Posted On May 31, 2013

Concerning “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” in the Book of Acts

by | May 31, 2013 | The Gospel and the Christian Life

Regeneration by the Holy Spirit (i.e., causing one to be born again) and baptism of the Holy Spirit (i.e., empowering him to live out the Christian life) are distinct realities, but not necessarily separate realities regarding time, though they were in some individuals as recorded in Acts. It is clear that those whom the Spirit regenerates he also baptizes. Thus, every regenerated believer also has the baptism of the Spirit and, therefore, possesses gifts to build up the body of Christ, the church. All believers—regenerated by the Spirit—are baptized with the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).

It is significant that the four outpourings of the Holy Spirit recorded in the book of Acts correspond to the inclusion of “all flesh” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21) into the church of Jesus Christ—the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), the God-fearers (Acts 10), and the Gentiles (Acts 19). Luke’s redemptive-historical concern in writing about the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, therefore, was to show that the empowering work of the Holy Spirit (i.e. “baptism” of the Spirit) was not just for certain individuals—as was the case in the OT—but for all who are members of the NT church. The events of Acts were not necessarily to be understood as normative but rather descriptive, recording the historical events of the early church in the period of transition from the Old to the New Covenant faith. Thus, many of the events in Acts are seen as programmatic—in the progressive revelation of the unfolding history of God’s redemption—rather than paradigmatic, to be repeated.

The events recorded by Luke took place in the era of transition from expectation to fulfillment and are not, therefore, necessarily normative for successive ages (much like the death and resurrection of Christ or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost), but were unique historical events demonstrating the in-breaking of the new kingdom of God, realized in those who profess saving faith in the King, Jesus Christ. While the regenerating and baptismal works of the Holy Spirit are seen as distinct realities in the book of Acts (though only in some people!), such distinction does not mean separate periods of time after the apostolic age.

With regard to water baptism, it should be noted that those who were baptized with the “baptism of John” (Acts 18:25)—which was a baptism of repentance of the Old Covenant—had not received Christian baptism. Thus, they needed to be baptized into Christ (i.e., the Trinitarian baptism; Matt. 28:19). This marked their entry into the covenant of grace and the visible church—being a sign of their being cleansed by the blood of Christ and a seal of the benefits of union with Christ and received through faith. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not done with water, but had to do with the Spirit’s empowering work in the life of the believer to live out what the Spirit had begun in regeneration (John 3:5-8; 1 Pet. 1:3), though, again, we should not think of the two as being separated by time, but purpose.

The modern-day Pentecostal movement that insists that only some believers have the “second blessing” or baptism of the Holy Spirit causes serious division within the church by creating first- and second-class Christians—a reality that the NT clearly decries (Gal. 3:27-29). In fact, none of the great leaders throughout church history ever displayed the gift of tongues (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, etc.). Some also believe that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues, which Paul calls the least of the gifts (1 Cor. 14:19) and which seems only to be connected to the apostolic age (when new revelation was given) and with missionary activity (cf. 1 Cor. 14:10-11, 20-22). Moreover, the gift of tongues was not given to everybody as a normative gift (1 Cor. 12:27-31).

In addition to being baptized with the Holy Spirit, some are said to be “filled with” or “full of” the Holy Spirit. Every Christian, in one sense, is filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3; Eph. 5:18) in that he is indwelt by the Spirit to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) as a temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). But, in another sense, there seems to be times or seasons in which an individual had a unique and distinct “filling” of the Spirit (Luke 1:41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17) in the service of the kingdom, seen especially when an apostle is preaching the gospel (e.g., Acts 4:8; 13:9). Be that as it may, the filling of the Spirit—in either sense of the phrase—may be distinct from the baptism of the Spirit though they are of course intricately related, as it is the same Spirit who both fills and empowers.

Summary
The baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is distinct from regeneration by the Spirit (though the two are not necessarily separated by time), is the Spirit’s empowering work in the life of the believer—to set him apart with gifts and faith so that he may fulfill his calling as he lives out the Christian life.

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