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What Does 'Baptism of the Holy Spirit' Really Mean?

What Does 'Baptism of the Holy Spirit' Really Mean?

One of the most commonly confusing topics for Christians is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Most Christians understand the concept of conversion, repenting of sin and pledging one’s life to Christ. Most also are generally aware of the idea behind baptism of making a public declaration of dedication to Christ.

But what about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is it the same as water baptism? Is it different...a second baptism? Let’s look for some answers to these and other questions regarding baptism of the Holy Spirit.

What is the Biblical Meaning and Significance of the Word ‘Baptism?’

The Greek word for baptism—baptizo—means “to dip” or “to immerse.” This points to the traditional act of baptism, the immersion in water. It can also point to, in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, an “immersion” in the Spirit.

Baptism isn’t required to be saved; passages such as Acts 15 and Romans 4 make it clear that no external act is necessary for salvation. Paul didn’t make baptism a part of his salvation speeches, and he states in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” showing that the gospel and baptism are separate.

Instead, baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. 

When a person is immersed in water and then brought up again, it symbolizes that Christ died and was buried (the submersion) and then rose again (rising from the water). Partaking in this act shows that a person is partaking in Christ’s death and resurrection. The water also represents the washing away of sins.

Like a wedding ring to marriage, baptism is a symbol of our relationship with Christ.

Where Does the Bible Mention ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit?’

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was predicted by John the Baptist in Luke 3:16: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

This baptism with fire literally came true at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in Acts 2. This occurred after Jesus promised them, “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). 

Clearly, then, this baptism of the Holy Spirit was not the same as water baptism.

1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Interestingly, here Paul is speaking to “all,” that is, all the Christians, claiming they have all been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is to be assumed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something all Christians experience.

This immersion in the Holy Spirit, in fact, appears to occur at conversion. 

1 John 4:15 reads, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (italics mine).

In Acts 2:38 Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

What Do Different Denominations Believe About Holy Spirit Baptism?

Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox believers have very similar views on most aspects of the Holy Spirit, with some variation of thought as relates to inter-trinitarian relations.

The prevailing Protestant belief is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion. When a person “asks Jesus into their heart,” to use a colloquialism, the Holy Spirit indwells that person. This enables a person to experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit chooses.

This baptism of the Holy Spirit was only possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, thus cleansing the believer of sin. At times in the Old Testament, certain individuals were empowered by the Holy Spirit for short periods of time for specific acts. However, man’s sinful state did not allow for continual indwelling. 

Once Jesus ascended to heaven, as He promised in Acts 1:5, He sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to guide the believers.

Pentecostals, however, tend to take a different approach. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is considered a separate experience from both conversion and water baptism. It is considered an event in which the Christian receives the Spirit’s power in a new way, enabling them to more readily partake in miracles and spiritual gifts. 

Some believe that this second baptism is necessary for salvation, while some don’t. Many Pentecostal denominations believe that the receiving of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues. 

Evangelicals disagree with this Pentecostal take, especially as it insinuates that some Christians have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and some have not. Evangelicals point to verses such as 1 Corinthians 12:13 as evidence that all believers experience this baptism. 

Evangelicals also disagree with Pentecostals on the necessity of speaking in tongues. 1 Corinthians 12 seems to address this idea. Paul emphasizes, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4). Paul goes on to list multiple gifts, pointing out that some will receive some gifts, others other gifts. He lists speaking in tongues, saying, “to another speaking in different kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10). 

He goes even further to compare the body of Christ to a human body. “And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” (1 Corinthians 12:16-17

Just because a person lacks one gifting (for example, speaking in tongues) does not mean they have not been gifted with the Spirit. “Are all apostles?” Paul asks. “Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30, emphasis mine) 

The implication of this rhetorical question, evangelicals say, is that it should be evident that not all speak in tongues—nor do they need to.

experience holy spirit baptismPhoto Credit: ©GettyImages/digitalskillet

When Can I Experience Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

According to most Christian traditions, you will experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon conversion. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells within you, leading and guiding you.

This is why Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit indwelling each believer was better, He said, than His physical presence on earth.

Chances are you won’t feel a drastic and radical change right away, but as you grow in your faith, you will learn to become more in tune with what many call “the still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit as He leads you deeper in faith and aligns your will with that of the Father’s. 

Romans 8:26-27 says, 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Of course, there will be some points in the believer’s life in which one feels the Spirit’s presence more strongly or more dramatically than others, due to God’s constant outpouring of His Spirit into our lives. Some call these occasions an anointing or filling with the Spirit. It is not considered in most of Protestantism to be a “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” but rather a manifestation of the Spirit that is already there—perhaps for equipping the believer or the impartation of some gift.

Baptism Into the Body of Christ

The baptism of the Holy Spirit draws all of us together. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). 

The Holy Spirit makes us one family. 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The baptism of the Holy Spirit also connects us to God. 

With His Spirit within us, we are able to uniquely commune with Him, even in ways we might not be able to without the Holy Spirit’s help (Romans 8:26-27). 

Whether you believe that it occurs at conversion or at some different time, we can all agree that the baptism of the Holy Spirit brings us closer to God and to other believers.

For Further Reading:

What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

What Is Baptism?

Do You Have to Pray in Tongues to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit? 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Pornpak Khunatorn

Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.

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