Spirit baptism – for witness

The Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood, neglected and even rejected of the Trinity – ‘the displaced person of the Godhead’. Yet Jesus loved to speak of him. While he had ‘an infinite variety of subjects from which to choose … the one upon which He dwelt most largely was the endowment of the Holy Spirit’. (1 SM 156-7)

Unfortunately many are cautious of Holy Spirit baptism. Is there reason for this concern? Could the baptism of the Spirit draw us into charismatic extremes and excesses? One charismatic author suggested that some evangelicals (including Adventists) neglect the Holy Spirit – because of their fear of the signs and wonders of the Spirit. On the other hand, he also expressed concern that many charismatics neglect him – because of their total preoccupation with signs and wonders!

Perhaps our greatest fear of the Spirit has nothing to do with signs and wonders. Maybe our fear is change – changed lives, changed churches! We are afraid of what he may challenge us to be and do.

Although it has not received a lot of attention in recent decades, in her book Acts of the Apostles, Ellen White wrote, ‘For the daily baptism of the Spirit every worker should offer … petition to God.’ (AA 50-1) She didn’t seem afraid of the baptism of the Spirit – urging all to receive his fresh baptism each day.

Spirit baptism is a theme that must occupy our attention. How can we experience his refreshing presence?

This is an exclusively New Testament expression. (Stott 1975:22) Occurring seven times, in three clusters: promises – those that are prophetic, historic records – stories of fulfilment, and those that are doctrinal or teaching statements.

1      The PROMISES of Spirit baptism

Five of the references to Spirit baptism are prophetic statements – foretelling a coming, future experience. Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had promised ‘a liberal’ outpouring of the Spirit ‘which would be new and distinctive’. (Stott 1975:22) In the well known words of Joel’ prophecy, God said, ‘It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh’. (Joel 2:28 KJV)

John the Baptist, ‘the last prophet of the old order, summarized this expectation in his familiar saying’ (Stott 1975:23) recorded by the three synoptic writers, ‘I baptize you with water … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’ – with Matthew and Luke adding, ‘and with fire’. (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8: Luke 3:16)

The fourth Gospel writer, John, gives added insight. He uses two present participles to describe the distinctively timeless ministry of Jesus –

John 1:29-33

  1. 29 He ‘takes away the sin of the world’ (NIV)
  2. 33 He ‘is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’ (NASB)

Jesus’ ministry is characteristically twofold. He takes away sin and he baptizes with the Holy Spirit. John was called ‘the Baptist’ or ‘the baptizer’ for he baptized in water of repentance. (Mark 1:4; 6:14, 24) Jesus was called ‘the Baptist’ or ‘the baptizer’ for he continues to take away sin and baptizes with the Holy Spirit. (Stott 1975:24)

God had promised, through Ezekiel, ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean … I will put my Spirit in you …’ (Ezekiel 36:25, 27 NLT) And, through Jeremiah, ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts … I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.’ (Jeremiah 31:32-35 NLT) These are the two great gifts of Jesus – the two promises of God, the two major blessings of the new covenant predicted by Old Testament prophets. He takes away sin – and, he baptizes with his Spirit.

So these first four prophetic statements about Holy Spirit baptism are records from the commencement of Jesus’ ministry. Then during his ministry Jesus had spoken of the coming Holy Spirit –

John 7:37?39 (14:16,17; 16:7)

The last promise of baptism with the Spirit was made by Jesus, at the end of his ministry, just before his ascension. It is found in –

Acts 1:4,5       ‘in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’

The promise of Holy Spirit baptism is an exclusively New Testament expression. He was active in Old Testament times, but there was no baptism of the Spirit prior to Calvary and our Lord’s resurrection and ascension. He could not do his greatest work for us until after Calvary and Jesus’ glorification. So, having completed all necessary for our salvation, Jesus ‘breathed’ on his followers and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) These promises were realized after Jesus returned to the Father.

2      The FULFILLMENT of the promises

Jesus ascended. (Acts 1:9-11). The disciples returned to Jerusalem and ‘joined together constantly in prayer’. (Acts 1:14) Ten days later …

Acts 2:1-4, 32-33, 37?41

The promise of baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit’ (1:5) was fulfilled on Pentecost. The 120 and then the 3,000 ‘were filled with the Holy Spirit’ (2:4), ‘the promised Holy Spirit’ was ‘received from the Father’ and ‘poured out’ upon them by Jesus. (2:33)

120 waited, the 3,000 received Spirit baptism immediately for the gift of forgiveness and the promise of Holy Spirit baptism was for all. The 3,000 represent us!

Pentecost: was ‘a historical event of the greatest importance … an event comparable in magnitude to the resurrection of Jesus Christ’. (Hoekema 17) Pentecost marked –

  • The birth of the Christian Church as the ‘body’ of Jesus Christ!

Three Stories: But there is a second set of fulfilment stories. The first relate to the day of Pentecost and the birth of the Christian church. The second relate to –

  • The new birth of Individual Believers at the time of conversion!

(1)      First, Philip in Samaria: after Stephen was executed, persecution scattered the early believers from Jerusalem. Philip went to Samaria where crowds accepted his message.

Acts 8:14-17      ‘they received the Holy Spirit’ after belief and water baptism.

Meanwhile, Saul the persecutor went to Damascus to interrogate believers. When he was confronted by Jesus (Acts 9:3-5) and urged to accept him (v. 17), he was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ before water baptism. (v. 17, 18)

(2)      Second story: Cornelius was an Italian God-fearer who ‘gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly’. (10:2) An ‘angel of God’ appeared to him telling him to call for the apostle Peter – then at Joppa. Peter, a Jewish Christian, was called – and he came. While speaking of the Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, ‘the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.’ (10:44)

Acts 10:45?48 ‘they received the Holy Spirit’ before water baptism.

Later, in Jerusalem, Peter defended his visit to this Gentile home … Acts 11: 15?18

This is very significant. Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and Peter clearly understood the prophetic statements of Jesus concerning Holy Spirit baptism to refer not only to Pentecost but also to this conversion experience.

(3)      The third story is in Acts 19. When Paul arrived in Ephesus he could see something was lacking in the ‘life and witness’ of the ‘disciples’ leading him to ask the penetrating question. (Froom 141) –

Acts 19:2-61       the Spirit ‘came on them’ after water re-baptism.

Jesus’ promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:4 and 5 pointed to: (1) the once?for?all time, historical event of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and (2) the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of individual people at the time of conversion. Although the sequence of events differs, baptism by the Holy Spirit is an integral part of each of these conversion experiences.

3      The TEACHING on Spirit baptism

There is one major teaching passage, but first let us reflect on teaching that comes from the stories. We know that not every detail of a story is a teaching. It may be an insight – but doesn’t necessarily apply as a teaching or doctrine for all. So first …

Observations from the stories

  • The baptism of the Holy Spirit is for all believers. It is a universal blessing. There is no suggestion of a second blessing for selected people.
  • The baptism by the Holy Spirit is integral to all conversion experience – although the sequence of events may differ, relating to individual spiritual journeys and lessons God wishes to highlight.
  • The baptism of the Holy Spirit is associated with water baptism – yet one can be a believer and baptized with water, and not be baptized with the Spirit. (Acts 8:14?17; 19:1?6; cf. laying on of hands Acts 8:14?17; 9:17?19; 19:6.)
  • We receive his baptism through prayer and by faith. (Luke 11:9?13; Gal 3:14)

There are two major scriptures that provide …

Teaching on Spirit baptism

The first is 1 Cor 12:12,13 – ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.’

It does not say we shall be, or may be, or ought to be – but ‘we were(Greek aorist). Spirit baptism was ‘an accomplished fact’. (Scroggie 10) And note Paul wrote, ‘we were all baptized’. Who was Paul addressing? It was not to the faithful Thessalonians or Philippians, nor the spiritual Ephesians – but to the ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’ Corinthians. (1 Cor 3:1) Some of them ‘were guilty of gross immorality, of entering into litigation with one another before heathen tribunals, and of eating meats that had been sacrificed to idols’. (Scroggie 10) But through Spirit baptism they had all become members of the body of Christ. He was appealing to their standing – not their state! They certainly needed the filling of the Spirit! 2

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is when and how we become members of the body of Jesus Christ ­– but it does not guarantee piety! It does not offer a superior Christian experience – in fact far from it!

The second is Acts 1:8 – ‘you will receive power … you will be my witnesses’

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not a second blessing! There may be ‘signs and wonders’ but the evidence of his baptism is that we start speaking boldly for Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:31) The baptism of the Spirit is for the purpose of witness.

Spirit baptism is our ordination or anointing for ministry as members of the church or body of Christ. It is for all who believe.

It is the ordination of ‘the priesthood of all believers’ – the ordination of the New Testament. We are all ‘ministers of the new covenant’ (2 Cor 3:6 NIV) – sin has been taken away; and we live in ‘the dispensation of the Spirit’. (2 Cor 3:8 AB; cf. TM 511, 512)

Without Calvary and the resurrection there would be no salvation. Without Pentecost and the Holy Spirit there would be no awareness of salvation. The Holy Spirit is the sensitive, caring person who draws us to Jesus. When we respond and believe, he works the miracle of new birth, lives in us and baptizes us into the body of Christ – with power for witness and ministry. He provides the necessary spiritual gifts. He gives power to our witness to the story of Jesus. (1 Thess 1:4?6)

‘Daily (Jesus) received a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit.’ (COL 139)

‘For the daily baptism of the Spirit every worker should offer his petition to God.’ (AA 50)



AB            Amplified Bible

NASB            New American Standard Bible

NLT            New Living Translation

NIV            New International Version


Froom, LeRoy. The Coming of the Comforter, Review & Herald, 1956.

White, Ellen G. Acts of the Apostles,

_____  Christ’s Object Lessons

_____   Evangelism

_____   Selected Messages, Bk. 1, Washington: Review & Herald, 1958.

_____   Testimonies to Ministers

_____   Testimonies, Vol. 8

Williams, Garrie. How to he Filled With the Holy Spirit and Know It, Review & Herald, 1991.

Stott, John R.W. Baptism and Fullness: The work of the Holy Spirit today, Inter-Varsity, 1975.


1 ‘Paul was not asking concerning the special gifts of the Spirit, but of the Gift supreme ? the Holy Spirit Himself … He wanted to learn whether they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit ? the permanent, central feature of Pentecost. For there is an experience beyond the initial step by which the Holy Spirit first reveals sin, and begets a new life in the soul, and that is to be filled with the Spirit. For lack of this, one’s testimony is feeble and the spiritual life but partial’. (Froom 142)

2 In other scriptures – Galatians 3:26-28 and Ephesians 4:4, 5, Paul also stress that baptism secures unity in the one body of all believers regardless of national, social or sexual distinctions There is some ground to believe that Romans 6:3,4 and Colossians 2:12 are also primarily pointing to Holy Spirit baptism. ‘The fact that the verbs “baptized” and “buried” are both in the Passive Voice, pointing to an act of God, and not to an act of man, seem to look in this direction.’ (Scroggie 12)

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