On Thursday we began a series looking at several questions asked by an e-mail correspondent of mine. Today I will address his second question:
Does baptism by the Holy Spirit have to be accompanied by tongues? Does it have to be by the laying on of hands? How do you know that you have been baptized in the Spirit?
I will take these in reverse order. The last one is, in some ways, the easiest, although it is more difficult to put into words. It is like asking, “How do you know you are in love?” or “How do you know that was a beautiful painting?” At its center, the baptism of the Spirit is about the love of God being poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). I love John Piper’s description of it, which he credits to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s not that the Spirit is entirely absent from the lives of believers before they receive him—far from it! No one can come to faith except by the Spirit; no one can exhibit any of the fruits of the Spirit without his work; every impulse to love and obey God comes from the Spirit. It’s just that we are not always very aware of his work within us. We often don’t relate to him as a person. We have not “received” him, nor do we feel him. He has not yet “fallen on us.”
The truth is, even those who have received the Spirit often forget him. I often need to come back to him, asking that I be made more aware of his work in my life. It is not an “all or-nothing” phenomenon. The most Spirit-filled believer has yet more to receive of him! Spurgeon expresses this very well as follows:
“Have ye then received the Spirit since you believed? Beloved, are you now receiving the Spirit? Are you living under his divine influence? Are you filled with his power? Put the question personally. I am afraid some professors will have to admit that they hardly know whether there be any Holy Ghost; and others will have to confess that though they have enjoyed a little of his saving work, yet they do not know much of his ennobling and sanctifying influence. We have none of us participated in his operations as we might have done: we have sipped where we might have drunk; we have drunk where we might have bathed; we have bathed up to the ankles where we might have found rivers to swim in. Alas, of many Christians it must be affirmed that they have been naked, and poor, and miserable, when they might in the power of the Holy Spirit have been clad in golden garments, and have been rich and increased in goods. He waiteth to be gracious, but we linger in indifference, like those of whom we read, “They could not enter in because of unbelief.” There are many such cases, and therefore it is not improper that I should with all vehemence press home upon you the question of the apostle, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Did ye receive him when ye believed? Are ye receiving him now that ye are believing in Christ Jesus?. . . Does any man know what the Spirit of God can make of him? I believe the greatest, ablest, most faithful, most holy man of God might have been greater, and abler, and more faithful, and more holy, if he had put himself more completely at the Spirit’s disposal. Wherever God has done great things by a man, he has had power to do more had the man been fit for it. We are straitened in ourselves, not in God. O brothers, the church is weak today because the Holy Spirit is not upon her members as we could desire him to be. You and I are tottering along like feeble babes, whereas, had we more of the Spirit, we might walk without fainting, run without weariness, and even mount up with wings as eagles. Oh, for more of the anointing of the Holy Ghost whom Christ is prepared to give immeasurably unto us if we will but receive him! “
C. H. Spurgeon, Receiving the Holy Ghost, No. 1790, Vol 30, Year 1884, p. 386, (Acts 19:2)
In answer to the question about laying on of hands. It is clear from the biblical accounts that some people did receive the Spirit when others prayed for them with hands laid on. Many also received the Spirit in other ways, with the Spirit often being described as “falling” on people. I do believe that laying on of hands is often very helpful and instrumental in a person receiving the Spirit, but we must not put God into a box on this issue. I have received touches from the Holy Spirit through hands being laid on me, but have also experienced his touch when alone in my room or walking in the woods. We should neither despise laying on of hands, nor make it into a law that all must receive the Spirit that way.
When it comes to tongues, my position is complex. Nowhere in the Bible does it state that it is impossible to receive the Spirit without speaking in tongues. Therefore we should not go further than Scripture on this point. I have already outlined that I believe that tongues is not the core element to this experience. The baptism of the Spirit is more about receiving a strong sense of the love of God and assurance of our salvation (see Ephesians 1, Romans 5, Romans 8). It should result in a welling up of praise to God. Tongues is part of the overflow of that experience, but may not be experienced by everyone. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that almost every time the Spirit is received in Acts, tongues and prophecy are the result. Therefore I think we are not wrong to expect tongues and prophecy, and to ask for them, and as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14, to eagerly desire spiritual gifts. Paul himself says in that chapter that he wants all of his readers to speak in tongues, and especially to prophecy. Thus, I think we should not settle for an experience of the Spirit that makes his gifts optional and is relaxed about whether or not we receive them. Let’s press the Spirit to give all he has for us!