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 prio