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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

What Does It Mean to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit?

by Adriel Sanchez posted May 22, 2018

When people think about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, they often associate it with the Charismatic movement or Pentecostalism. When I first began to attend church, I went to a Calvary Chapel where members prayed for me to “receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit” after I had already joined the congregation. Despite the good intentions that exist in many churches, there’s a lot of confusion about what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is and why it is significant for the church today.

Understandably, people typically focus on the miraculous signs that accompanied the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. In doing so they often miss the big picture the Bible gives us with regard to this significant event in the history of salvation. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not primarily about speaking in tongues but about the beginning of a new creation, the advancement of a new temple, the giving of a new law, and the commissioning of a new group of prophets.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is about a new creation. 

The rushing wind that invaded the room where the disciples were praying in Acts 2:2 was none other than the Creator Spirit who had been present at the creation of the world: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).

The Spirit of God present at the creation of the world is also the one who brings about the new creation. In the context of talking about being “born again” Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The presence of the rushing wind in Acts 2 is a sign that the new creation is here in believers individually and in the church corporately. This is why Paul could say, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is about a new temple. 

The image of “fiery tongues” over the disciples in Acts 2:3 was more than just a neat sight to see. In the Bible, fire is a sign of God’s holy presence. The LORD manifested his presence to Moses in a fiery bush (Exodus 3).

After the Exodus, God led his people by a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-22), and that fire rested on the tabernacle as a sign of God’s presence (Exodus 40:38). The fiery tongues over the disciples were a sign of where God’s new dwelling place would be. Worship would no longer be centralized in Jerusalem, but the holy temple-presence of God would be spread abroad throughout the world by the expansion of the church. Hence Paul can say to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and to the Ephesians, “In Jesus you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit signals the giving of a new law. 

Early on Jews began to see the feast of Pentecost as a time for commemorating the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The fire, noise, and wind present in Acts 2:2-3 are reminiscent of the scene on Mt. Sinai when Moses ascended it. “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder” (Exodus 19:18-19). Moses went up the mountain and came down with the law of God written on tablets of stone. Jesus ascended a mountain greater than Sinai, the heavenly Jerusalem, and on the day of Pentecost sent down the Holy Spirit, who wrote God’s law on the tablet of our hearts. This was something God had promised to do in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” The baptism of the Holy Spirit made that promise a reality!

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the commissioning of a new group of prophets.

In the Old Testament, the prophetic role was exclusive. A select few among Israel were prophets, endowed with the Holy Spirit in a unique way. In Numbers 11, Moses prayed for the expansion of this exclusivity: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (v.29).

The answer to this prayer is promised by Joel in Joel 2:28-29, and fulfilled in Acts 2. Hence Peter could say to describe the events of that day, “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (v.16). At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was democratized, meaning that it wasn’t just the religious elite in Israel who could be identified as “prophets,” but that a universal prophethood of believers was being ushered in where men and women, young and old, rich and poor, would be filled with God’s Spirit.

We often miss these great truths because we focus on the gift of tongues as it relates to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In reality however, Pentecost and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit are about the ushering in of a new creation, the expansion of a new temple, the giving of a new law, and the commissioning of new prophets.

The glorious message of Pentecost is that because the new creation is here, we can be confident that God is fulfilling his promises to restore the sin-torn world in which we live. Because the Spirit of God has made the church—and believers—his temple, the world can (and should) experience the holy presence of God through our worship and lives.

Because the Spirit of God has written God’s law upon our hearts, “the righteous requirements of the law can be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). And because God’s prophetic spirit lives in every one of God’s children, we are a part of a universal prophethood commissioned to declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Photo of Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.

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