I’ve been asked more than once recently what I mean when I say I was “baptized in the Holy Spirit”? In the first of 25 Random Things About Me I say, “I’ve had a wedding and I’ve seen each of my four children born, but the happiest day of my life is still being baptized in the Holy Spirit June 31, 1991 at the age of 13.” What do I mean by that the use of that term? Is that the day I was saved?
When I used this term for my experience I used it in the same sense that Luke uses it in the book of Acts, namely as an empowerment for witness. I know that many Christians use the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a reference to salvation. Paul of course uses a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 with regard to salvation (“we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”). Baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit are linked in the scriptures (Mark 1:8 and many others). The first signifies repentance and an acceptance of the Gospel and so it makes sense to see this Spirit baptism as being part of the overall transition into God’s kingdom. I therefore don’t have a problem acknowledging that all who are saved have in one sense been baptized in the Spirit. However, I don’t think this is the only scriptural use of the term.
At the beginning of Acts Jesus tells the disciples that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). And of course this event is fulfilled when the disciples begin to speak in other tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). We find this experience repeated several more times in Acts: in the Samaritans (Acts 8), among Cornelius’ household (Acts 10) and in the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19). I know some regard these experiences as being simultaneous with conversion and therefore nothing other than what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. But I disagree. Not all these experiences can be conflated with salvation. The time lapse between acceptance of the message and the reception of the Spirit in the case of the Samaritans and the Ephesian disciples is telling. It appears to me that Luke wants his readers to see something else.
That something is almost certainly empowerment for witness. Acts 1:8 is universally acknowledged as Luke’s thesis statement. Here Jesus tells the disciple that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon” them and they will be his “witnesses.” It’s therefore not surprising to find an opened mouth in witness or praise every time the Holy Spirit comes upon (i.e. baptizes or fills) some one in Luke-Acts. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice (Luke 1:42-43). Zachariah prophecies (Luke 1:67-79). The 120 “speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Peter testifies (Acts 4:8). The believers “speak the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Cornelius and his household speak in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). Paul curses Elymas (Acts 13:9). The Ephesian disciples speak in tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:6). Luke, following a pattern in the Old Testament, continually points to the audible results of those moved by the Spirit; tongues, prophecy, boldness in preaching, even singing. It therefore appears to me that Luke used “baptism in the Holy Spirit” among other terms not as a reference to salvation (though it certainly may coincide) but as a particular experience of empowerment which results in Spirit directed speech.
This was my experience. While I accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of five and probably several more times after that, I struggled with my faith, even more so as I entered junior high. I was overcome with lust. At school I was a sarcastic bully, trying to make it to the pinnacle of popularity. I dreamed of the freedom I would experience when I turned 18 and moved away from my families Christian home. But in youth group, I began to pray and repent, asking God to help me change. But the change never materialized. I was afraid of what my friends would think.
But I did change suddenly and radically one day on a missions to Mexico. One night after a time of worship and prayer, I asked my teenage roommates to pray for me to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” They did. After confessing my sin and praising God for his forgiveness, I felt a warmth rush over my head and down to my feet. And as it passed my mouth I began to speak in a language I did not know. I knew it did not come from me since I had tried unconvincing to fake it some years before. This experience resulted in a strong passion and desire to share Jesus with everyone, no matter the cost. A desire I still carry with me to this day.
I believe its important to earnestly seek this empowering experience. I don’t however think it is simply equated with tongues. The result of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an opened mouth in witness and praise. Some people are empowered with that at salvation. Others, like myself, need a further experience.