Now on to Baptism of the Spirit
But what about the baptism of the spirit? Years ago I did a study on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and this is what I came up with. You can think about it and see if it fits. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the event that actually saves a person. In Reformed circles it is described by several things: regeneration, justification, Sanctification (not in the progressive sense), etc. It is the event that causes us to go from being unbelievers to being believers. It is the action of the spirit on our hearts’ that changes us from being our own god to being a servant of the real and true God. It is the action of God wherein we are actually adopted into his family to be children of God.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a secondary event to salvation, as the Charismatics teach, it is salvation. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the event that transforms us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. It is the event that makes us truly Christian and truly members of the New Covenant community. It is the event that makes us Christians. And it is an event that works in our hearts.
And that last part is the rub. Fortunately God anticipated it. The Bible tells us that we know the man of the Spirit by the fruit that the Spirit of God produces in his life. We also know that no one can say Jesus is Lord unless the power of God is upon him (1 Co. 12:3). But what do we do with the person who claims Christ, but only sporadically shows fruit, or who sins all the time? We can’t look into a person’s heart and see if it has been changed. All we have to go on are things that we can see on the outside. I have no problems with saying, “we can’t tell if a person is going to go to Heaven or not, if he is living in sin.” But is he a Christian who is in sin, or is he a non-Christian altogether? Do we do evangelism with him, or do we rebuke him as a brother?
The Bible does not leave us ignorant. They had this same problem in the Old Covenant and Paul shows it when in Romans 9 he tells us that not everyone descended from Israel is Israel (Rom. 9:6). The problem was that salvation doesn’t have to do with who your father is, it has to do with the promise and this promise is obtained by faith. So, everyone in Israel was circumcised, and therefore all members of the People of God, but not all were circumcised in heart (the true mark of a member of the people of God). So it is with Christians.
I said above that water baptism is what makes a person a Christian, but then below I said that baptism of the Spirit is what makes a person a Christian. This is because just like in the Old Covenant, not all Israel is Israel, so too in the church not all Christians are Christians. Water baptism brings a person into the covenant community, but the Spirit is the one, working in their heart who makes them truly Christians.
Water baptism, then, is the sign that points to the Spirit’s work in a person’s heart. This sign can come before the event of salvation as it might in the case of children who are baptized as infants or as in the case of the folks in Acts 8. Or the sign can come after the change of heart as it did in John (Lk. 1:41) or as it did at Pentecost when the people repented and then were baptized. And sometimes it happens at the same time as it is talked about in Colossians 2:
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:11-14).
(Incidentally, if you need a passage that joins circumcision to baptism, this is it.) The point is that a sign points at something else, it is not the thing in itself. In this case the baptism that the Holy Spirit puts us through is the thing itself. Water baptism is the sign of that thing.
The way it all works out practically is that we treat everyone who has been baptized into Christ as Christians. For this is what they are. We can’t look into their heart we can only see what God has given us and he says that water baptism puts us into the body of Christ and as members of Christ we are Christians and cannot, may not, say that someone for whom Christ died is not a Christian. If a person sins in an unrepentant and flagrant manner we are given direction that we are to remove such a one from our fellowship and after the proper and Biblical steps, we are to proclaim them to not be Christians at all. From then on, they may attend church, but they may not eat at the table of the Lord, until they repent. But without proper proceedings all baptized members much be treated as Christians.
The warnings in John 14, Romans 11, all through Hebrews are talking to Christians. In fact look at what Paul said of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Buy then 3 chapters later he was warning them against falling away from faith. These two can only go together in the same letter if we understand that not all Christians are Christians and that all who are baptized in the name of Jesus are Christians.