Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Each of them can change your life...
By Penn Clark
A study about the baptism with water,
the baptism with the Holy Spirit,
and the baptism with fire
Our text for this study can be found in Matthew 3:11, where John the Baptist talked about these three baptisms:
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
I have always believed that believer’s baptism is more spiritually significant than people realize. In many places, one is not really considered to be a Christian until they are baptized. There are many places in the world where they do not mind what you say about faith or if you call yourself a Christian, as long as you don’t become baptized in water. Once that happens, the gloves come off and the warfare begins. This one fact alone should help us see that there is something more powerful about water baptism than just a symbol of our faith. The enemy does want any of us to do it. He knows that if we will do it with sincerity, in obedience to Jesus, it will change something in our spiritual lives.
Where we work in India, they have tried to outlaw believer’s baptism by passing a non-conversion law, which means that if anyone wants to be baptized, they must first get permission from the local police or magistrate, who rarely consent to it. Believers still go through with their baptism, believing that no one has the authority to forbid what God has required of us.
Why is the devil so afraid of baptism? Is it a major key in releasing our faith?
One time, while on a tour of Turkey, our guide told us his story, how he became a Christian by reading the Bible, which was something he did in order to better answer questions the tour groups often asked. In the process, he realized that he identified more with the Christian faith than Muslim, into which he had been born and raised. He also enjoyed relating to the Christians he met on his tours and began to fellowship with them more than with Muslims. He decided to change his religious status on his identification papers that indicated an M for Muslin, to a C for Christian. At first, nobody would process this change for him, but he was so serious about it that he fought for it all the way to the Supreme Court. I could see that this victory meant a lot to him. As our boat crossed the Aegean Sea to the Isle of Patmos, he asked if he could talk to a couple of us pastors in private. He explained to us that although he had chosen to be a Christian and often read his Bible and prayed, he could tell he did not have what we had. He said our faith seemed more real than his own. What was missing, he asked? Was there something he still needed to do to be a Christian? We asked him if he had ever been baptized. At this, he sat bolt upright, as if he had been given an electric shock. “No”, he said thoughtfully, “I never have”. A look of determination came over his face and he asked to be baptized as soon as possible. We walked him out into the sea and baptized him. When he came out of the water, I snapped a photograph of the joyful moment, capturing one of the most radiant faces I have seen in a while. He found that baptism in water was the missing key to fulfilling his faith.
THE PURPOSE OF BAPTISM
Each step of faith taken in obedience to God, is counted as righteousness (Matthew 3:13-15). So, when people obey, they receive a special sense of being right with God. This not only feels good, but gives us a new sense of confidence to be able to approach God in prayer. Once we have tasted being right with God, it makes us willing to do other acts of obedience in order to get another taste of righteousness. Soon, we begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
I believe God “invented” baptism for a couple of reasons. One, it is necessary for people to do something significant as they take steps toward repentance. Anyone can believe in their hearts, or even profess something in the moment, but they need to do something intentionally to show what is going on in their hearts. They need to act upon what they are now believing. It has to be something simple, but something unusual enough that it would be obvious to everyone that they had a change of heart. It would require the same child-like obedience is the mark of His Kingdom at work in their hearts.
Such submission to God makes the heart more pliable. This is what Paul found among the Ephesians, as mentioned previously in Acts 19:1-7. He thought they were already believers but found out that they had only experienced John’s baptism. Yet here they were, open, yielded, and willing to do whatever God required of them. When Paul said they needed Jesus’ baptism, they simply complied. They were so yielded that when he laid hands upon them, they easily received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues and prophesying, even though they likely had never heard either before. Their hearts were so pliable that they wanted to do whatever pleased the Lord.
The second reason I believe God invented water baptism, was to help open people’s eyes to Jesus. The only ones who resisted John’s baptism were the religious leadership of the day. Interestingly enough, they were the only ones who were unable to perceive who Jesus was and could not receive Him as being sent by God. They came to watch, but never participated:
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7)
They claimed they had spiritual roots going back to Abraham, but John said,
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:8-9)
Tradition can be a deadly thing. It can prevent people from stepping out into the current move of God. They could not perceive what God was saying or doing, and rejected the will of God:
But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” (Luke 7:30)
Baptism was a new idea. No one had done it before. There was no provision for such an observance in the Law. The closest thing to it was a ceremonial cleansing that was required of everyone before entering the Temple or before sacrifices were offered. The idea of confessing your sins in public, wading out into the river, and having someone lay you down into the water, was something new altogether. In fact, the Jewish leadership were opposed to it. They questioned why John was doing it in the first place and refused to participate in it themselves.
Water baptism was a unique aspect of John’s ministry, and then later, of Jesus'. The effect of it was so powerful that it can be seen at work in people’s lives long afterward. We read in Acts 19, that Paul found a small group of people living in community at Ephesus, devoted to the Lord and to His word. When Paul asked more about their spiritual journey, specifically, who had baptized them, they said they had all experienced John’s baptism. They were still going on the effect of that experience almost twenty years later.
The same could also be said of Apollos who was mighty in the word and on fire for God, but had only experienced the baptism of John (Acts 18:26). Yet he was so open and teachable, that when Priscilla and Aquila told him about Jesus, he immediately began teaching that He was the Christ (vs 28).
GOD GAVE JOHN THE CONCEPT OF BAPTISM
There are some today who teach that the Essenes, a group of monastic zealots who lived in the desert region of the Dead Sea, introduced the concept of baptism to John when he visited their community. However, this idea is not in keeping with Jesus’ own understanding of the origin of baptism. He believed God gave John the concept of baptism in the form of a revelation:
Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?”
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it was from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8)
Here is John’s account of where he got the concept of baptism:
“Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me,‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:24-36)
John said that God had sent him to baptize with water.
When the Pharisees saw John’s disciples baptizing the multitudes that came to hear him preach, it must have seemed odd to them because John was neither a priest nor was this something done in the Temple or authorized by the High Priest. It was like he was operating outside the religious system. You can see the tension it created for them when Jesus asked them if John had gotten the concept from man or from heaven.
It is clear that baptism did not originate with men, but by revelation from God. Luke said that when they rejected John’s baptism, they were actually rejecting the will of God:
“And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” (Luke 7:29-30)
MY OWN BAPTISM
Shortly after I received Jesus into my life, He spoke to me about going to church. I told Him I wasn’t interested in organized religion but only wanted to walk with Him. He told me it was in my best interest that I go. I didn’t know the difference between one church and another, so I asked Him to show me which church He went to. I got in my car, asking Him to guide me. I stopped in front of a number of churches that morning, and even went into one, but knew they weren’t for me. I ended up in a section of the city I had not been in before. As I passed a particular church, I knew instantly it was the one. I turned my car around and happened to catch the pastor coming out the door. He showed me around and talked with me for a while, and I agreed to come back on Sunday.
A couple of days later, I woke up early, excited about going to church. My wife was very confused by all this because I had never shown an interest in church before. At the end of that first service, I responded to the altar call and, with tears, walked to the front. That public profession sealed something in me.
I believe it was the next Sunday that they announced there was going to be a baptism service in a few weeks. I knew I needed to do this and talked to the pastor about it. When I went home and told my wife, she became upset. This was all too much for her. I invited her to my baptism, which she attended with reluctance. It would be another six months before she prayed the sinner’s prayer herself. It was a long wait for me. I wanted her to have the same sudden conversion I had had, but her journey was very different than mine. I knew I was called to the ministry and needed to enter into discipleship with Jesus, just like the twelve young men did in Galilee. Heather’s growth and development wasn’t the same as mine, but about six years later, we began to pastor our first church, both of us fully committed to walking with the living Christ.
THE BAPTISM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
The second baptism that Matthew mentioned, which John compared to water baptism, is the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”(Matthew 3:11)
John had used the same word when referring to both experiences. The Strong's Concordance translates "baptism" as "to make fully wet, to whelm," and also (GK. 911) "to cover wholly with a fluid, to stain as with a dye" (Strong's GK. 987).
Being baptized with the Holy Spirit is a kind of immersion. The goal is to become fully dyed with the Holy Spirit. Imagine taking a new piece of white linen and dropping it into a bowl of indigo blue dye. Push it under until it is fully immersed. If you were to hold it up to the light, you will see that it is completely blue. If you were to cut it in half, it would be as blue on the inside as it is on the outside. This is what the word “baptized” means. This picture is also in keeping with Joel's use of the phrase; "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh". This is an expression of generosity overwhelming us; it is not something dispensed reluctantly with an "eye-dropper". He expects it to permeate our lives.
If the goal is to be like Jesus, then we will need to do what Jesus did. First, He surrendered to water baptism because God required it of everyone in Israel. Then, He received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which He shared everywhere He went during the next three-and-a-half years. He led others into this same life of surrender, introducing them to both baptisms.
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus each received the powerful baptism with the Holy Spirit. Then, before an hour had passed, Peter was telling over three thousand people how they could enter into the same experience by becoming born again, being baptized with water, and then being baptized with the Holy Spirit. This was the beginning of the Church.
At that moment, the precedent of passing our experience on to others was set. It has been reproduced many times since, right up until what takes place in our own churches today.
From this time forward, we must learn to give away our experience; if we don’t, it will soon fade, causing us to begin seeking some kind of rebaptism. Personally, I don’t believe we need a “refilling”. We will never need to seek a refilling once we have learned how to pass our experience along to others. We will never wonder where the power has gone, when we begin letting the Holy Spirit out, day-by-day, circumstance-by-circumstance. Nowhere do we see the disciples returning to the Upper Room for a repeat experience. They went out from there and shared their experience with others.
PHILIP IN SAMARIA
In Acts 8:5-17, we read about a young evangelist named Philip, going down to the city of Samaria to preach Christ. When they believed, because of what he said and saw the miracles he did, they were baptized in water. Sometime later, when the apostles in Jerusalem, about a two-day journey away, heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Luke noted, “For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 8:16)
So, they sent two of their best men and they began laying their hands on those who wanted to receive the Holy Spirit. All of this serves to illustrate how important it was to the apostles that new believers receive the Holy Spirit as soon as possible. Luke does not say how many days were between their being baptized with water and the apostles coming to baptize them with the Holy Spirit; it could have been a week or a month. All we know for sure is that there was a definite gap between these two events. From this, we can clearly see that being born-again and being baptized with the Holy Spirit are two separate and distinct experiences. This is so important because one of the biggest obstacles we face when trying to help people open their hearts to the Holy Spirit is that they believe they have already received Him when they were born-again. It is difficult to receive something if you think you already have it. While the Holy Spirit is always at work helping someone come to Christ, because God does nothing without Him, there is a separate work of grace called the baptism with the Holy Spirit that those who are born-again can receive.
We also get a sense of the priority of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit as soon as one becomes born-again from the story of young Saul, who later became Paul, when Ananias led him into this spiritual experience:
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. (Acts 9:17-18)
Ananias made it clear that the young convert needed to be baptized with water, upon confession of his sins:
And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ (Acts 22:16)
Then he wanted Saul to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Today, being baptized with the Holy Spirit should be as much of a priority as making sure all new converts are baptized with water. We don’t usually waste any time getting people into the baptism tank, so they can get all the spiritual benefits that are hidden in water baptism. In the same way, we should not delay introducing people to the powerful Holy Spirit, laying hands upon them as soon as possible.
HAVE YOU RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT SINCE YOU BELIEVED?
The apostle Paul placed a high priority on receiving the Holy Spirit, which was evident by the first question he asked the men at Ephesus when he met with them. The first question he asked was, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19:2)
First questions reveal a lot, especially in terms of priorities. It revealed what was important to Paul. Many people in our Western culture have been taught that they were given the Holy Spirit as part of a package deal; that they received a Trinity when they were born-again. Yet at the same time, they know they do not have the power that Jesus promised would accompany the Holy Spirit’s coming. They are nicely neutralized. Some ardently insist that everyone receives all there is of the Holy Spirit when they first receive Christ, but apparently, the apostle Paul did not know this. His first question reveals that he believed there was something more.
John’s baptism was intended to soften the hearts of people to help them get ready to receive Jesus. That had clearly taken place, as they did not resist what Paul was saying about Jesus.
He said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
They simply said, “Ok”. They didn’t hesitate to receive Jesus and be baptized again in His name. They allowed Paul to lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. Their hearts were so soft and pliable that they not only spoke in tongues, but prophesied immediately, which rarely happens today. Now that is yieldedness!
This reminds me of a time when I had been asked to join a group of young men for a weekend retreat in the back woods of northern Ontario, in Canada. They wanted to get away to seek the Lord and invited me to join them, to teach them. It is rare to find men willing to do anything like this, so I went along. Early the first morning, I got up and went out into the cold living-room. I was startled to find one of the young men all wrapped up in his blanket sitting in a chair. I asked him if he was alright. He looked at me and simply said, “I want more of whatever the Lord has for me.”
I asked him if he had ever had someone pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit. He said they did not teach this in his church, but he quickly added, “But I want everything!”
I laid my hand on his head, and led him into a simple prayer, saying. “Father, thank you for giving me Jesus. Jesus, thank you for promising to give me the Holy Spirit. I receive Him now!”
At that moment, he began to tremble. Then with tears streaming down his checks, he tilted his head back and began to softly worship God aloud in tongues. It was such a holy moment. Then, I felt the Lord prompting me to pray for him to prophesy. I was not sure he was ready for this kind of thing, but then remembered how the men at Ephesus both spoke in tongues and prophesied right away. I asked him if he wanted to prophesy.
He said, “Everything!”
I laid hands on him again, this time believing that the Holy Spirit would give him the ability to prophesy, which he did without hesitation. It was very powerful and life-giving; impacting me in ways I had not expected.
I wish everyone had this kind of yieldedness!
After I let Jesus’ priority about receiving the Holy Spirit become my priority, I became very motivated. It caused me to become more intentional about offering this experience to others. Whenever new people began attending our church, I would sit down with them in person and ask them about baptism. I wanted to know if they had surrendered to the Lord and one way to measure this was water baptism. Then I would ask them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed. I was never pushy, like some over-eager salesman trying to sell them something they didn’t need. I knew this would be a life-changing experience for them. How could I keep this experience to myself?
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE BAPTISM WITH THE SPIRIT
I had only known the Lord a short time when I learned about this experience called the baptism with the Holy Spirit. I had met a group of Catholic Charismatic Christians who were seeking more power for their lives. Most of them were also newly born-again believers and were hungry for everything God had. I was invited to take part in a seven-week study called, “Life in the Spirit” where we encouraged and prayed for each other to open up to more of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t have a mentor to teach me or coach me, so this small group was very helpful.
I had also been studying the Bible on my own by this time, which was something new for me. I was especially enthralled with the life of Jesus and was amazed at the power He had. I somehow knew that this was available for us today. I began praying, asking the Lord to be able to experience His power, but nothing seemed to happen. I read and re-read the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts, making sure I was doing all that was required of me in order to have this experience. I don’t know how many times I prayed, but I was earnestly seeking every day, trusting the Lord to give me something that I did not know much about.
I have to admit I was afraid. I was afraid of not getting this experience, being disqualified in some way, but was also afraid of getting it, because I didn’t know what I was getting into. Looking back upon this period of my life, I also realized that I was afraid of getting something I could not control, or something that would over-take me. I remember thinking that He might come upon me and make me speak in tongues in the grocery store. This tension created a hesitation in me, which inhibited my ability to receive. However, I wanted to be open to whatever He wanted to do.
I wasn’t sure about the Holy Spirit. It was difficult for me to trust someone I could not see, but I could relate to Jesus. Then I happened to read in the Bible where it was actually Jesus who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11), which brought a lot of comfort to me.
As I read and re-read the Scriptures, I began to see a pattern where people had hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit. I began to wonder if that wasn’t my problem. I didn’t want anyone to pray for me because I didn’t want them to witness my inability to receive. I also felt unworthy to receive. Having somebody confirm this was painful to think about. I wondered if this wasn’t just my pride, which would be another disqualifying stroke against me. I decided to go to church and ask someone to lay hands on me for this experience. The first person I saw was our assistant pastor. He was a humble and decent man, someone that I felt I could share my struggle with. When I told him what I wanted he seemed very pleased that I would ask. He laid one hand on my back and raised his other hand in the air, and simply asked the Lord to give me the Holy Spirit. That step was a life-changing experience.
If you have followed Jesus’ example of being baptized in water, perhaps you should take the next step of following Jesus’ example of being immersed in the Holy Spirit.
To learn more about this, talk to one of the pastors. If you want to study more about it first, you should get my book, Giving Away the Holy Spirit.
THE BAPTISM WITH FIRE
As we look at our text again, you will notice that John the Baptist also mentioned a baptism with fire which would follow the baptism with the Holy Spirit:
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”(Matthew 3:11)
Jesus experienced all three baptisms, and so will we if we follow Him completely.
There is often a backlash when we receive the Holy Spirit, which is to be expected-- and is even promised. Both baptisms require yieldedness and submission, which is what the enemy is fighting against.
Both baptisms can strain relationships, separate the generations, divide churches, and greatly complicate our lives. However, if we follow Jesus and let the Holy Spirit teach us, He will show us how to conduct ourselves and keep us from over-reacting. If we react, we can become misled, go to extremes, and bring reproach upon our experience.
This will wreck your life -- in the most wonderful way!
I believe that the baptism with fire largely pertains to how we are mistreated and misunderstood by those who do not appreciate the new life we have come into. I don’t think we can avoid it and remain true to our experience. We cannot compromise, deny our experience, or conform to the way things used to be. I don’t think we can minimize the amount of fire we are immersed into while trying to maximize the amount of power we want to come out with.
Let’s face it, the devil is not going to just sit back and let us come into more spiritual power. His goal is to shut us down. He momentarily uses the mouths of people around us to say what he wants to have said. It is always interesting to hear what they say, which reveals what the devil is afraid of most. God’s goal is to use whatever he throws at us to purify our motives and to cause us to depend more completely upon Him.
It is the price for the privilege!
My becoming a believer went almost unnoticed by my family and friends, but when I became a disciple, however, they thought I was taking this “religious thing” too far. I soon found out that following Jesus’ example can really impair your social life. Others will think you are too narrow—especially if you challenge them as well to apply what He taught. People spoke against me and rejected what I stood for. I wanted to please Jesus more than I wanted to please them, so things were tense between us for the next five years. Neither side of my family was able to interact with us freely. They rarely talked to me, but they sure talked about me. When I understood that this was simply part of my baptism with fire, it became easier to embrace and helped me not resent them for the way they treated me. I somehow depersonalized it. The conflict was more about Jesus in me.
Can you imagine what it was like for the first disciples’ families when they decided to follow Jesus into the unknown? We know that Peter had a wife. The Bible says that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, so he must have had a wife. Imagine what Peter’s wife endured during the three and a half years that he completely followed Jesus as a disciple. Peter was rarely home. His income was cut to zilch. His business was abandoned. His in-laws must have wondered what had gotten into him.
My wife thought I had lost my mind. At this time, there were no born-again Christians in her family. She had one weird uncle who had become a Jehovah’s Witness, so her family put me in the same boat with him. This made it very difficult for my wife, especially knowing how much both of our families enjoyed it when we partied with them—drinking, dancing, and laughing at their jokes. When I became a disciple, I couldn’t imagine Jesus standing around listening to their foolish stories and gossip. I wanted to be like Him, so I stopped listening to their empty conversations.
When we first surrender to Jesus, following Him into the waters of baptism, and then come into this wonderful life of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, there is often such exuberance that it tends to spill over, splashing on those who are watching our lives. They do not always appreciate it. They watch our reaction to this new-found power, which looks something like a calf being let out into the barnyard after a long winter in the barn.
Oral Roberts once said that those who are newly baptized with the Holy Spirit should be locked up for the first six months. This is a funny thing to say, but there is a truth in it. Obviously, God does not want us locked up and neither does He want us to cool back down, so He has another means of keeping the fire burning, while purifying our motives and keeping our hearts in the love of God.
Our new zeal can reveal how cold and entrenched they are, which makes them feel defensive. They feel that it is their responsibility to help us cool back down a little by throwing buckets of cold water on our experience, arguing against it, challenging its Biblical basis, or pointing out the failures of those who have had the same experience but did not fare so well.
Of course, having the baptism with the Holy Spirit does not make us perfect. Just as we see in the Corinthians, there was no doubt in Paul’s mind that their gifts are real, but they needed to become balanced. When he told them that he no longer wanted them to be ignorant, it must have stung. He did not mean it to hurt them, but the reality is we are ignorant at anything we first experience. This is true of the first time we sit behind a steering wheel or a computer or sewing machine. I am still learning about the work of the Holy Spirit today and hope to keep learning.
It takes time and experience to grow to a place where our theology catches up to our initial experience. I found that the resistance I first experienced helped ground me much faster and deeper than anything else. People who don’t experience conflict, often tend to stay in the shallow end of the pool, barely learning to appreciate what they have been given.
One of the mistakes we make in our immaturity, is rejecting those who seem cold and indifferent to us now, quickly forgetting that we were the same way before we came into this new-found grace. It is easy to somehow feel superior because we have found something that is profound and life-giving, but those we reject can sense this attitude and it can eclipse the wonder of what we have received.
I have also seen those who have discovered the wonder of being born-again and the life of the Holy Spirit become resentful towards those who rejected them. They also resent the church because they were not taught about these experiences. When they resist the legalism and rules that men impose on them, they fail to realize that we are called to love all men. Soon they become bitter and cold. Even our new-found boldness, which was intended to help us advance the Kingdom, can be used to put people in their place by causing us to say things we regret later. It is kind of like driving a powerful car for the first time; it is easy to swerve and mismanage all that power, causing damage along the way, or ending up in the other ditch. While they still have their new experience, they are no longer growing in it. This kind of resentment is a deadly trap that ruins their spiritual lives. They need someone to help them embrace the baptism with fire.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. Why should I be baptized?
A. You should do it out of obedience. You should do it because Jesus told us to do it:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We do it for the same reason He was baptized; it fulfills God’s will for us as believers. We need to do it because Jesus did it and we want to do whatever He did, so we can be like Him. The other reason we need to do it is we are to be part of the pattern of passing these spiritual experiences forward:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.(Acts 2:38-39)
Q. What requirements do you have for water baptism? Do participants have to take a special course or do something in order to qualify for membership in your church?
A. No, we don’t link it to membership and the only requirement is believing that Jesus is the Son of God. Anyone can do this. You can see a clear example of the simplicity of this found in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:34-40:
So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Q. Do you baptize babies?
A. We want everything we do in our church to be as biblical as possible, and we cannot find one example of anyone being baptized as a baby in scripture. Neither is there a single line of teaching that supports the practice of infant baptism. The practice came into the church much later, during the 3rd century when a lot of changes came into the Church. I think people tend to baptize infants for two basic reasons:
Your parents did it in order to comply with church rules, rather than to scripture. Your parents did it out of fear that you might not go to heaven if you died in an untimely way.
In our circles today, we understand that one becomes a Christian by an expression of their own faith, not because of somebody else’s. Nor do we fear that our young children will spend eternity anywhere but in Heaven, because we believe the kingdom of God is for little children (Matthew 18:10). In other words, until they come of age to believe for themselves, God receives them regardless of the religious home they were born into. We dedicate our babies to the Lord, rather than baptize or christen them, as a way to dedicate and bless them, which is what we do to anything He has given to us. Remember when they brought little children to Jesus
…that He might touch them; the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
We tell people to honor what their parents did with the faith they had, but now they should honor the Lord with the faith they have. Let your parents know how much you appreciate what they did but tell them you still feel the need to express your own faith by being rebaptized.
Q. Do you baptize children, and what is the youngest age for baptism?
A. In our church, we let the parents help choose the timing of their children’s baptism. We ask that they be able to testify of the saving work of Christ in front of the congregation. If they cannot do this clearly and confidently, they are too young to be baptized.
Q. I was baptized as a young person, but I am in a different place in my faith now. Should I be rebaptized or is there a limit on how many times we can be baptized?
A. There is no exact number to this. Instead, I would say, if you feel in your heart that you need to do it, then do it again. Sometimes when people have been away from the Lord for a while, they will feel the need to be rebaptized.
If you were baptized as a group, as part of an effort to get young people to be members of the church, but were not born-again, you should be rebaptized. If there was a strong sense of ownership in the church you grew up in, then I would rebaptize someone just to break this off.
Q. When you talk about rebaptism, what do you think Paul meant when he said, “One baptism” in Ephesians 4:5?
A. I don’t think he meant only one time per person or that there was only one mode of baptism. I think he meant that our concept of baptism is one thing that unifies us. The context of this verse is about unity.
Q. Speaking of modes of baptism, which one do you practice; sprinkling, pouring, or immersion?
A. We think people should do whatever they can. There have been times during persecution when all they could do was baptize people by pouring water on their heads from pitchers. We would do the same today if someone was bedridden or in a wheelchair. Do whatever is possible, but we think immersion requires the most amount of commitment, humility, and obedience, so that is what we practice the most. It also seems to be in line with the pattern we see in scripture:
After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. (John 3:22-23)
It clearly says that John chose to baptize people in Aenon, because there was much water there (John 3:23).
The definition of the word baptized here also sheds some light on the mode of baptism:
BAPTIZE GK. 907. bap-tid'-zo; from a der. of GK 911; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Chr. baptism:--baptist, baptize, wash.
The idea of “make whelmed or fully wet” suggests immersion. When I visited some of the areas where the very first churches were in Turkey, they all had baptistries that allowed someone to walk down into the water.
Q. What is the right terminology for this experience with the Holy Spirit?
A. For this study, I am trying to remain consistent with the terminology that the gospel writers used. I noted that the first person to use the expression, “Baptism with the Holy Spirit" was a good Baptist, named John. Here is what he said in Matthew 3:11:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Matthew noted that John compared water baptism with the baptism with the Holy Spirit. He used the same word when referring to both experiences. Being baptized with the Holy Spirit is a kind of immersion. The goal is to become fully dyed with the Holy Spirit.
Q. Do you believe that tongues are the evidence of someone having received the Holy Spirit?
A. I have friends who believe that speaking in tongues is "the evidence" proving that the Holy Spirit has come into a person's heart, but my belief varies slightly from theirs. First, I am more concerned that people receive the Holy Spirit simply by faith, not because of any “evidence”. Jesus taught us that we should simply"ask the Father for the Holy Spirit" and that we would receive what we asked for (Luke 11:13). We need to open our hearts to receive Him just as we received Jesus. (We don’t automatically receive the Baptism with the Holy Spirit when we are born again, otherwise why would Jesus tell us to ask for the Holy Spirit?)
When speaking in tongues occurs it is not so much evidence that He is in us, but rather, evidence that we are letting Him out! It is evidence of yieldedness. When we yield to the Holy Spirit, He will express Himself through us along Biblical lines. Some say they want the Holy Spirit to express Himself through them, but they put limitations on what He can or cannot do. Perhaps God invented tongues for the sole purpose that it requires yieldedness. Perhaps doing something as foolish as speaking in tongues is a way to measure the depth of our yieldedness. Will we let Him do anything in our hearts?
I need to quickly point out that I have prayed with some people who have too strong of a desire to speak in tongues. This can also prove to be a block for some people. They want it too badly. They need to know that learning to yield is the higher goal, not speaking in tongues. Tongues and prophecy are manifested in proportion to our faith and yieldedness.
I do not believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people a lot of tongues and others a mere word or two. There is no merit clause about this anywhere in scripture. Yet in churches where there has been an emphasis on gaining merit or doing works or praying hard, you will see people having a more difficult time receiving this grace also. Also, if the people we are praying for have been taught to be biased against speaking in tongues, it will create a block that will need to be overcome. In contrast, those who have had no teaching for or against it will usually receive a fluent release in tongues after they have been prayed for.
It is interesting to note that this question of whether or not we will speak with tongues seems to be mostly limited to the Western Church. When one of our mission teams entered the former Soviet Union just after the Iron Curtain fell, we visited many churches where speaking in tongues was considered the norm for those who had received the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Yet, they had been virtually cut off from Western influence for nearly fifty years. Everywhere we go overseas these two experiences are inseparable. Only in the North American church is it taught that speaking in tongues is an option. I think this is largely due to the fact that our faith has become more rational or cognitive, rather than intuitive and spiritual.
Without question, the greatest block that people have about the baptism with the Holy Spirit concerns speaking in tongues. Yet, for some reason, speaking in tongues is often the first thing the Holy Spirit does within people as He releases His power. This was certainly true of the experience of the one hundred and twenty who gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. It was also true of Cornelius' entire household. The pattern continued as Paul prayed for the twelve men in Ephesus. This has also been the testimony of millions of Charismatic and Pentecostal believers around the world today. I have often seen the Holy Spirit fall upon tribal people in the mountains of Northern India, who had no theological preparation for what they received. But, neither did they have a bias against speaking in tongues, as we in the Western church so often do.
My basic working premise is that I expect those that I pray for the baptism with the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues: "And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all." (Acts 19:6-7)
Paul prayed for them all, and they all received tongues. When I lay hands on people, I expect a miracle to take place.
Yet, I do not conclude they did not receive the Holy Spirit if they don't speak in tongues. Jesus said the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked (Luke 11:13).
I encourage them to rejoice in this fact and express their gratitude to God for such a wonderful gift.
- If they do not speak in tongues right away, then I will ask them if they would like to receive a heavenly language so they can worship and pray to the Father by the Spirit. If they desire this, I will pray for them a second time, asking the Holy Spirit to give them utterance.
- I remind them that in Acts 2:4 He gave the utterance, but they did the speaking. In other words, they must say aloud what comes to their minds by the Spirit.
- I never encourage them to make something up or repeat after me. This is vain manipulation, which always causes more doubts for the one who was prayed for. It also negates the power of the Spirit.
RECEIVING WHAT HAS ALREADY BEEN GIVEN
Q. How can I know that this is something He wants me to have?
A. I often tell people that He is not deciding whether or not to give them the Holy Spirit, “You are not a special case that He is weighing or wondering whether or not He should give you the Holy Spirit. He has already decided, not based upon your merit, or your worthiness, or your having done everything right, but He decided to pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh thousands of years ago.”
He has already decided to give us His Holy Spirit because we need a Helper:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— (John 14:16)
Jesus already told us that we would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. (Acts 1:8)
So, I get them to focus on receiving, rather than begging or wondering if He will give it to them or not. I remind them Jesus said,
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Throughout the New Testament the focus on experiencing the Holy Spirit is on our receiving:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”(Acts 2:38-39)
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:15-16)
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:1-2)
Now, breathe Him in.
Q. Why doesn’t this happen in my church?
A. It will not happen in any church unless it is allowed. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus taught that church leadership were given the keys, as a symbol of authority. He goes on to say that whatever we allow, He allows; whatever we forbid, He forbids:
“And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
A couple chapters later, He puts it in the context of prayer:
Assuredly, I say to you, whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:18-19)
To bind meant, "...to exercise authority, impose or constraint duty upon, to be required by duty to do something, subject to legal obligation especially to be over [someone or something] ...to keep the peace."
To loose meant to "become free from [legal] restraint or to be discharged from a binding or legal obligation."
These were Old English judicial terms that describe the decision-making power given to those in authority. Today we would say that those in authority have the power to "forbid or permit", as it pertains to anything under their jurisdiction.
In other words, whatever those in leadership allow, shall be allowed. Whatever they forbid, shall be forbidden --- not by God, but He has limited Himself to our using the keys.
What does this look like in the church today?
If someone is misusing the gifts, and we ask God to deal with them, He won’t. However, if we deal with those involved, He will back up our action in heaven.
- If we do not allow prophecy in the church, it won’t happen in our meetings.
- If we forbid speaking in tongues, they will not happen in our meetings.
- If we don’t deal with demons in our midst, He won’t.
So often we are waiting for Him to do something about our church problems when, in fact, He is waiting for us to exercise the authority we have been given.
It also means that our churches, as a whole, can only go as far as the leadership will let them. (There will always be individual exceptions.)
When you couple this with the fact that the Kingdom of God requires our aggression, you could say, if the leadership of the church is not being aggressive for it, it will not happen.
When it comes to the things of the Spirit, we do not have to “lay down the law” to forbid something; we can forbid it through indifference. We can forbid it by not being proactive about it. We can prevent it by saying, “I am not forbidding it, but neither am I pushing for it.”
The Biblical pattern is clear; the disciples went everywhere preaching and proclaiming the gospel, and the Lord worked with them confirming what they preached with accompanying signs (Mark 16:17-20). If they hadn't preached it, there would not have been anything to confirm and no signs following. Whatever we honor, God will honor. Whatever part of His word we put forth in our lives and ministries, that is what God will honor as well.
So often we fail to see the miraculous power of God in our midst because it is not taught, nor do we build expectancy for it, or make room for it in our meetings. We prefer things to be nice and normal.
I have seen the Holy Spirit moving more overseas than here, in part, because they expect it to happen. They tend to take the Bible at face value and believe it should happen today in the same way. They allow time for the Holy Spirit to minister, sometimes having worship times that last for hours, rather than minutes. The Holy Spirit uses that time to transform lives.
Through the years, I have had the opportunity to pray for many people to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. As I witness their experiences up close, I have been able to re-live the wonder of my own, which took place back in 1978. I can recall both the thrill and trepidation of those early days, filled with discovery and doubt. I didn't have anyone to coach me through this tumultuous time, but ventured out alone, armed only with a strong desire to get in on whatever God had promised. I wanted to experience what was in the book of Acts for myself and was determined not to come up for air until I did.
Q. When did Jesus experience a baptism with fire?
A. It looks like His own experience with the baptism with fire began when He was immediately thrust into the wilderness after being baptized with the Holy Spirit. He was actually driven by the Spirit into this fiery trial. The enemy seemed to come at Him from every direction. Then once He began to preach, it seemed to manifest itself in the rejection He faced from family and His fellowship.
Jesus also linked this baptism with the cup He drank from. This cup symbolized intentionally taking in something that was bitter and unpleasant to the soul. It was actually a cup of suffering according to Mark 10:33-40. Nobody likes suffering. Even Jesus asked the Father to let it pass if it were possible:
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)
But when He realized doing this was His Father’s pleasure, He embraced it for all it was worth. From His example, we can see that the only way to drink this cup and survive this baptism is to surrender more deeply to our Father’s will. We will have to abandon our own agenda, our own ways of doing things, our own way of fighting, resisting, resenting, and blaming others. Just like water baptism, we have to lay down in it and just let it wash over us.
Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done. (Matthew 26:42)
When Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his ear, Jesus told him, Put your sword into the sheath.
Then He asked Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me? (John 18:10-11)
You can hear the indignation in His voice. If the Father gave it to Him, nobody was going to stop it. He did not want to fight His way out of it, resist it, nor take any short-cuts. He did not want to be robbed of its benefits nor its rewards. As awful as this cup was, there is only one thing more distasteful – and that was not drinking it. Even when they offered Jesus a drink of sour wine mixed with myrrh, as a pain reducer, He passed on it (Mark 15:23).
I have seen people pass on the cup and resist the baptism with fire and become completely ineffective in advancing the kingdom of God. They had an initial experience, but no longe