Dear Pastor Lawyer,
I met a fellow this morning who said something about having become a Christian when he was 8 years old and then being “Baptized in the Holy Spirit” when he was 23. I was wondering what this is all about. Can you help? Thanks,
Many Christians believe that a person is saved at one point in their lives and then later they receive what is called the Baptism of/in/by the Holy Spirit. This event usually comes with the infusing of power to serve God and to relate to him in a way that was formerly lacking in the life of the believer (sometimes the “sign gifts” accompany). Space limits me from going into greater detail about these events, but suffice it to say that I believe this understanding is based on two different but similar errors in basic Bible study procedures (hermeneutics).
The first error is that those who believe in a second experience with God subsequent to salvation tend to read passages without regarding context. For example, when passages in the Bible specifically teaching something about God and his salvation are read, they should usually be viewed as having more clarity than passages simply telling a story. When Paul teaches, “We were baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13), he is telling us that all Christians were made part of the body of Christ by means of an event, orchestrated and operated, by the Holy Spirit; in other words what made us a part of the body of Christ was our baptism by the Holy Spirit. In their context, teaching passages are more difficult to disagree with and they should be read with that kind of weight. On the other hand, passages that contain stories should be read as that—stories. This does not mean that there is no valuable meaning in stories; it’s just that you need to be careful to make sure you do not attribute truth or doctrine to stories that is not clearly there. For example, when the disciples were praying in the upper room and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they all spoke in the languages of those who were visiting Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2), the story does not tell us that this was a second event subsequent to their salvation. It simply says that the event happened. If the text does not say it, we must be very careful when we say, “this is an example of that”. This is especially true when other teaching passages clearly direct us to a different result.
This brings us to a second problem that many people run into, namely, a tendency to consider difficult passages (e.g. stories that are not all that clear) as having greater authority than passages which are clear. The common sense rule is that difficult sections should be read in the light of the clear sections. For example, Titus 3:5 clearly tells us that “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”. Read in its context, this passage clearly teaches that the event that saved us was the Baptism of the Spirit. So, since we know that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what saves, any story or text seeming to be saying something different, must be studied further until it fits with the clear teaching.
Returning to your original question— The Bible is clear that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the event that saves us. It is not an event separate from belief. People respond to and believe the Gospel because the Holy Spirit has begun a work in them by granting that they might believe the Gospel of God and be saved. This belief is part of the event we call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. What, you may ask, is it that some folks are experiencing when they think they are being baptized by the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation? I believe they are either becoming Christians for the first time (in which case their assessment that they have been baptized by the Holy Spirit would be correct), or they are being cleaned up after having confessed their sins as Christians who have not been walking with God. I hope this helps.