Baptism Basics: Baptism in the Spirit

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians have attempted to convince the world that baptism in the Spirit is linked with tongues, fire or a post-salvation experience. This confusion causes some believers to deem the topic non-essential. As we learn what baptism in the Spirit is, we must remember that baptism means immersion. This article seeks to give clarity on baptism in the Spirit.

Prophecy (Mat 3:11; Mar 1:8; Luk 3:16)

The droves of people that came to John the Baptist in the wilderness were unsure about his identity. That he was a prophet was evident, and they wondered if he was the Christ. John spoke of his baptism of repentance, saying, “But He who is coming after me is mightier than I … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mat 3:11 NASB). The evidence to confirm the One mightier than himself was baptism with the Holy Spirit and baptism with fire. John expands on baptism in fire in the next verse, directing his comments to Pharisees and Sadducees. The mention of fire is not to be confused with the “tongues of fire”[1] described in Acts 2. Rather, John describes the purpose of that baptism: “to purge his floor.” John says this baptism would produce two results: to “gather His wheat into the garner” and “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The baptism in fire will come in the future when Israel and the world will be immersed in tribulation judgment. That judgment will result in securing a people for God while others head toward the unquenchable fire of the second death (Zec 13:8-9).

Promise (Luk 24:49; Act 1:4-5)

The Lord gave His followers further clues about the nature of the Spirit prior to His ascension. He reminded them of the Father’s promise of sending the Spirit, which would come when the prophetic word of John would be fulfilled at the baptism in the Spirit. Then the Lord would enable people to receive the Spirit. The Lord gave specific instructions 40 days after the resurrection: as to its location, He told them to “not depart from Jerusalem”; and regarding timing, it would be “not many days hence” (Act 1:4-5). At the same time, there would be a corresponding reception of the Spirit displayed in power and “a coming upon” (v8). Peter later links the idea that because the baptism in the Spirit occurred, the reception of the Spirit is possible (2:33,38-39; 11:15-16). So what would the baptism look like? How would the disciples know another divine Person had come into the world? How would people know John’s prophecy about Christ and the Spirit was true?

Pentecost (Act 2:1-4)

Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits, the day of the Lord’s resurrection (Lev 23:10-11,15-16). The Lord’s followers were waiting in Jerusalem as instructed. The promised plethora of Scripturally significant occurrences transpired almost concurrently. In verse 2, “there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” In verse 3, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them” (NASB). In verse 4, “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” and those filled with the Spirit “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” What concerns us is the significance of verse 2 where the sound filled the house.

The sound filling the room where they sat is important when we remember the definition of baptism. A baptism demands immersion. Notice there came a sound from heaven into the house where they sat. A baptism also requires submersion, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. A baptism needs emergence, shown as they came out to speak the wonderful works of God in unlearned, perfectly spoken dialects. Baptism requires one who does the baptizing, and the Lord told the disciples this would occur soon, as John had prophesied. Baptism requires an element in which to be baptized as well as ones being baptized, and the Spirit of God literally filled the house to baptize those believers. Peter would go on to describe the importance of the Spirit’s coming as a whole, but he doesn’t address the baptism. Never again is there a literal immersion in the Spirit like the aforementioned. Therefore, it must be very important. So what is its implication?

Purpose (1Co 12:13)

We have to wait until Paul writes to the Corinthians to learn the significance of the baptism in the Spirit. When addressing unity and diversity of gift within the local assembly, Paul states that the body of Christ, sometimes called the Universal Church, has many parts composing one body (12:12). Then he proves it, saying, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v13 ESV). Regarding the baptism in the Spirit, Paul states its purpose was to form one body which would be composed of many parts.

When reading the word “baptized” in 1 Corinthians 12, look for a biblical example of immersion in the Spirit. It’s not in Acts 18 when Paul was in Corinth, or any other time, except the corporate event of Acts 2:4. For believers today, the baptism in the Spirit at Pentecost was the vehicle whereby we were brought into the body of Christ at salvation, even as, in a parallel way, the death of Christ at Calvary was the means whereby I died to sin and to the law (Rom 6-7).

Practical (Eph 1:22-23; Col 2:10)

The implication of the baptism of the Spirit is that every believer becomes part of the body of Christ. Ephesians 1 explains that Christ, at the right hand of God, is the head, and the Church is the body. Every believer has a permanent link with Christ. Additionally, the body is called “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” Christ is in need of nothing and yet has given the Church its purpose of being essential to Him. Conversely, the Colossians letter indicates that the Church is “complete in Him.” Because of the baptism in the Spirit and the formation of the body, we know never to look further than Christ for fulfillment for life or eternity.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.