In parts 1 and 2 I laid down my upbringing (or a lack thereof) with the Holy Spirit and my later experiences with the Spirit in my early twenties. In part 3 I will now lay out an extreme fast forward version of the history of the Spirit in the bible and share some bible verses and reasoning that has lead me to take the position on the Baptism of the Spirit as I do today.
The “Spirit of God” is found throughout the whole bible. It’s even in the very first book, Genesis. In the 3rd sentence of Genesis it says that during creation of the world “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
We find that throughout the Old Testament the Spirit was indeed active with individuals. But it looks like the Spirit only came upon certain people for certain periods of time and for certain special roles – like to help a king rule a nation, or make judgments, or to write the bible and give prophecy (II Peter 1:19-21). The Spirit would apparently come and go as It or God pleased, and it was only given to a privileged few. It was not available to everyone. As one looks through the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God, or some type of power or mind that is called the Spirit, came to rest on people. For example: Samson and his might strength (Judges 14-15), King David (1 Samuel 16), Gideon (Judges 6), some random dude named Othniel (Judges 3), and many others as well.
For those who did receive the Spirit in the Old Testament the Bible records that many of them had a tangible experience with when they received it.
One of my favorite bible stories is when a guy named Saul was told that He was going to be anointed as King over the Israelites. Samuel the prophet said to him, “And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 1 Samuel 10
I resonate with this passage because it seemed like I turned into another person when I had an experience with the Spirit It seemed a huge part of inner being changed and in effect I became a like new man. Not everything changed and I still struggle and continue to struggle with a lot of life junk now. But I definitely had a tangible experience with the Spirit. And it later fully manifested with praising God and speaking in tongues. And I’ve never been the same since.
Next, as we move through the Old Testament we find some prophecies regarding the Spirit that had yet to come. These promises were and are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.
One prophet named Joel wrote this about the coming of Messiah and how it related to the Spirit of God, “”It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
The prophet Joel wrote about the day when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all mankind. It’s pretty clear from this foretelling that there will be some evidence when the Spirit was on all flesh – they would prophesy, dream, and have visions. I’d call that a tangible experience with the Spirit. Isaiah 44:3-4 also speaks about a flood and pouring of the Spirit that was to come as well.
Thus far I’ve roughly presented that the Spirit was present throughout the Old Testament. It was there in the beginning at creation, functioned in lives of a few chosen people to do certain special roles and tasks, at times the onset of the Spirit was recorded with an accompanying tangible experience, and was prophesied about that there would be pouring out onto all people at a future time. And as the Bible continues into the New Testament and the life of Jesus there would be more of the spirit….much, much, muchly more…
Jesus is the reason we call the New Testament the “New Testament”. It’s God’s new and completely different way of communicating to His people. I like how the author of the book of Hebrews puts it in Chapter one, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus].
One could make a case the New Testament could be renamed to the “Testament of the Spirit”. There is so much revealed about the enigma of the 3rd person of the Trinity. For example, the Old Testament is three times as large as the New Testament yet the New Testament references the Spirit of God at least three times as much as the Old. Rather than just briefly testifying to work of the Spirit as the Old Testament does the New Testament gives us entire dedicated passages of scripture that reveals specifics to who the Spirit is, what He does, how to receive Him, how to commune with Him, and how to walk in it (John 14-17, Romans 8, like the whole book of Acts, I Cor. 12-14, to name a few). There’s so much to say about the Spirit of God in the life of Jesus and His disciples in the New Testament but for the sake of brevity I’m going to continue to do a fast forward.
JESUS AND THE SPIRIT
Most mainstream believers agree that He was fully God at birth and fully human at the same time. A paradoxical dichotomy that Christians readily embrace. We don’t know much about the Jesus’s early life. We have one little passage in the book of Luke that says that when Jesus was a twelve He stayed in the temple and was listening and asking questions of the teachers. And then after that there is nothing about Him until we see Him going down to meet John the Baptist to get water baptized.
After Jesus was baptized in water the bible says the Spirit of God descended on Him. And BAM! Right after that Jesus’s life changed and His ministry began. A little point I bring out is that he is the Lord Jesus, Lord and co-creator of the universe, the King of Kings, even Lord at His birth, and yet He did nothing, and perhaps could do nothing, until He had a personal experience with the Holy Spirit. So Jesus Himself was even baptized/immersed in the Holy Spirit. We’ll see later that this is the same instructions He gave to His disciples as well.
If He was Lord at His birth then shouldn’t He have been able to do whatever he needed to do with just the power He had in Himself already being God? But the fact that Jesus himself needed to be baptized with the Spirit speaks says to me that The Father, Jesus, and the Spirit need to work together to get their will accomplished. Which is another reason why I believe we should not downplay, or make assumptions, about how we even begin to receive the spirit as my evangelical experience did. This immersion in the Spirit is very important. So important that even Jesus as Lord Himself needed the baptism of the Spirit. Wow!
Jesus also had tangible outward characteristics after being filled with the Spirit. Only after receiving the Spirit did He formally begin His ministry which was highlighted by using the power and presence of the Spirit to heal diseases and cast out demons (Matthew 12:22-28).
The New Testament also speaks a coming work of Jesus regarding the Spirit. John the Baptist was out baptizing folks in water months before Jesus came to him for Himself to be baptized. The bible says that John’s ministry was to have people confess their sins and be baptized, but ALSO to tell that there was another person coming that was going to baptize them…but not with water:
“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 fire.” Luke 3:16
Herein John foretells that Jesus will be doing a special work within people on behalf of the Spirit of God. He would be baptizing or immersing people in the Spirit. What would this look like? How was this going to happen? We’ll see soon…
Jesus said a bunch of things about the Spirit while He taught on earth. But we’re continuing our fast forward review of the New Testament so lets push on. I will mention that John chapters 14-17 are a treasure trove about the coming promise of the Spirit and what it would do in our lives. In these verses Jesus promised that after He would die He would send the Spirit to live with us – but He had to die first. In fact, he said, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. “
AFTER JESUS’S RESURRECTION
After Jesus died on the cross God raised Him from the dead. After He rose He appeared to a bunch of people and then eventually returned back to the heavenly realm. But before He left He gave instructions and said don’t go anywhere “but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5…and He went on to say, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8
So that’s what the disciples did. We Jesus went back to heaven they waited around for the Spirit.
An interesting parallel that I see is that just as Jesus did nothing till He had been baptized with the Spirit by John the Baptist the disciples were also instructed not to do anything until they had the same baptism. I wonder if that’s the same model we should take today? We’ll get to that later. Moving on…
After weeks of waiting the Holy Spirit finally came. Acts chapter two retells this story. Each disciple was filled with the Spirit. When this happened they apparently spilled out of the room they were meeting in and entered into the streets. They were speaking in what is called tongues. In this particular example of tongues they were either speaking in foreign languages that folks in the streets could understand, or they are speaking in a heavenly language in which the bystanders were miraculously able to hear in their own languages. It’s important to note that in other examples found in the New Testament this “tongue speaking” shows itself in non-recognizable languages, i.e. languages that no person can understand – like as referenced in I Corinthians 14:2.
The people in the streets noticed that these fellows seemed odd and even accused them of being drunk. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been around a lot of drunken people, including myself at times. We’re loud, boisterous, stumbling, happy, emotional….those are some of the things I think about when I think of being drunk. So if you read the rest of Acts chapter 2 and the mini-sermon that Peter gave to the bystanders after the disciples received the Spirit, read it in the context of someone acting/sounding drunk joyful and happy – just do it for fun. It takes the seriousness and sometimes boringness out of the Bible. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I like it!
Remember when I mentioned Joel Chapter 2? Well, go ahead and read Peters sermon in Acts chapter 2 and you’ll see that Peter directly quotes Joel and specifically says that what the bystanders were hearing and seeing was the evidence of what Joel was talking about – which is the Spirit of God being poured on all flesh. Acts 2:33 also says that the bystanders were seeing the Holy Spirit being poured out . There was a visual component as well. So my guess is that they were literally acting drunk and happy. Maybe they were raising their hands to the sky in praise. They certainly weren’t standing around looking all pious with their hands folded neatly speaking in weird languages. Peter said that their speaking in tongues, praising God, acting drunkish, was all tangible evidence to the observers that indeed the Spirit had been poured out and now indwelled them. This was the baptism the John the Baptist was talking about in Luke 3:16!
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE THE PETER PREACHED – THE INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT
After the street folks saw this happen we can also see that in verse 37 of Acts 2 that they heard Peter’s words and were moved in their hearts and basically said, “I agree, what should we do about this?”. Peter tells them in verse 38-39 to have a change of heart to God (repent), to be water baptized so their sins would be forgiven, and then they too would receive the Holy Spirit.
Now I need to stop here because what I just wrote really goes counter to what I normally hear people teach from this passage. Peter didn’t say that if they repented and got baptized in water that they would then go to heaven. Nor did it say they would receive eternal life. I do agree that both of those results of coming to Jesus are true, but listen closely to what Peter said. He said that if they did these things that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples had received it moments before! And presumably they would receive it in the same way. And why wouldn’t they? For it was the outward tangible experience of the baptism of the Spirit that the bystanders saw which made them stop and take note of what was happening. Peter basically says, “Guys, if you’ll have a change in heart toward God and be baptized in water for your sins to be washed away you will get the same thing we just got!” – paraphrase of Acts 2:37-38. Amazing! It’s a very different message than what I got from the church and different from what I hear most preachers say today.
In verse 41 it says that about 3000 folks took Peter up on His offer and were baptized. I agree that it doesn’t say specifically how or even if any of them received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However when I read verses 38-39 it is very clear to me that receiving the Holy Spirit was the very purpose for which Peter gave the offer. So just because it’s not written in verse 40 specifically I would make the case that it wasn’t mentioned because it is a no-brainer – for the Spirit was the very thing that the bystanders noticed when the apostles were acting drunk and speaking in tongues and the Spirit is the very thing that Peter promised that the bystanders would receive if the repented and were baptized. He told them furthermore that the promise of the Spirit was for them, their children, and to all those a far-off (verse 39).
The very first message the apostles gave was encouraging people to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit and receive the promise stated by Joel via having a heart change to God and being water baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. If you read Acts 2 and Peters message without our evangelical glasses and objectively I think you’ll come to the same conclusion.
RECEIVING THE SPIRIT
However, as I mentioned in Part 1, what some would still debate is how and when exactly one receives the Holy Spirit.
One could make an argument that the Holy Spirit was not sent by Jesus until the day of Pentecost and that is why the disciples had to receive it days after they had already believed in Jesus. And in turn we hear some preachers say that since the Spirit has now been present since Pentecost anyone who simply comes to believe in Jesus has the baptism of the Spirit. They would say that believing in the Jesus and the baptism is the synonymous. For them the Spirit automatically rushes in and fills them at the exact moment they come to believe. This was the example I used in Part 1 when I mentioned Billy Graham’s methodology.
But one strong argument that I’ve been making throughout this post is that the Bible shows that with the coming if the Spirit also usually comes a tangible outward display that is clearly visible or audible to others. And we see this all the way back in the Old Testament with Saul when he prophesied along with the prophets, Jesus by starting His public ministry via casting out demons and healing the sick in the power of the Spirit, and with the disciples receiving the Spirit at Pentecost and then acting drunk and declaring the wonders of God in foreign tongues. Most examples in the Bible where the Spirit comes there is clear outward display of its presence. This is why I have come to believe that we should see some tangible evidence when a believer receives the Holy Spirit. I’ve also come to believe that speaking in tongues is the most universal way of confirming receipt of the Spirit. I don’t believe it is the only way, hence even my own experience with initially receiving the Spirit, but I do lead with tongues when I am helping and encouraging someone to receive the baptism of the Spirit. It is the only spiritual gift that Jesus specifically said would be one of the signs that would accompany those who believed in Him (Mark 16:14-20). So I do believe in a separate event when one receives the Spirit and is then manifested in a way that is tangible to others.
There are more reasons why people argue against a tangible expression as a proof of receiving the Spirit. I am intimately familiar with many of them. Perhaps I will address some of those in later posts. But for now, I’m going to continue in this series with an understanding that receiving the Holy Spirit also brings with it some form tangibility.
ACTS AS OUR GUIDE, NOT THE EPISTLES
Now, when I began learning about the Spirit in relationship to the what early church experienced, and what the New Testament actually showed (when I read it for itself without my evangelical glasses on), it really challenged my viewpoints. For example, my evangelical experience seemed to only focus on the New Testament books written to churches that were already established – like all the books written by the apostle Paul (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, etc.). Those books speak little to giving a account to the process by which the Spirit entered into a believer’s life. They were specifically written to believers that have already received the Spirit during their conversion (see Ephesians 1:13 and/or I John 3:34). Only in the book of Acts do we find a detailed record of what the conversion experience was actually like. And most importantly for the sake of this blog series, the processes by which this happened. That’s why I believe that the book of Acts is the most authoritative book for defining what salvation is and how it was first presented and followed through.
As I mentioned, the traditional belief by most mainline Protestants is that the Spirit comes at the time when a person puts their whole faith into Jesus and in turn born again. For them they believe it happens automatically, it’s not up to the believer, and is NOT a separate experience and has no outward tangibility. It’s all inward. So now we will move to my favorite book of the Bible, Acts!
The book of Acts has plenty to say about new believers and receiving the Holy Spirit. On to Part 4…
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!