What is Spirit Baptism?

  • Home
  • Resources
  • Articles
  • What is Spirit Baptism?
  • After teaching on this subject in Bible Study, a member asked me about the term “Bapticostal” – a Baptist and Pentecostal mixed.

    I acknowledged the term is often a tongue-in-cheek description of a doctrinal conservative who embraces a passionate worship style. But I added that any Christian with integrity might claim to be one or the other – Baptist or Pentecostal – but not both.

    Baptists and Pentecostals that have saving-faith are brothers and sisters in Christ. But we believe different things about the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit that are not compatible. Just ask a conscious Baptist or Pentecostal this question: What is Spirit-baptism?

    The Misunderstanding of Spirit Baptism

    Why is there so much confusion about Spirit-baptism?

    A main problem is experienced-based theology. Too many Christians have an experience and then proof-text scripture to validate it, rather than letting the word of God govern their experiences. This only betrays a lack of faith in the sufficiency of scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

    Another issue is the misinterpretation of the book of Acts. Acts is historical and transitional. The Gospels record the life and work of Jesus. Acts tells of the establishment and development of the church. The epistles are the commentaries on the Gospels and Acts, in which we learn what is normative in the life of the church.

    And we stumble over terminology. It is baptism in or with or by the Spirit? But the same Greek preposition is used in all instances.

    We also confuse water baptism and Spirit baptism. Water baptism is an external symbol of the internal reality of Spirit baptism.

    We have a low view of Pentecost. Pentecost was the birthday of the church. This watershed event is foundational to understanding the nature of the church. It is not an experience we should seek.

    Spirit baptism is also misunderstood because we do not distinguish it from Spirit-indwelling (Rom. 8:9b; 1 Cor. 6:19) and Spirit-infilling (Eph. 5:18).

    Then there’s the whole issue of speaking in tongues (Stay tuned for a full article on this subject).

    The Meaning of Spiritual Baptism

    Faithful Bible interpretation must keep subjects in proportion. Simply put, we must not major in minors and minor in majors. I am convinced this principle would clear up a lot of confusion about the work of the Holy Spirit.

    As much as some emphasize Spirit-baptism, it is not discussed much in the New Testament (neither is speaking in tongues, for that matter).

    There are only seven direct references to Spirit-baptism in the New Testament;  five are prophetic, one is historical, and the last is explanatory.

    The Gospels record parallel instances in which John the Baptist announced that he came to baptize with water for repentance. But there was one coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8: Luke 3:16; John 1:33).

    There are two direct references to Spirit-baptism in Acts.

    Before his Ascension, Jesus told his disciples that John Baptized them with water, but they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days (Acts 1:5-6). The day of Pentecost was ten days later (Acts 2).

    Peter reported to the church at Jerusalem about his experience at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:44-48). The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles just as it did on the Jewish Christians at the beginning. And he remembered how the Lord said that John baptized them with water, but they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-16).

    Paul wrote, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). This is the only doctrinal statement about the baptism of the Spirit. It is Paul’s explanation for how the church is like a body (1 Cor. 12:12). It has many members. Yet it is one body. This is true because in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. The church is one in Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3-6).

    The Marks of Spirit-Baptism

    So what’s the bottom-line? There are seven biblical characteristics of Spirit-baptism.

    It is Christian. There is no reference to Spirit-baptism in the Old Testament. It is predicted in the Gospels. And it does not take place until after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father.

    It is redemptive. Spirit-baptism is a work of salvation, not a work of sanctification. It marks our new life in Christ. It is not a second or third blessing that nurtures that new life.

    It is unifying. Spirit-baptism is a work of the Holy Spirit by which he makes all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).

    It is universal. Every Christian is baptized in the Spirit. If you are not baptized in the Spirit you are not a Christian.

    It is immediate. There are no exhortations to be Spirit-baptized in the New Testament or any methods for it, because every believer is baptized at conversion.

    It is unrepeated. Spirit-baptism is once-and-for-all.

    It is non-experiential. There is no emotional experience associated with Spirit-baptism, outside of the conviction, joy, and hope one feels at conversion.

    Spirit baptism is a non-experiential, redemptive work of God the Holy Spirit in which we are placed into the body of Christ the moment we trust in the Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

    Related Resources:

    Who is the Holy Spirit? 

    On Generational Curses 

    I’m Taking Back What the Devil Stole From me! 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.