A debate I’ve come to be aware of recently is the question of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Do we receive the Spirit when we are saved or do we receive it later?
When do we acquire the gift of the Holy Spirit? What exactly is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and what separates it from traditional water baptism? Some are of the belief that salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit go hand in hand while others claim that the two are separate events in the believer’s life. Scripture and personal testimony are the go-to support for both of these answers but which is best supported? From here on I’ll refer to the baptism of the Holy Spirit during conversion as the “Conversion Hypothesis” and baptism after the fact as the “Separation Hypothesis.” Let’s begin by looking at a verse that is said to support the Conversion Hypothesis.
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)
Here Paul argues that all who receive salvation have been welcomed into the body of Christ. This verse speaks for itself and, of course, there is no dispute about its meaning. However, is this the same thing as the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Proponents of the Separation Hypothesis argue that the two events serve different purposes, therefore this verse does not in any way deny a second act of the Spirit. The first act of the Spirit is one of “conversion and re-birth” while the second is one of “empowerment.” Matt Slick, of the apologetics site CARM, describes the difference between the two as that of a soft mist and a heavy storm (See the link below).
In my experience, many new Christians are, for lack of a better word, immature. It takes a long process of spiritual growth and maturity before we learn to understand who the Spirit is and what role He plays in our lives. Some people are simply not ready to experience a torrential downpour as soon as they kneel at the altar. And who is? Of all the believers I’ve seen who claim to have received the gift of the Holy Spirit at conversion none have been, shall I say, effective witnesses for Christ. From claiming to have all manner of various “gifts,” to hearing God’s voice throughout the day, to receiving at least one prophecy an hour, we can easily go overboard with our newfound spiritual lives and become all too willing to push others into things we hastily believe (i.e. telling people that “God told me you’re to *insert wild objective here). For many of us, it’s a good thing that God keeps things from us until we’re truly ready to receive and use them. Furthermore, if we receive this gift instantly, can it not tempt us in placing the validity of our faith in an experience or emotion rather than in the truth of the Gospel and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Unlike the Conversion Hypothesis, the Separation Hypothesis finds plenty of examples in the book of Acts. I find the fault of the arguments by those who attempt to support the former theory seems to be an over-reliance on finding the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in Scripture. These particular examples are ones I’ve yet to see referenced and it’s possible that they’ve been overlooked because folks are so caught up on the word “baptism.”
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:4-17 ESV)
Samaria had already received the word of God but they weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit until Peter and John laid hands on them. We find another example in Paul. After Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus on Damascus road, he was sent to the prophet Ananias in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:10-17)
No one can dispute Paul’s conversion on Damascus road, yet it wasn’t until a prophet laid hands on him that he became filled the Holy Spirit. Finally, when Paul was passing through Ephesus, he came across a number of disciples who claimed to have not heard of the Holy Spirit.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:2-6 ESV)
This passage also appears to treat water baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit as two separate acts. They were baptized in the name of Jesus, yet it wasn’t until Paul laid hands on them that they became filled with the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with the previous examples and suggests that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate act altogether from conversion. As the comparison to a light mist and a heavy downpour suggests, the Holy Spirit’s act of conversion is slow and steady. It’s where He begins to reveal Himself over time and teaches us to be more aware of Him. His act of empowerment, on the other hand, leads to the kind of power demonstrated by the disciples at Pentecost. I’ve yet to see evidence in Scripture that suggests we receive this kind of baptism automatically at conversion. Rather, the power of the Spirit is something that is to be shared when the recipient is ready or when he/she desires it.