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Spirit baptism

Spirit baptism has been a much-debated issue. The main points typically debated are these: does Spirit baptism occur at the time of conversion, or later? And, is it the privilege of every believer, or only for those who seek it as a separate experience?

Seven New Testament mentions

Baptism in the Spirit is mentioned seven times in the New Testament (Matthew 3:11–12; Mark 1:7–8; Luke 1:16–17; John 1:33; Acts 1:4–5; Acts 11:15–18; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The four Gospel texts are parallel — words spoken by John the Baptist. Some variation exists among the four accounts, but all contain the statement, “I baptise you in water unto repentance, but he will baptise you in the Holy Spirit.” The two accounts in Acts are quotations of this prediction. The 1 Corinthians mention has a special feature or two that demands our attention. But I will only deal with Acts 11 in detail.

Acts 11

Acts 11:1–18 recounts Peter’s return to Jerusalem after leading the Gentile Cornelius and his household to faith in Christ. Cornelius, a “God-fearing man” and a Roman centurion, had sent for Peter that he might “hear a message” from him (Acts 10:17–23). Peter preached the gospel at Cornelius’s house, and when he did, the Spirit came on the gathered group much as he had at Pentecost. They spoke in tongues and glorified God (Acts 10:44–45).In Jerusalem, those “of the circumcision” took issue with Peter upon his return (Acts 11:2). These were likely Jewish Christians especially zealous about the law, sticklers for the ban on social interaction between Jew and Gentile. So Peter was compelled to offer a defense. He explained that while he was preaching, the Spirit fell on those gathered, “just as on us at the beginning,” and he remembered the words of the Lord: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Spirit” (Acts 11:15–16). Jesus spoke these words just before his ascension (Acts 1:5), or else Peter might have had no knowledge of them. The continuity, though, of these words from John the Baptist to Jesus, then to Peter, and eventually to Paul (1 Corinthians 12:13), stands as a major component of the new covenant and a critical theological issue that defines the church.

So why did Cornelius’ household experience Spirit baptism in such a tangible way?

Redemptive-historical shift

One of the New Testament’s overwhelming emphases is the equality of Jews and Gentiles. This constitutes a redemptive-historical shift beyond the Old Testament, where Jews were God’s people and Gentiles had to link themselves to the Jewish community by male circumcision and law-keeping in order to join. In the new covenant age, however, those stipulations have been erased. Neither circumcision (Galatians 5:1–12), nor keeping the dietary laws (Acts 10:9–16; Romans 14:6; 1 Timothy 4:1–5), nor temple worship (Hebrews 7:26–28) are requirements for belonging to the company of believers. The only requirement is faith in Christ and his redemptive work (Romans 3:21–26, 28; 4:1–25; Galatians 3:1–14).

Cornelius’ household spoke in tongues, one of three examples of this phenomenon in Acts (Acts 2:1–13; 10:46; 19:6). The significance of this practice is drawn out by Peter in Acts 11:17: “Therefore, if God gave to them the same gift as he gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

What are the implications for us today?

1. Baptism of the Spirit happens at the time of conversion, not separate from it. It is the privilege of every Christian who repents and believes in Jesus Christ. Speaking in tongues is simply confirmatory evidence of conversion. 1. The tangible expressions of Spirit baptism served a unique period in redemptive history. What had happened to the Jews in Acts 2 has now happened to Gentiles in Acts 10. In Acts 2, Jewish believers were baptised in the Spirit through faith in Jesus; in Acts 10, Gentile believers were also baptised in the Spirit through faith in Jesus. Hence, it evidences that there is no longer any distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers.

In the context of Acts, this is preparatory for Paul’s mission, which takes centre stage beginning in chapter 13. Paul’s mission and ministry — and the theology that informed it — was committed to the conviction that in Christ there is neither “Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28).

2. Spirit Baptism is the fulfilment of John the Baptist’s ministry. John made straight the way for the One who came after him. He predicted the coming of the Messiah, proclaimed him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and announced his appearance. Ultimately, John’s baptism pointed to Jesus’ greater baptism, one that ushered in a new covenant in which the Law is written on hearts (Jeremiah 31:31–34), and which will unite all believers — Jew and Gentile alike — into one new body (Ephesians 2:11–22) that will praise the Lamb with one voice forever (Revelation 5:11–14).

Adapted from the article “Is Spirit Baptism the privilege of Every Christian?” by Dr Chad Brand, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, extracted from

- Pastor Luwin Wong

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