[August 18]--The Spirit at Work: Baptism

Matt. 3:1-12; 1 Cor. 12:12-13

OK, now we’re going to go into some territory on which Bible-believing Christians disagree. It’s sadly ironic that the Spirit, who is supposed to unify all believers in one body, is the subject of such division in that same body. I’ve said it before, and I have no hesitation in repeating it: I have plenty of dearly-loved siblings in Christ who disagree with me about some of this stuff. I have no problem worshiping with them, and I have no doubts about their salvation or their sincerity. But I'm thoroughly convinced that they’ve misinterpreted Scripture on some things regarding the work of the third Person of the Trinity.

This is one of those issues on which we’re just going to have to disagree, namely the baptism of the Spirit. A lot of churches and denominations and sincere believers teach that there's some kind of tier system regarding the Christian life. They contend that it’s entirely possible for someone to get saved and then go through a period of time in which they don’t have all of the Holy Spirit, or at least all that the Spirit offers. They believe in a “second blessing” of some type, in which the Christian’s growth goes into overdrive. And they call this the “baptism of the Spirit.” Once you’ve been baptized in the Spirit, you’re on another plane of discipleship and close fellowship with the Lord.

The kindest word I can use for that notion? Nonsense. Let’s take a look at the phrase as Scripture talks about it.

The first time it’s mentioned is in the Matthew passage above. John the Baptist promised the Messiah would come and—in stark contrast with himself—would baptize people with “the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Considering the context of the passage, I'd interpret the “baptism with fire” to not be referring to Pentecost but the Last Judgment. Remember that baptism is actually kind of a made-up word. When scholars were working on an English translation, they basically transliterated the Greek word baptizo into baptism. It literally means “to immerse” or “submerge.” If you take an Oreo cookie and dunk it into milk until it’s completely submerged, that’s “baptizing” it. The only reason you don’t see it as just rendered “immersed” in the English translation is because some translators came from a church tradition in which they sprinkled water on infants. They didn’t like the fact that the Greek word simply means “immerse,” so they--quite frankly--made up a word in order to fit their church tradition. You can guess how I feel about that.

Let’s look at 1 Cor. 12:12-13. In any church that’s been established and growing for a while, you have a wide variety of maturity among members. You (hopefully) have members who are new Christians who just got saved recently, and you have members who've walked with the Lord for decades, and people in between. Unfortunately, the Corinthian church, which you know if you’re familiar with this epistle, had more than its share of immaturity. Most of the book of 1st Corinthians is made up of Paul ripping them up one side and down another. But he can say, unequivocally, that “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” Not some, not most. All. The guy who got saved last week and the one who could give Paul a run for his money in walking close with the Lord.

Friend, let me make this as clear for you as possible. If you're a believer in Christ, then you've been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It's not dependent on your performance or your day-by-day decisions. It was decided once and for all once you received Christ. You don’t get saved and then sometime later undergo Spirit-baptism.

Now, just to clear up any further confusion, you aren't baptized into the Spirit. Take a close look at vs. 13, and substitute the word “immersed” for the word “baptized.” We know from Matthew that Jesus does the immersing, but apparently he does this by means of the Spirit. You are submerged--and permanently merged—into the body of Christ, like a drop into an ocean.

Now, why am I making such a big deal over this? Remember, I’m a practical theologian. I don’t raise an issue just to start an argument with my fellow believers. You're told by certain well-meaning people that if you don’t exhibit certain signs or certain gifts, you're basically a second-class citizen in God’s kingdom. You might be saved, but you haven’t really experienced the Holy Spirit until you’ve experienced “Spirit-baptism.” That’s not only nonsense; it's destructive nonsense.

If you’re saved, you’ve already experienced all the Spirit-baptism you’re going to experience. You have all the Spirit now that you will ever need. Right now. You are not a second-class citizen in God's Kingdom. Tomorrow we’re going to look at the real problem, something you do need to do after you're saved. But's it's not being baptized by the Spirit.

Lord Jesus, thank you for placing me within your body. I know some of my siblings drive me nuts sometimes, but I’m sure I do the same to them. Please give me patience with them, and please give them patience with me.

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