Baptized by the Holy Spirit - Its Necessity
Acts 1:1-8
Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 20, Q+A #53

© Copyright 2010  Rev. Bill Versteeg


1     In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Hiedelberg Catechism Lord's Day 20, Q & A 53

Q. What do you believe concerning "the Holy Spirit"?

A. First, he, as well as the Father and the Son, is eternal God.

   Second, he has been given to me personally, so that, by true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his blessings, comforts me, and remains with me forever.

Brothers and sisters in Christ

Let me build on what we have already looked at from the HC. First we discovered that in our Trinitarian theology, the work and person of the Father, the work and person of the Son and the work and person of the Holy Spirit each are worthy of our attention. To neglect one is to neglect the clear teaching of scripture. To neglect teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as the ceasassionist tradition has, the tradition that has taught that the demonstrations of the Holy Spirit ceased with the writing of the scriptures, is in effect to deny the Trinitarian nature of God.

Second, we found that reception of and fullness of the Holy Spirit has to do with trust. We simply will not receive ministry from someone whom we do not trust. So it is with the Spirit. Just as a lack of trust seeks to control, so to, when we seek to control the Spirit’s ministry from distrust, the consequence is a lack of fullness, as illustrated by the sponge.

Now it is nice to talk about the Holy Spirit and the Fullness of the Spirit in our lives, but it is only talk. And we can afford to only talk about it if it is for us only a Christian option, something we can do without, unnecessary. So in this evenings teaching, we are going to ask one question. Is being baptized with the Holy Spirit necessary for the Christian.

But before we ask that question, we need some clarification - what does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Let me start by saying, whatever it means, it is at least scriptural language. Just as we would use baptized with water, and we readily know what it means, so to, in the same language construction, scripture talks about being baptized with the Spirit. It is scriptural language and therefore ought to be part of our spiritual vocabulary.

John the Baptist looked forward to this being baptized by the Spirit. He promised this would happen in Luke 3:16

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with  water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

John gospel also notes it (not just one gospel writer.) (John 1:32ff)

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” Jesus reiterates that this would happen in the passage we have just read. (Acts 1:5) His obvious reference goes all the way back to what John the baptizer was referring to.

 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

It is scriptural language, yes, but what exactly is it.

Some believe that the Spirit is simply subconciously received at baptism, after all Acts 2:38 says

38 Peter replied, “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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Peter and John however, ran into Samaritan Christians who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who had been baptized, but had not yet recieved the Spirit. (Acts 8:14ff)

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And Peter while preaching witnessed the Holy Spirit come down on the devoted Gentiles in Cornelius’s house even before they were baptized. (Acts 10:44ff)

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. And Peter in chapter 11 re-explains what happened in Cornelius’s house in terms of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 11:15ff)

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

It becomes fairly clear then, that to be baptized with water, and to be baptized with the Holy Sprit are two separate and distinct dynamics in the Christian life even though they are symbolically related and even though they may happen simultaneously.

We can add to this sequence of events Paul’s experience in Ephesus. (Acts 19)

19   While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when Endnote you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

So this dynamic of being baptized by the Holy Spirit not only happened in Peter and John’s ministry, it also happened in Paul’s ministry. And being baptized by the Holy Spirit is distinguishable from being baptized by water. It is not necessarily something that happens upon baptism and certainly does not refer to the act of water baptism itself.

Second possible theme - to be baptized into the Spirit is to be baptized into the Christian community. This clearly seems to be what Paul understands at certain points. (1 Cor 12)

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Thus, to be baptized is to be baptized as Israel was into Moses, as we are baptized into Christ which means we become part of his body in this world, his organic church, the community of faith, the holy catholic church. The outward symbol for this is obviously water baptism. This becoming part of the body of Christ is an important theme in Paul. And if you were to continue reading in the Apostles creed and the Heidelberg Catechism, you would notice that it is Paul’s interpretation that is focused on, for by the Holy Spirit, the church is formed.

Lord's Day 21

Q & A 54

Q. What do you believe concerning "the holy catholic church"?

A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

But the question is - is this becoming part of the body of Christ everything that being baptized by the Spirit means.

Well, once again, apparently not.

The disciples were already one with Christ, part of his body. And yet waiting for the Spirit was commanded them.

Some think that to be baptized with the Spirit is the same as being Born again. And of course to be born again has such a spectrum of meanings in the common mind that again, some defiintion is helpful. Obviously to be born again is an absolute necessity for without it we cannot see or enter into the kingdom of heaven. Without rebirth or regeneration, as we call it in reformed theology, there is no spiritual appetite, there is no hunger for the kingdom, there is no understanding of spiritual things for they are all foolishness to us. But is being born again the same thing as being baptized by the Spirit?

The evidence of scripture is against it.

The disciples who follow Jesus were born again. They had come to a vibrant and zealous faith in Christ, to the point that they were willing to give their lives for him. They had witnessed Christ’s authority, practiced some of his authority in expelling demons and healing people. They witnessed his resurrection and ascension. Yet it was to these disciples, clearly born again, that Jesus said

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So it certainly appears that being baptized by the Holy Spirit is different from spiritual rebirth, different from baptism by water, and it seems to be distinct from being baptized into the body of Christ.

I am giving you all this detail because it leads to a definition, based on our passage:

To be baptized with the Spirit is to be “Divinely empowered by the Spirit for ministry as a Christian wherever God calls us.”

 The gift that is promised in this passage clearly seems to be power. Jesus very last recorded words on earth were this promise. (Luke 24)

 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

And so when this theme is reiterated in connection with being baptized by the Holy Spirit in Acts one, Jesus is clearly referring to this gift of power that will enable the ministry of witness to all the ends of the earth.

Now the big question. Jesus commanded - wait till you have it. For these disciples who had his words, the experience and memories of his life, for these disciples who had been baptized were already one with Christ had been born again so that they could see the kingdom, this being baptized by the Spirit was still necessary.

The question then is, is it still necessary for us. If it is not necessary, then I don’t think we need to talk about it. If it is peripheral to being a Christian, then it is unimportant. But if it is as essential as the gospel going into the world, then maybe it needs our attention, our undivided attention, our very earnest study.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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