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Baptism in the spirit

Synopsis: baptism in the spirit is our immersion into the knowledge of the Word of God. The experience of baptism depends on prior birth of the spirit in which the sacrificial agape love - the love of the truth - develops understanding and, subsequently, the character on the image of Jesus Christ. Supernatural gifts are the power of the spirit, but do not constitute an indispensable element or testimony of baptismal experience.

Contents:

  1. The meaning of baptism in the spirit
  2. Baptism in the spirit on the day of Pentecost
  3. Baptism in the spirit and supernatural gifts
  4. New birth as a condition for baptism in the spirit

The meaning of baptism in the spirit

The sense of baptism in the spirit follows directly from the analysis of each of the elements of this expression. Baptism (Greek baptisma) literally means immersion. Baptism in the spirit means "immersion in the spirit". The question, however, is what that spirit means; how do we know that we are immersed in it? In Rom. 5:5 the apostle Paul writes that "the love of God hath been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that hath been given to us" (YLT). Here we are a bit closer to the answer: baptism in the spirit is immersion in the love of God. Again, however, one could ask what this love is? How should we know that we have it?

It is worth noting that Paul does not speak about the love for God. Theos is here in the genitive, and so it is a love that belongs to God and which has been poured into our hearts by the spirit. We are therefore talking about the tool that God provides so that its recipients can achieve a goal that would otherwise be unattainable. This goal, according to Rom. 8:29, is identification with the image of Jesus Christ of those who were predestined for this purpose by God. We are therefore to become faithful copies of our Lord, both in the way we think and act.

This conclusion is confirmed in 2 Cor. 5:14-15, where the apostle Paul writes about the same agape love that it "doth constrain us, having judged thus: that if one for all died, then the whole died, (15) and for all he died, that those living, no more to themselves may live, but to him who died for them, and was raised again" (YLT). We do not live for Christ in the literal sense; our Lord has been glorified and does not need us physically. We live for Christ when we are engaged in the same service that he was: the service of the Gospel.

Our Lord clearly states in his conversation with Pilate that the purpose of his birth was to bear witness to the truth (Jn. 18:37). For this purpose, Jesus came to John at the Jordan and for this purpose he was baptized in the spirit. The description of this event brings much to the discussion of the meaning of baptism, for we see Lord Jesus, "and lo, opened to him were the heavens, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him" (Mt. 3:16 YLT). The opening of the heavens is particularly interesting because it suggests that at this moment our Lord received insight into spiritual things which he had not had before. Equipped with this understanding, he began his service of providing the truth to Israel.

Baptism in the spirit on the day of Pentecost

The same applies to Jesus’ disciples. During the last supper, our Lord announces that the spirit will be sent that will lead the apostles to understand the truth: "I have yet many things to say to you, but ye are not able to bear [them] now; (13) and when He may come - the Spirit of truth - He will guide you to all the truth, for He will not speak from Himself, but as many things as He will hear He will speak, and the coming things He will tell you; (14) He will glorify me, because of mine He will take, and will tell to you" (Jn. 16:12-14 YLT). The Spirit is therefore a tool to introduce disciples to an understanding of the Word of God so that they can take up the Lord's service to bear witness to the truth. The promise of baptism in the spirit is later repeated to the disciples during their last meeting with the Master, just before his ascension (Acts 1:5).

Baptism in the Spirit does indeed occur "in the day of the Pentecost being fulfilled", when "they were all with one accord at the same place, (2) and there came suddenly out of the heaven a sound as of a bearing violent breath, and it filled all the house where they were sitting, (3) and there appeared to them divided tongues, as it were of fire; it sat also upon each one of them" (Acts 2:1-4 YLT). Fire is the source of light and as such adequately represents the fulfillment of the promise given by the Lord in the upper chamber - the promise of enlightenment. According to the information given in verse 4, all are filled with the holy spirit and begin announcing the Gospel to the Jews gathered for the feast.

To sum up this part of the lecture, the essence of baptism in the spirit is God's giving 1) the ability to understand spiritual matters and 2) the motivation to take up service for the Gospel. Baptism in both aspects is a continuous process. It is true that the baptism of Jesus and the baptism at Pentecost were presented in the Bible as if it were a one-off act of enlightenment. However, it should also be noted that our Lord for many years was introduced into the knowledge of the Mosaic Law before he came to John. Similarly, Jesus’ disciples listened to his teachings for 3.5 years, although they still did not understand them. Baptism in the spirit is the moment when everything they have heard starts to form an understandable structure of the truth.

Nevertheless, I avoid looking at baptism as a single event because this approach brings with it another question, which is very difficult to answer unequivocally, namely what amount of truth is necessary to be able to speak about baptism in the spirit? I do not undertake to define it, but rather refer to the words of Jesus in Jn. 17:3, where our Lord states that eternal life is learning, and therefore it is a process of continuous immersion in understanding, continuous spiritual work. In my estimation the spirit directed to the study God's Word, as well as its service through evangelization, preaching or prophecy is a clear testimony of baptism.

Baptism in the spirit and supernatural gifts

In the context of baptism in the spirit, one must also refer to the subject of supernatural gifts. The relationship of these two elements seems to be obvious, especially when considering Acts 2:4, which connects baptism with the gift of speaking in tongues: "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, according as the Spirit was giving them to declare" (YLT) . Why, however, should these two issues be separated? First of all, it is Jesus who separates them. In Acts 1:5 our Lord announces the coming baptism in the spirit. Then, in verses 6 and 7, he goes on to discuss a completely different subject - the restoration of the kingdom to Israel – and after that he speaks of the power of the spirit.

Moreover, the way most translations render Acts 1:8 is an example of scandalous arbitrariness on the part of translators. Consultation with the Greek text shows that Jesus is not talking about the power of the spirit that will come (future tense), but about the power of the spirit that came (past tense). Jesus therefore promises the disciples the power of the spirit which they already possessed at the time when the Lord spoke to them. This additionally shows that the power to perform miracles that the disciples received at Pentecost had nothing to do with the baptism they experienced on that day, but with the new birth which they had received at the time they were called by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (see Jn. 1:12-13, 5:25).

As announced, the power of the spirit was to enable disciples to proclaim the Gospel "in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth" (YLT). And this is what we see in the second chapter of the Acts, where the disciples receive baptism along with the power of the spirit, and then go out and speak in tongues to the Jews gathered for the feast from various parts of the Empire. If baptism in the spirit was to be a source of enlightenment for them, the power of the spirit was to be an instrument of effective communication of the knowledge of the Word of God. There is therefore no reason to believe that baptism in the spirit is inseparably connected with the possession of supernatural gifts. It is also worth noting that God gave such gifts to people earlier, e.g. the builders of the Tabernacle, which in no way means that they experienced baptism in the spirit (Ex. 31:1-6).

What is more, supernatural gifts of the spirit were not given to the Church for all time, but they were to pass: "whether [there be] prophecies, they shall become useless; whether tongues, they shall cease; whether knowledge, it shall become useless" (1 Cor. 13:8 YLT). All this did happen after the apostles died at a still very early stage of Christianity. The supernatural gifts ceased, just as the gifts of knowledge and prophecy were literally 'made useless' (Gr. katargeo - abrogate, abolish, neglect), when the great transgression of the Man of Sin came in and introduced its own teachings, 'neglecting' the true teachings of Christ and the apostles (2 Thes. 2:3-10).

New birth as a condition for baptism in the spirit

In its essence baptism in the spirit is the process of our 'immersion' into the Word of God. The motivator for taking this action is not our own initiative, but the divine agape love, which the apostle Paul also calls 'the love of truth' (2 Thes. 2:10). The effect of agape is our growth "in full knowledge, and all judgment" (Phil. 1:9-11 YLT; Eph. 1:16-18, 3:14-19). The called who receive it have the desire to learn, and they are led in their work by the spirit that allows them to discern the meaning of the Word of God (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Therefore, the apostle John writes about our Lord that he "hath given us a mind, that we may know Him who is true" (1 John 5:20 YLT). The Apostle Paul, in turn, writes about "the spirit of your mind" and the "power of a sound mind" (Eph. 4:23; 2 Tim. 1:7). Through this spirit we are guided "till we may all come to the unity of the faith and of the recognition of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to a measure of stature of the fulness of the Christ" (Eph. 4:13,14 YLT). Because the effect of the spirit activity in believers is the maturity of character, the act of giving the spirit the Bible describes as the new birth (Jn. 1:12,13). Having experienced the influence of the agape spirit, we become babies in Christ, who first seek the milk of learning and then also of solid food (2 Pet. 2:2; Heb. 5:11-14).

Birth of the spirit is a necessary beginning, but it is not a baptism in itself. This is due to the fact that the influence of the spirit does not have to entail spiritual development. In 2 Thes. 2:10-12 the apostle Paul says that some have not accepted the love of truth at all, and God has put them into the hand of error. Some of the new creatures have reacted, but only to quickly adopt the sectarian views of their church and cling to them 'for better and for worse'. Meanwhile, our Lord says that the reward of eternal life is not connected with static knowledge, but with dynamic knowing – both constant enrichment of one's understanding and verification of current views (Jn. 17:3).

Obviously, a stable spiritual base is a necessity so that we do not completely delve into chaos. But on the other hand, it also cannot mean a mental barricade and a blind denial of everything that is outside. The Lord expects us to follow Abraham, the father of faith, in exploring our promised land, entering ever new areas. This wandering can be dangerous and will require the greatest sacrifices - sacrifices of our own views - but we are not allowed to settle in one place because we will not fulfill the conditions of our covenant in this way.


Keywords: baptism in the spirit
 
Bible translations used in the lecture:
YLT – Young's Literal Translation
 
Published:
Last reviewed: 05-06-2019


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