From the beginning, the church has had questions concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, these questions have often led to debate and division, ultimately fracturing the Church. While the debate continues amongst Christians concerning the precise nature of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is my belief that there are more important issues concerning the baptism that edify and glorify the church in the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ rather than create divisive standards to outline the way in which all must undergo this “baptism.” Whether an individual experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Apostles did in the Upper Room through the speaking of tongues or not, I believe that there are five truths that can validate the baptism being truly Holy Spirit in nature and not simply a response based on tradition, emotion or presupposition. These five truths are all based on the foundation of “power.” However, the power is not in the experience of the individual for self-glorification. Rather, these five truths glorify the power of God and God alone. These five truths are:
1) The Power of the Promise
2) The Power of the Cross
3) The Power of the Creator
4) The Power of the Mission
5) The Power of the Victory
The experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit can vary depending on the individual but the truths that emerge upon being baptized must not and cannot differ. These are truths, and all who have been baptized by the spirit must proceed to build the new life in Jesus Christ upon these foundational pillars of power.
1) The Power of the Promise
For many, there is a disconnect between the stories of the Bible and everyday life. We read stories in the Bible that are supernatural, unbelievable when compared to our own experiences. However, amidst these stories we read in the Bible is also God’s promise to never change his nature although time passes and people change. Repeatedly God promises that he was, is and always will be the same.
Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
If we are to actually take the Word of God seriously, and believe in it with our whole heart, these promises should not feel fantastical or far-fetched. Rather, if our experience with the living God is real, it stands to reason that our experience with the promise of God must be real as well. Now, that is not to say that since God separated the waters of the Red Sea for Moses he will respond in precisely the same way for us today. However, it does mean that the personal and intimate experiences that Moses experienced with God in person are there for us to experience as well.
In Acts, while gathering in the Upper Room, the Apostles experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Their experience was unique in that their experience found them speaking in various tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit moving amongst them. While the act of speaking in tongues easily becomes the focus of their baptism, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that marks their experience as being baptized by the Holy Spirit. They were being personally introduced to the living God that knew them at their most personal level. In that moment they became powerfully aware that God knew them, and that the God of old who made promises throughout the ages had always known them as well. Thus it is for anyone today who is baptized in the Holy Spirit. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit we realize that the promises in the word are not simply words to hope in, but are words intent on being found, experienced and fulfilled in us.
2) The Power of the Cross
The cross is and has always been the sign of Christianity. Today it is an unmistakable sign synonymous with the Christian church. However, while the cross has always and must always be the sign of the faith, the overexposure of the cross without true understanding poses an important question. Do we really understand the cross? We see crosses blanketing city skylines atop churches that fail at living out the gospel. We see people wearing the cross on necklaces and earrings who openly profess no desire to submit to God. We see athletes drop to their knees following some athletic feat, pointing to the sky and making the sign of the cross on their chest, who place more faith in their athletic equipment and contracts than the Holy Word of God.
With so many misrepresentations surrounding us on a daily basis, it is easy to see how the message of the cross has gone misunderstood. In fact, for many Christians, the looming cross hanging on the wall of a Church often evokes much more fear and obligation than peace and joy.
From this landscape of misunderstanding and misrepresentation concerning the cross, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the understanding that emerges appears distinctly different. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit, the cross is no longer a marketing symbol or burden. The cross suddenly is seen in the light that it was originally meant to be seen in. This light illuminates more than just wood and metal. This light illuminates pain, the unbelievable pain the Jesus endured hanging on the cross. This light illuminates sacrifice, the costly sacrifice that Jesus paid for the sake of saving us from the pain and suffering that we rightly deserve and he had no obligation to undertake in our stead. The light also illuminates the sacrifice that God the Father experienced in seeing his own son endure the suffering we deserved. The experience of feeling separation from a son that he had always had close, intimate fellowship with. A son that had never done anything wrong. Lastly, this light illuminates love, the love of God to see such beauty within us, despite the layers of sin, that to lose his own son was worth seeing us back in unity with him. The love to never give up or let us out of his reach. The love to know how deeply we need a Father to guide us. This love is not just sacrificial, but is an invitation. The beginning of the end. The start of something new. The cross leads to the tomb and ultimately ends in resurrection and new life. A new life we are given as a result of the cross.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit isn’t simply an outward manifestation of the supernatural. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can open the eyes of our heart to see the reality of the cross, beyond what our physical eyes have always seen.
This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to see the cross in the power that it truly possesses.
3) The Power of the Creator
The baptism of the Holy Spirit not only helps us to finally understand our creator. It goes beyond extending our memories back to a time with him before we decided to follow sin and our own pride to abandon his love for another. While this realization is powerful and is characteristic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, our relationship to the Creator God also provides us with a new understanding of who He is in nature.
Prior to being baptized by the Holy Spirit, we are taught that God is in control, all-powerful. However, with our numerous unresolved problems, it becomes easy for us to refer to God’s power in the past tense. In other words, while our mouths continue to profess that God can change the world if he wanted to, our hearts tend to doubt every word. Our hearts doubt his power in our world as much as our minds and mouths want to profess that nothing has changed. This outlook on the power of God also hits us personally. We look at ourselves in the mirror everyday and see our imperfections and reflect on the numerous challenges that we face daily. We take inventory of all of these obstacles and we hope for a miracle but doubt that anything will ever change. We read our Bible daily. Nothing changes. We attend Church regularly. Nothing changes. We tithe 10% of our income every month. Nothing changes. We go on a mission trip. Nothing changes. The truth is nothing will ever truly change until one is baptized by the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can bridge the gap between the hopeful mind and the doubtful heart. It unleashes the healing power of the Creator God; suddenly, things begin to change. While we are still tempted by sin and continue to fight the good fight, with the power of the living God the things that seemed insurmountable no longer obstruct our progress. We find ourselves progressing due to a power not our own. We are propelled forward simply because we now have the Creator God moving our steps and dictating our path. This is something that only the baptism of the Holy Spirit can provide. In Acts, there is no reasonable explanation how 12 regular men with varied backgrounds, none of which support a lifelong missionary or pastoral existence, suddenly begin to change the world. With men this is impossible, but with God nothing is. This becomes true as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
4) The Power of the Mission
One of the most haunting questions is ‘What do you want to do with your life?” Hopeless wandering is the case for many. They all dream dreams, but rarely follow through on them or find the means to do so. At a certain point of “maturity” we all tend to submit to the fact that the most reasonable, “responsible” thing to do is to fall in line, get a job and grow up. After dreams or visions of greater things, this life often is lived under silent protest and open resentment. Hardly the foundation for fulfillment and satisfaction.
The truth is, while there are some gifted with extraordinary physical and mental abilities at birth, for the rest of us, mediocrity becomes a stigmatizing label we bear for the rest of our lives. And while we might go through phases of extraordinary success or development, for most, these phases are short-lived. Therefore, when hearing the “hopeful” messages from the pulpit each and every Sunday that all things are possible, we may snicker silently as we evaluate all of our personal and worldly limitations.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not of this world, but the results of said baptism carry profound consequences in this world. Where our worldly life bombards us with reminders of our limitations, the baptism of the Holy Spirit releases a limitless God into the limited world we live in. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not follow a path according to our known talents, skills or dreams. Upon being baptized with the Holy Spirit, one desire and one desire alone reigns: the desire for God. Our authority to dictate what we can do disappears; our ears are for the first time open to what God wants us to do. Our opinions on what we feel we can do disappear; we are for the first time open to what God believes we can do. The life that follows the baptism of the Holy Spirit often bears a different appearance to the life lived prior to being baptized. The purpose is different, and thus the means to achieve the purpose is different as well. The baptism of the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to wholeheartedly serve God and share his Word. All else is secondary. God has always desired to release our true design and purpose, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means by which we experience God’s design. He gives us power by the Holy Spirit to overcome a world of perceived limitations. Through this new purpose and mission we daily grow in our understanding of how much God can achieve if only left unchallenged and unobstructed, by a heart previously consumed by sin.
This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
5) The Power of the Victory
We are born with complex and demanding desires. As we grow beyond infancy, our desires grow rapidly beyond the physical and move into the realm of the sinful flesh. We begin to want more than we need. We begin to want what we forgot we already had. We begin to want what we don’t need. We even begin to want the things we know will harm us. Sin has devastating power when allowed to mingle with our human desires. As we grow, these irrational and illogical desires grow too. Although we read that God is enough and that he supplies our every need, we easily become dissatisfied with his provision and turn to the world for what we “need.”
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not simply a return to our Creator. It is a return to who we were at the time of that creation. At that time, all we knew was our Father; all we knew was how much he gave us. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not simply illuminate the satisfaction in Church fellowship, Bible reading or positivity toward the world. We become deeply satisfied with God. The baptism of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the deception of worldly satisfaction and gratification. Where in the past our desires were for our relationships, jobs or money, the baptism of the Holy Spirit reveals the truth: that sin has deceived us into believing that we truly need those things when in fact we were never designed to have any of them. Originally, we were designed to have God and God alone. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, we are reintroduced to that original design.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
Upon being baptized by the Holy Spirit, all else fades in the presence of the Creator God who knows our name, has called us, has saved us, and continues to bless us. While we can still find joy in our jobs or relationships, they simply further illuminate the love we have for God. We love our job because in it we can share the Gospel or glorify him in our responsibilities. We love our relationships because in them we can grow to be more like him and see the deeper love he possesses toward us.
God is and has always been at the center of why we are here and why we are the way we are. Although sin has marked our worldly image, through Jesus Christ we are allowed to return to the image before sin ever corrupted what was originally holy. The baptism of the Holy Spirit allows for that return and releases the life that follows. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to truly know God as we were created to. Without it a Christian life is tragically incomplete.