Piper on Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Piper on Baptism with the Holy Spirit September 23, 2005

Piper back in 1984 said some remarkable things about the Holy Spirit. which I think are of great interest and are surprisingly consistent with the veiws on the Holy Spirit I have quoted and outlined previously. Saying things like this Piper could almost be confused for a member of the charismatic church I attend

Now the positive thing I want to say about the moderate Pentecostal teaching (represented by the Bennets) is that it is right to stress the experiential reality of receiving the Spirit. When you read the New Testament honestly you can’t help but get the impression of a big difference from a lot of contemporary Christian experience. For them the Holy Spirit was a fact of experience. For many Christians today it is a fact of doctrine. Surely the Charismatic renewal has something to teach us here. In sacramental churches the gift of the Holy Spirit is virtually equated with the event of water baptism. In Protestant evangelicalism it is equated with a subconscious work of God in regeneration which you only know you have because the Bible says you do if you believe. It is easy to imagine a spiritual counselor saying to a new convert today, “Don’t expect to notice any difference: just believe you have received the Spirit.” But that is far from what we see in the New Testament. The Pentecostals are right to stress the experience of being baptized in the Spirit.

Here are four reasons from Acts. 1) The very term “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (1:5; 11:16) implies an immersion in the life of the Spirit. “John immersed in water; you will be immersed in the Spirit.” If the Spirit overwhelms you like a baptism you can’t imagine him merely sneaking in quietly while you are asleep and taking up inconspicuous residence. That may be the way it starts (Paul may have this early movement in mind in 1 Cor. 12:13), but if it ends there Jesus and Luke would not call it a baptism in the Spirit.

2) Jesus says in Acts 1:5 and 8 that baptism in the Spirit means, “You shall receive power and you shall be my witnesses.” This is an experience of boldness and confidence and victory over sin. A Christian without power is a Christian who needs a baptism in the Holy Spirit. I am aware that in 1 Cor. 12:13 Paul says that baptism in the Spirit is an act of God by which we become a part of the body of Christ at conversion, so that in his terminology all genuine converts have been baptized in the Spirit. But we have done wrong in limiting Paul’s understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit to this initial subconscious, divine act in conversion and then forcing all of Luke’s theology in Acts into that little mold. There is no reason to think that even for Paul the baptism in the Holy Spirit was limited to the initial moment of conversion. And for sure in the book of Acts the baptism in the Holy Spirit is more than a subconscious divine act of regeneration it is a conscious experience of power (Acts 1:8).

3) In fact the third reason I think this is that when you take your concordance and look up every text in Acts where the Holy Spirit works in believers it is never subconscious. In Acts the Holy Spirit is not a silent influence but an experienced power. Believers experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They didn’t just believe it happened because an apostle said so.

4) The fourth reason we should stress the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is that in Acts the apostles teach that it is a consequence of faith not a subconscious cause of faith. As a convinced Calvinist I believe with all my heart that the grace of God precedes and enables saving faith. We do not initiate our salvation by believing. God initiates it by enabling us to believe (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:25; John 1:13). But this regenerating work of God’s Spirit is not the limit of what Peter means by baptism in the Spirit. In Acts 11:15-17 Peter reports how the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius just as on the disciples at Pentecost. “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us, when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should withstand God?” Notice that the gift of the Spirit, or baptism in the Spirit, is preceded by faith. The NASB correctly says in v. 17 that God gave the Holy Spirit after they believed. So the baptism of the Spirit (v. 16) or the receiving of the gift of the Spirit (v. 17) cannot be the same as the work of God before faith which enables faith (which Luke speaks of in 2:39; 5:31; 16:14; 11:18; 15:10; 14:27). The baptism in the Spirit is an experience of the Spirit given after faith to faith.

This is why Paul can say in Acts 19:2 when he meets the confused disciples of John the Baptist, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” What would a contemporary Protestant evangelical say in response to that question? I think we would say something like, “I thought we automatically received the Holy Spirit when we believed. I don’t understand how you can even ask the question.” How could Paul ask that question? He could ask it, I think, because receiving the Holy Spirit is a real experience. There are marks of it in your life. And the best way to test the faith of these so-called disciples is to ask them about their experience of the Spirit. This is no different than what Paul said in Romans 8:14, “All who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God” (see 2 Cor. 13:5 and 1 John 3:24; 4:12-13). I sometimes fear that we have so redefined conversion in terms of human decisions and have so removed any necessity of the experience of God’s Spirit, that many people think they are saved when in fact they only have Christian ideas in their head not spiritual power in their heart.

So you see, the real issue the Charismatics raise for us is not the issue of tongues. In itself that is relatively unimportant. The really valuable contribution of the Charismatic renewal is their relentless emphasis on the truth that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is a real, life-changing experience. Christianity is not merely an array of glorious ideas. It is not merely the performance of rituals and sacraments. It is the life-changing experience of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord of the universe.

We could talk for hours about what that experience is. In fact, most of my messages are just that -descriptions of the experience of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. But I’ll mention two things from the book of Acts things that mark the experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit or of receiving the gift of the Spirit. One is a heart of praise. In Acts 10:46 the disciples knew the Holy Spirit had fallen because “they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling (or magnifying) God.” Speaking in tongues is one particular way of releasing the heart of praise. It may be present or may not. But one thing is sure: the heart in which the Holy Spirit has been poured out will stop magnifying self and start magnifying God. Heartfelt praise and worship is the mark of a real experience of the Holy Spirit.

The other mark I’ll mention is obedience. In Acts 5:29 Peter and the apostles say to the Sadducees who had arrested them, “We must obey God rather than men.” Then in verse 32 he says, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God gave to those who are obeying him.” (“Gave” is past tense; “obey” is present ongoing tense.) It is inevitable that when the object of your heart’s worship changes your obedience changes. When Jesus baptizes you in the Holy Spirit, and infuses you with a new sense of the glory of God, you have a new desire and a new power (1:8) to obey
. Whether or not you speak in tongues these two things will be your experience if you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit a new desire to magnify God in worship and a powerful disposition to obey God in everyday life.

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