Holy Spirit Baptism: What exactly is it?

In my opinion, there’s a lot of confusion about this topic today. The Holy Spirit is one of those things that gets discussed a lot, but there’s limited information on in the Bible. Those two conditions, much discussion and little information, don’t usually lead to anything real productive. So I thought I’d take a minute to discuss one facet of the Holy Spirit that we do have some information on: the Holy Spirit Baptism.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of disagreement about this topic too. But let’s go back to the source and see if we can’t figure out what it is and what it’s for.

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. – Matthew 3:11

Ok, maybe that sounds a little confusing. I mean, what exactly is baptism of Holy Spirit and fire? Luckily, we still have several passages that deal with it. In Acts 1:4-8, Jesus explains this passage a little more.

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; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 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.”

Here, Jesus tells us that the baptism John had been talking about in Matt 3 was going to come upon Jesus’ disciples; people who had already been saved. So, obviously, this Holy Spirit baptism had nothing to do with salvation; instead, Jesus points out in vs 8 that it would help them be witnesses for Christ. How did it do that? We’re told in John 16:13, where it says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” Now we see that the Holy Spirit would help them by “guiding them into all truth.” As we know, they didn’t have the Bible back then, so they had to receive God’s Word in some other way. The Holy Spirit’s influence is how the apostles knew what God wanted. It’s the reason we view their writings as inspired by God.

In Acts 2, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, and it appears as “tongues of fire” above their heads. The apostles speak to the crowd there, and Peter delivers a sermon telling them who Jesus was and proving He was the Christ. When asked, Peter tells them what they must do to be saved (Acts 2:37-38). And here, it’s interesting that he still commands them to be baptized. As far as we know, it is still referencing water baptism, even though the apostles had just been given the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” So, again, it seems that Holy Spirit baptism is not used for salvation. More on this point in a moment…

The only other account we have of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone in a similar way is in Acts 10, with Cornelius and his household. As was pointed out earlier, there is no indication anywhere in the Scriptures that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had anything to do with salvation. In this example, it was used to prove to Peter and the other Jews present that salvation was now available to the Gentiles as well. After the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family, Peter still says they need to be baptized with water (Acts 10:46-48).

Now that we see what the “baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit” is, we go back to all the examples we have of baptism being used in the salvation process. In 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 8:36, and Acts 10:46-48, we see that water baptism is still being used. The main difference between John’s baptism and the baptism in these passages is that Christ hadn’t died when John’s baptism was in effect, but Christ was dead when we see these other examples. His death is the necessary element that makes baptism work at all. John had been sent to “prepare the way” for Jesus, so his baptism was used as a “bridge” between the Old Law and the New Law; it helped transition people to the requirements of the New Law.

Besides, if water baptism wasn’t required today, but instead, it’s supposed to be a “Holy Spirit” baptism, then why introduce water baptism at all? At most, it only would have been used for a few years – just the time from John’s ministry to Jesus’s death. If water baptism didn’t translate after that, then why was it introduced? Why do we have examples of water baptism after Christ’s death? What examples or passages do we have that support “Holy Spirit” baptism as being involved with salvation?

I hope this has been helpful; comments are welcome…

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8 comments

  1. Thanks. The Holy Spirit is an amazing, powerful Person. We are blessed to be able to have the Spirit of God inhabit our very selves. I’ve written a post about the Holy Spirit Fire on my blog as well. And from what I’ve been reading on other blogs the Spirit of God seems to be moving in people and congregations around the world. God bless.

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    I wanted to add an observation that a friend mentioned to me today. The difference between the Holy Spirit Baptism and water baptism is that the former was promised, while the other was commanded. The apostles had no choice, Jesus promised they would receive the Holy Spirit. Whereas, water baptism is something that is commanded, and we can choose to obey or not.

    Remember, God saves by grace, not compulsion – in other words, he doesn’t save us against our will…

  3. Another point about the household of Cornelius-

    In Acts 10, Luke records that the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household while Peter was STILL SPEAKING (had not finished his “sermon”)…

    “44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45And 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. 46For 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?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”

    It is clear to see from Peter’s instruction in vs. 47 for them to be baptized, that Peter did not view the subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit as being for the remission of sins.

    It is also clear in Acts 11 as Peter is relating to the Jews his vision and this incident with Cornelius that the purpose of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the household of Cornelius was to be an example to the Jews that the Gentiles were to be accepted.

    Acts 11
    17If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
    18When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

  4. Alll who are Christians have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. If one has not been baptized with the Holy Spirit then such a person is not a Christian.
    According to Acts 10:45 and Acts 11:16 to have the Holy Spirit “poured” (ekxew) on you and to be baptized with the Holy Spirit is the same thing.
    Pouring = Baptism
    Paul tells us in Titus 3:6 that the Holy Spirit has been poured (ekxew) upon all who are Christians. Thus since all who are Christians have had the Holy Spirit poured on them it necessitates that all who are Christians have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
    It is this baptism that places a person into the church.

  5. I know that I am late on this; however, I would like to join the discussion even though everyone else has left it. I do not have my Bible with me at the moment, and although I should hesitate to write this till after I have consulted it, I would like to add to this. I still reserve the right to add more later after I have consulted my Bible.

    Acts 8 ends with a baptism. The eunuch was baptized in water. 1 Pet 3:21 says that baptism saves. In both of these cases the baptism is water baptism. Rom 6, when speaking of baptism likens it to a burial. When a man is buried, we cover his body with dirt and do not give the corpse a shower.

    I just mean that pouring seems to be different language than burial. I know this may seem like a little thing, but I have seen no Christians today that posses the ability to speak in tongues (using real lanquages), heal the sick, raise the dead, drink poison without being affected by it, or could withstand a rattlesnake bite. While Christians do have the Holy Spirit, it must be in a different capacity than those who were baptized with the spirit in the Bible.

  6. Marc, thanks for your comment — sorry I’m so long in replying. I do agree that all Christians have the Holy Spirit to help them. Exactly how that works and to what extent, I don’t know. But I believe that is still different from Holy Spirit baptism as described in the passages above. That seemed to be a very different thing and used for a very specific purpose (showing God’s approval of a group/message).

    Also, if you’ll go back and reference the other passages that have been mentioned on baptism, you’ll see that many of them actually reference water baptism as one of the elements to salvation and being added to the Lord’s church. Acts 8 and 1 Peter 3:21 state that explicitly.

  7. Ok, in response to these comments.. The holy spirit, the living Spirit of God is a promise to all BELIEVERS. Salvation is a choice to receive the free gift. The water baptism represents repentance and rebirth. Jesus told his disciples to wait and tarry until they were filled with the Holy Spirit, it was not automatic. Although they were saved, Christians following Christ!! The bible tells us to ask and we shall receive, it also implies that if we do not receive we should keep asking so if you say you’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit and have not yet spoken in your heavenly language, then you should Keep Asking. The triune God – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit _ is the same yesterday, today, ad forevermore, so if His word, which is His power, says that in His name we shall cast out demons, lay hands on the sick, take up serpents and drink poison and by no means die then that is what we should believe, Let every man be a liar and the word of God be true. We as believers need to increase our faith and take the Lord at His word, for He is not a man that He should lie! The command given for salvation is to repent and be baptized, into Christ for the covering or remission of our sins. The second baptism, the baptism of the holy spirit is Christ coming on the inside of us. Thats why He had to leave his fleshly body so that His Spirit could come and dwell on the inside of us believers!

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