I am afraid my interlude must continue a little longer, as one of my readers of my last post in this series on the Holy Spirit and Gifts pointed out that I had made no scriptural case for believing in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience from conversion. I thought I had better quickly show my thinking on this.
First off, may I say straight away that I believe the Gifts are not the most important part of the Holy Spirit’s conscious work in the believer. I strongly believe that a conscious receiving of the Holy Spirit is the seal spoken of in Ephesians 1. There, those who have believed are marked with a seal. The language is clear, the Spirit himself is given to allow us to be sure we are saved. I cannot see why the bible would speak in these terms unless the receipt of the Spirit is intended to be experiential, and powerful. More than the gifts themselves, his presence and the outworking of that proves to us that God has saved us. The puritans (and Martyn-Lloyd Jones for that matter) used to talk of this as the full assurance of salvation.
Why do I say this has to be distinct from a conversion? Well simply because so many conversions seem devoid of any sense of experience. Can a person receive Holy Spirit Baptism at conversion – yes of course they can! Did they always in the book of Acts? No they didn’t. A quick perusal of Acts’ mention of the word spirit reveals that Peter made the statement “believe, be baptized, and you will receive the Holy Spirit” which when the context of being “added” to the church comprises what I describe as the “Normal Christian Birth“.
Now, clearly to me at least, these are four things that happen in a logical sequence (although on occasion the sequence can be altered slightly). All four may happen on the same day of course, or as in the case of the Samaritans in Acts 8 they may believe and be baptized and not receive the Holy Spirit till later. Or, as in Pauls case in Acts 9 faith may come first – Annanais does not preach the gospel to Paul or ask for faith in Acts 9 – he seems to know that Paul has already believed. He instead says he has come that he might be healed and receive the Holy Spirit and be baptized several days after his salvation experience.Now if you accept that Acts is in any sense to be normative you see that the ideal is that ALL Christians should have a powerful, dynamic life-changing encounter with God that draws attention – to the point that someone might offer money for the ability not to heal but to impart the Holy Spirit.
Now it is patently the case that not all Christians experience such an encounter at conversion. Should we say that they are not Christians at all yet? Or should we reassure them that faith can occur without any experience but lead them to the place where they believe that the promise of the Holy Spirit AS EXPERIENCED IN ACTS TWO AND PROPHESIED IN JOEL really is “for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself!”
incidentally, just in case I have any paedobaptists reading, whilst there are clear examples of receiving the Holy Spirit coming before baptism in water in Acts, there are no clear examples of baptism in water preceding faith. Therefore, it seems to me that the natural Biblical order for these things is as seen in Acts 2 and I cannot see what we could possibly loose by only baptizing those who have professed faith.
Interestingly, Acts seems clear that receiving the Spirit is something others will notice, and on most occasions speaking in tongues and prophecy is mentioned explicitly. It seems as though faith is what happens inside us and is between us and God, baptism in water and the resultant acceptance into church membership is the church putting its external seal of approval on what has happened, whilst the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is God putting HIS external seal of approval on what has happened – in a similar way to what happened to Jesus at his baptism.
The Spirit descends on us who are already Gods children to reveal to us and others that we are in fact the beloved children of God in whom he is well pleased because of what Jesus has done on the cross. How I long for more of the love of God to be poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)