In some Christian churches and denominations, “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is central to spiritual growth. The phrase is found several times in the New Testament, including in the Gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul. Some Christian traditions refer to a person “receiving” baptism of the Holy Spirit after deciding to follow Jesus Christ.
The Pentecostal tradition teaches that to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Christians should confess sin, surrender their entire lives to Jesus, and believe he will empower them to live for him. Yet, many non-Pentecostal traditions believe that the Spirit’s baptism occurs at conversion, not after it.
What verses do Pentecostals and other like-minded Christians use to teach how people can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What is an example of a denomination that encourages its members to pursue the Spirit’s baptism, and how does it suggest doing it? How do non-Pentecostal Christians interpret those verses? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Does the Holy Spirit Feel Like? to learn more.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second experience
The Pentecostal tradition believes that baptism of the Holy Spirit describes a unique and powerful event in the life of a Christian that occurs after conversion. Because it occurs after a person becomes a Christian, some people refer to it as a “second experience” or something similar. Pentecostal theology finds support for their view in verses that describe special works of the Spirit in the lives of believers.
- Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
- Acts 8:14-16, “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
- Acts 10:44-45, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”
- Acts 19:4-6, “Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
Also see What Are the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
How do Pentecostals interpret these verses?
Pentecostal theology teaches that people who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in these passages were Christians pursuing holiness post-conversion through activities like Bible study and prayer. As a result, they expected that God was going to work in their lives in powerful ways.
Today, Christians who believe that God still works in such ways attempt to mimic the posture, attitude, and faith of those in the early church in Acts. An example of this is found in the belief statement of the Assemblies of God denomination called The 16 Fundamental Truths. Truth #7 makes the following points (follow the link for more details):
- All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian Church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry.
- This experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth.
- With the baptism in the Holy Spirit come such experiences as: an overflowing fullness of the Spirit, a deepened reverence for God, an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work, and a more active love for Christ, for His Word and for the lost
Pentecostal theologian Craig Keener explains that a healthy doctrine of a second experience is about empowerment for Christian living and effective ministry, not salvation or being an “elite” believer compared to others. “Conversion gives us access to all we need, but neither conversion nor a single experience after conversion frees us from the need to seek God’s empowerment in practice.”
He continues: “We seek not a single experience, but a continuing relationship, daily encountering our master in the power of his Holy Spirit, living out of the power already imparted to us when he became followers of Jesus Christ” (emphasis Keener’s). 
Also see How Do You Know You Have Blasphemed the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
How do non-Pentecostals interpret these verses?
Many non-Pentecostals believe the Spirit’s work in Acts was unique because it was a time of important transition between Jesus’ earthly ministry and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecostal, signifying his enhanced ministry in the New Covenant era of God’s plan. In other words, what the Holy Spirit did in Acts isn’t the model for what Christians in later times would experience.
Some also question whether the people in Acts 10 and 19 were actually Christians when they encountered the Holy Spirit. According to some interpreters, there is reason to believe that they weren’t Christians. If this is the case, then what Luke records isn’t a “second experience” but their conversion.
Do non-Pentecostals question the validity of Pentecostal experiences of the Holy Spirit? Some do, but many don’t. Some non-Pentecostal Christians credit obvious growth in holiness and Christlikeness not to a “second experience” but to the person pursuing God, overcoming sin, studying the Bible, and praying. The core of the disagreement isn’t (or shouldn’t be) the positive effects but the exact cause.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament
There are seven places in the New Testament where writers describe someone being baptized with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist is the speaker all four times that the description of the Spirit’s baptism appears in the Gospels. Jesus is the speaker in the fifth example. Peter is the speaker in the sixth. Paul is the writer in the seventh.
- Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for 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.”
- Mark 1:8, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
- Luke 3:16, “John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
- John 1:33, “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'”
- Acts 1:5, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
- Acts 11:16, “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”
- 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Also see What Does It Mean To Be Filled with the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
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