work of redemption.  Otherwise, there would be none who professed faith in Him.  However, we are informed by the New Testament that after the accomplished work of redemption we do receive the Spirit in a different way that was not possible before.  This Spirit, who indwells our hearts, is the source of our sanctification and seals us with God’s mark identifying us as His own.  And in some way the accomplished work of redemption empowers us through the preaching of the Gospel to respond in faith and obedience more effectively than in the old covenant dispensation:

14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 10:14-17; Jeremiah 31:33)

In our period of redemptive history after the accomplished work and inauguration of the new covenant we no longer receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary manner.  We are baptized in the Holy Spirit in a much more ordinary manner through the sacrament of baptism having the things signified in it conferred through faith.  Since we as believers have been baptized “into one Spirit” without the occurrence of this extraordinary manifestation present, it stands to reason that this much more ordinary, discrete and invisible sealing by the Spirit provides a more accurate explanation of what occurs.  Or are we to believe in this “latter-day saint”  mentality that denies the existence of the Spirit within the Church for extended periods of time? We should not believe that we are missing anything in this more ordinary realization of Spirit baptism.  To diminish it is to miss entirely all the privileges we still have.  In his discourse on the sacraments, Michael Horton, reviews the benefits and privileges we have in them.  Before concluding the section on baptism he adds these comments from Ridderbos that go well with our topic:

Ridderbos points to the many instances in which “baptism is simply qualified as the baptism of the Spirit.”  He observes that whenever Paul talks about “sealing” (such as 2 Cor. 1:21-22, where God “anointed us, and …has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”), it is linked to baptism.  “It is this union with Christ by baptism that Paul intends when in Galatians 3:27 he describes baptism as ‘putting on Christ’:  ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’”  Ridderbos rebukes commentaries for spiritualizing “baptism” in these instances.  Furthermore, as in the Reformed (covenantal) understanding of the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit’s work is crucial.  How is it that people are still added to Christ by “dying and rising” with him? Is he forever dying?  In baptism Christ’s death is not prolonged by bringing it to us; rather, in baptism the Spirit brings us to Christ’s death…without faith this baptism does not confer the thing signified.  But still, faith doesn’t make baptism effective; God does. 82

We now on this side of the accomplished work of redemption undergo the administration of the sign of baptism in a more robust way.  The outward visible manifestation of the baptism of the Spirit was only necessary, because the prior baptismal administrations were missing the fulfillment.  Rather than the outward extraordinary visible manifestations we undergo an ordinary invisible manifestation of the baptism of the Spirit through our God-sourced faith.  The baptism that we are administered is so closely identified with the thing signified that we can now point to it as the baptism of the Spirit.  At the point that it becomes operative we are not only regenerated, but sealed, anointed or “baptized” with the Spirit “as a guarantee of our inheritance”.

One final note, that we do not have time to thoroughly develop, is that this sealing of the Holy Spirit is the mark that ensures that the realization of judgment, also signified by the sign of baptism, will not fall upon us.  Like the disciples at Pentecost, who were marked with this seal during the event, were spared from the judgment fire falling upon their foreheads (Acts 2:3-4).  At the same time another sign of judgment, the speaking of foreign tongues, would be heard in Israel before its final fall (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).  We understand that there is much more to examine about this issue and the details have not been exhausted within this work.  Nonetheless, we believe that the parameters have been defined as to what to expect and not to expect in this blessed sign that is a promise of the inheritance for believers in Christ.

81 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) 321

82 Michael S. Horton God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2006) 154-155



  1. The Bible is pretty clear that following salvation, God gives believers a “clothing with power” that prepares them for service. I wouldn’t limit it to a single event (read Acts 4) however.

    Paul told Timothy several times to fight the good fight with the prophecy he received when the body of elders laid their hands on him, and to fan into flame the gift he received through the laying on of hands and prayer.

    The problem we have is when charismatics over-emphasize speaking-in-tongues, or our more conservative brethren deny that the Holy Spirit has any power to give us at all anymore.

    Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

  2. Albino,

    Good to hear from you. I think the Bible is clear also that all believers are “baptized” in the Spirit (as argued above). There are no “haves” and “have nots” among believers relative to the Spirit. Thus, your assumption that there is a deferred “second blessing” is not in harmony with the clear biblical teaching.

    As I tried to argue above this really comes down to how you interpret narratives. You may be surprised but I agree whole heartily with your first statement. The Bible is clear that there was a separation between salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit for the pre-ascension/Pentecost believers (and at least two other groups in the first century). I would argue that many of the things recorded in the book of Acts are purely indicative, stating what happened during that period and not imperative or meant to be normative for the rest of church history. This is evident from the last portion of the Acts 4, which reports the communal life of the early church. Are you consistent in your use of the book of Acts and advocate that church members sell their possessions and dedicate them to the church? If not, how can you use these texts to support a doctrine of the “second blessing”?

    Relative to your second statement I think it is appropriate to consider the context. You have combined two different statements, one from 1 Tim 1:18-19 and one from 2 Tim 1:6. I think it is safe to conclude that the context of both of these chapters is Paul’s admonition to Timothy to preach the pure unadulterated gospel despite the threats of false teachers. I agree that this preaching was spirit-filled as is true of all faithful preachers throughout church history. (BTW, I believe the preaching on Sunday in my church is spirit-filled – listen if you get a chance in the sermon links). This does not require a “second blessing” or the speaking of tongues. Not sure if this is what you were getting at…if not let me know.

    Nothing that I have argued denies the power of the Holy Spirit. So I hope that you are not insinuating by your comment that I am. I am just trying to be responsible in conveying what Scripture means relative to the baptism of the Holy Spirit for us in the church today.


  3. Ok; obviously we will disagree on two separate classes of Christians: early church and 3rd generation and beyond. I believe that all of Paul’s teachings are for us today as well, with a few obvious cultural caveats (like not marrying “because of this present distress”).

    As to communal living, if we were under active and spastic persecution like the early church, it would probably be wise to huddle together and pool our resources. That is an altogether different question than suggesting that God never again will “fill us with the Spirit” to preach boldly as He did in Acts 4…following their salvation.

    Anyway, I would urge you not to limit the Lord. I do not believe that those who do not speak in tongues do not have the power of the Holy Spirit, or that the sign of His power is an emotional outburst. I do believe, however, that He will “clothe you with power” for service following salvation, just as D.L. Moody and many others did as well.

    I appreciate the tone of your discussion.

    I’ll check in later next week…leaving tomorrow for Mexico to preach in my brother-in-law’s wedding.

    Merry Christmas

  4. Albino,

    If I understand your first comment correctly you are affirming that there are different classes of Christians. Those who have and do not have the second blessing I presume. Isn’t this an arbitrary and unnecessary stratification between those for whom Christ has died and secured all the benefits of the New Covenant? I think this opinion is problematic in light of Paul’s words to the Galatians:

    26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    Christ has earned everything for us and all the benefits of the Spirit for us. We are sealed (i.e. anointed or baptized) with the Spirit (when we first believe simultaneously with our regeneration), which is a pledge or guarantor of our inheritance. If you believe in all of Paul’s teaching then surely you must concede that class distinctions among Christians are not in line with it.

    Not sure I understand the example you quoted. Didn’t Paul qualify that his advice to remain celibate were his word’s not the Lord’s?

    Again nothing that I am saying is denying the need for bold or powerful Spirit-filled preaching. Aren’t all the examples of Spirit-filled preaching in Acts just Christ-centered preaching focused on His vicarious atonement, imputed righteousness and resurrection for our justification? Thus, whenever a minister today is faithfully preaching Christ and Him crucified it is “Spirit-filled”.

    All who believe by the power of the Holy Spirit and have been baptized into Christ have been clothed in Him and His righteousness (Gal 3:27). Thus, I would not emphasize being “clothed with power” but to be “clothed with Christ” who grants me the privileges of the Spirit and access into the heavenly throne.

    Have a safe trip and look forward to hearing from you when you get back. Merry Christmas to you as well.

  5. Mike,

    I think you have misunderstood what Albino said. He said there are two classes of Christians based on when they lived. He was basically affirming that he understands that we are not Paul’s original audience. His example was of Paul’s prohibition against marriage because of the present crisis of persecution, a crisis which does not remain today, and therefore the prohibition also does not remain.

    But anyway, what about the notion that the church, as a whole, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, even as Israel, as a whole, was baptized when one generation crossed the Red Sea?

    Wasn’t it all Israelites that were baptized at that time? And could that be the reason for John’s baptism, because when the Israelites were kicked out, they didn’t cross over the parted waters again when they returned? So were they unbaptized when they returned until John came along, preaching a baptism of repentance, preparing the way for the true Moses who leads to the true promised land? And then isn’t the baptism of the Holy Spirit the true entrance to the true promised land, into the eschaton into which Jesus is leading us? And then can’t we say that you in order to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, you must be regenerated, and that that’s what ushers you into the eschaton, rather than that you need to be baptized in order to enter?

    But these are wild redemptive historical musings.

  6. Echo,

    As usual you are right and I did misunderstand Albino’s first comment. (Sorry Albino) Nonetheless, I think the comment would still apply to his belief in a second blessing. Right (Albino)? (I just jumped the gun a little)

    I loved the musings, which are certainly interesting. Don’t you think they sound too allegorical though? Allegory makes me nervous sometimes, yet I will be trying to connect some dots in my next post.

    I tried to deal with John’s baptism in early entries on this passage:


    Love to get your thoughts on those as well.


  7. I replied to the first. We’ll see what you say there.

  8. Albino Hayford, I would still like to get a response when you get a chance.

  9. […] of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5).  We are then identified with the holy covenant community being sealed with the mark of our covenant Lord, refreshed with Bread of Life, and empowered by the preached […]

  10. I am glad to see there is a more respectful discussion going on. I didn’t read echo’s comment just Pastor Jim’s and yours. The problem I have is that both you and Pastor Jim make sense, I can see both of your sides. Love you Mom

  11. Hi Mom,

    Thanks for checking in.

    Love you too 🙂


  12. […] on the scene, John proclaims to his followers that the Lamb of God has arrived.  Our Lord is baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit, which John announces to his followers.  Our Lord returns and John endeavors […]

  13. […] insightfully points out that Jesus was not only anointed as the officers of the old order, but was Anointed with Holy Spirit as is illustrative in the descent of the dove at His baptism.  His anointing was not only […]

  14. […] all His mediatorial offices, the fulfillment of this office was also facilitated by the exceptional Anointing our Savior was endowed with during His baptism.  Similar to our previous assessment of the […]

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