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Pneumatology Series: Baptism in the Spirit

Updated: May 2

Baptism in the Spirit

Another ministry of the Holy Spirit is the baptism “in” or “with” the Spirit. The baptism in the Spirit is a very important and controversial doctrine in the church. Traditionally, Spirit baptism refers to when Christ, through the agency of God’s Spirit, places believers into the body of Christ. In it, we become part of the body of believers, and Christ becomes our head. Tony Evans described the baptism this way:

Jesus is the One doing the baptizing. He is the baptizer, not the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the means by which this baptism takes place, the means by which believers enter into this new realm or environment called the body of Christ or the family of God.[1]

However, in some denominations such as Pentecostalism, it refers to a second experience of the Holy Spirit after salvation where believers experience power for the Christian life, and it is often accompanied by tongues. Charles Ryrie describes this view, which has changed at times throughout history:

Whereas old Pentecostalism uniformly taught that the baptism of the Spirit was an endowment for power, tongues being the evidence of the experience, newer Pentecostalism sees two baptisms. One is that of [1 Corinthians 12] verse 13, which all believers experience and which is accomplished by the Spirit and places people in the body of Christ. The other is the baptism seen in the book of Acts and is accomplished by Christ to place people in the Spirit for experiences of power. The first happens at conversion and results in a position; the second occurs later and can be repeated and is for power. The first does not require speaking in tongues; the second ideally does.[2]

John the Baptist initially predicted the baptism into the Spirit. In Mark 1:8, he said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Also, Christ predicted it before he ascended into heaven in Acts 1:4-5:

While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

This happened in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit fell on the waiting disciples. They experienced fire above their heads, as symbols of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, and tongues which allowed them to proclaim God’s goodness in different languages, as those visiting Jerusalem during Pentecost stood in awe of them (Acts 2:6-11). Peter confirmed that their experience at Pentecost was in fact the baptism of the Spirit, as predicted by Christ. In Acts 11:15-16, he said:

Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

In addition, other believers throughout the book of Acts, who were not in Jerusalem at Pentecost, had similar experiences at later dates where the Spirit fell upon them and commonly enabled them to speak in tongues, which symbolized their baptism in the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17, 19:1-6).

The concept of baptism means to identify or associate with something or someone.[3] As believers, we are baptized with the Spirit into Christ’s body at salvation. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV), Paul said this, “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.” “All” believers are baptized and not “some.” It is not a secondary work that some experience; it is a primary work that all believers experience when they are saved.

Results of the Baptism

What are the results of being baptized in the Spirit?

1. The baptism in the Spirit provides believers with a new identity and position in Christ.

Because of this baptism, Paul constantly refers to the new identity of believers as “in Christ.” In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul said, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” Because we are in Christ, we are new creations. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because we are in Christ, we will not be condemned by God for our sins. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” Because we are in Christ, we now are the righteousness of God. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.” Because we are “in Christ” we have every blessing in heavenly places. Ephesians 2:6 says, “and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Our being raised and seated in Christ in the heavenlies seems to not only refer to our new position but our new authority in Christ, as we are above all rule, authority, and power in this age and the age to come (cf. Eph 1:20-22). Likewise, in Romans 6:3-4, Paul says our baptism into Christ associates us with his death, burial, and resurrection; therefore, setting us free from the power of sin to live a new life in Christ. He says,

Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

Our identity in Christ radically changes everything about us including how God sees us and how we should see ourselves and other believers. This new identity happens as we are baptized in the Spirit into the body of Christ.

2. The baptism in the Spirit provides believers with a new union with the church.

In Ephesians 2:14-15, Paul describes how God has unified Jews and Gentiles in Christ:

For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this ‘to create in himself one new man out of two,’ thus making peace

In Spirit baptism, Christ took two hostile people groups—believing Jews and Gentiles, which encompasses all nationalities—and made them one in Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The reality is that being from different cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds makes the church prone to discord. However, because God has made us one in Christ, through God’s Spirit, we must labor to live out this unity. In Ephesians 4:3-5, Paul said, “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” The “one baptism” probably refers to Spirit baptism, of which water baptism, ultimately symbolizes.

3. The baptism in the Spirit provides believers with spiritual gifts.

Since its through Spirit baptism that believers become part of the body, Paul associates it with the distribution of spiritual gifts. Consider 1 Corinthians 12:10-13 (ESV):

to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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.

It is as we become a member of the body that we are assigned a specific gift or role in the body. One person is the arm, another the foot, another the eye, and so on. In Spirit baptism, we are not only unified into the body but empowered to serve the body with a gift.

Two Views

Why are there two views—the traditional view and the Pentecostal view?

The Pentecostal view, which sees Spirit baptism as a second experience after salvation, is derived explicitly from the Acts narrative where the Spirit falls on believers and they spoke in tongues both at Pentecost and at later dates (cf. Acts 1:4, 2:4, 11:15-18, etc.). If our understanding of Spirit baptism is derived from the Acts’ narrative alone, Spirit baptism being a work following salvation would seem to be the best conclusion.

However, there are many problems with the Pentecostal view:

1. From a hermeneutical standpoint, narratives are not meant to be prescriptive but descriptive. They are meant to tell us what happened, not tell us how things should be or what they mean. When doctrines are made out of narratives, it’s a dangerous way to study the Bible. Professing Christians who believe in polygamy—a husband having multiple wives—take their proof from historical narratives, like the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and David. However, the authors of those narratives meant for them to be descriptive of what happened, not of what should have happened or what should be modeled. This is especially dangerous in the book of Acts because it is a transitional book. It is transitioning from Israel to the church—from Jews being God’s primary conduits of redemption to it being Jew and Gentile—from Old Covenant regulations to New Covenant regulations, and so on.

2. Again, from a hermeneutical standpoint, doctrinal books like the Epistles are meant for forming doctrines. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul explains what happened at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on believers. God, through the Holy Spirit, was forming the body of Christ. Paul said to the Corinthians that “all” of them had been baptized in the Spirit (12:13), and he also shared that not all of them spoke in tongues, which many believe is an enduring sign of the baptism (12:30). The experience in Acts was not meant to be the continual experience of believers. When those who were not at Pentecost, like Cornelius in Acts 10, experienced the baptism in the Spirit, it is very similar to the Numbers 11 narrative where Moses brought seventy elders to a mountain to receive a portion of his anointing so they could lead Israel. When the Spirit fell, they prophesied as a sign of experiencing the Spirit. Later on, the Spirit of God caught up to two who were not on the mountain, and they also prophesied. The same happened at Pentecost. The believers who were there experienced the baptism and those who were not received it later, often after being prayed over. Again, the experience was not meant to be normative, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 explains. Believers are now baptized in the Spirit at salvation, when they become part of Christ’s body.

3. The Pentecostal view actually teaches the opposite of what happens in the baptism in the Spirit. The baptism unifies all believers into one body. That is why Paul teaches that we “all” have been baptized in one Spirit into one body (1 Cor 12:13). The Pentecostal view actually divides the body into baptized and non-baptized believers (or filled and unfilled believers as some call them). In some churches, the baptized believers are considered the spiritually elite, with tongues being their proof of spiritual maturity.

4. As mentioned, some have tried to distinguish between the baptism John and Christ predicted (Mk 1:8, Acts 1:4-5) and the baptism Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12:13. They would say John and Christ predicted the baptism in the Spirit, which happened at Pentecost and throughout the book of Acts, and Paul described the baptism into Christ’s body, which happens at salvation. In the first, Christ is the baptizer and the Spirit the sphere. In the second, the Spirit is the baptizer and Christ is the sphere.[4] However, the baptisms John, Christ, and Paul described have almost the exact same construction in the Greek.[5] The only difference is Paul says, “one Spirit” instead “the Holy Spirit.” Otherwise, all the other words are exactly the same.[6] There is no need to create two baptisms—in the Spirit and in Christ. Some English Bible versions have translated 1 Corinthians 12:13 to say, “baptized by one Spirit” (e.g. NIV), which is often cited to create a second baptism for believers; however, it is best to translate it “with” or “in one Spirit.” Christ is the baptizer and the Spirit is the medium of the baptism. Paul is simply explaining the baptism that John and Christ predicted (Mk 1:8, Acts 1:4-5) happened in Acts 2, as God formed his church through the baptism in the Spirit.

With that said, even if the original authors meant to distinguish between Christ baptizing and the Spirit baptizing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they refer to a different baptism. It’s common in the New Testament for the persons of the Godhead to be described as doing the same work, since they are one. We are God’s temple, but we are also the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). Likewise, Christ also dwells in us (Eph 3:17, Rev 3:20). God holds us in his hand to keep our salvation, and Christ does the same (John 10:28-29). Also, the Holy Spirit seals us, again keeping our salvation (Eph 4:30). God created the earth, but Christ did as well; and the Spirit was involved (Gen 1:1-2, John 1:3, Ps 104:30). They are all involved in the same work. Therefore, even if the original authors meant to distinguish between baptizers and the medium of the baptism (Christ and the Holy Spirit), it does not necessarily mean it refers to a different work. Most likely, they are the same, especially since they essentially have the same grammatical construction and describe identical, or similar, activities.

5. If the Pentecostal view is correct—that believers need to seek a second baptism—wouldn’t there be one command in Scripture to seek the baptism of the Spirit? But, there isn’t. Believers are called to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). However, the verb for “filled” is present tense. It’s a continual experience we must pursue of being empowered and controlled by God. It is compared to being drunk with wine because it is similar in that it a temporary experience that must be attained and maintained. It is dissimilar in that drunkenness leads to sin but being filled with the Spirit leads to righteousness.

6. Finally, the fact that John the Baptist introduced Spirit baptism as representing salvation confirms it is not a secondary experience that only some believers achieve. In Matthew 3:11-12, after challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce fruit worthy of repentance, John said:

I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.

John said Christ would baptize people with the “Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 12). Some say that “Holy Spirit" and "fire” both refer to the baptism in the Spirit. In support, they point to the initial Spirit baptism at Pentecost and how “tongues of fire” appeared above the disciples’ heads (Acts 2:3). However, John doesn’t seem to be referring to that, since the previous mention of “fire” in verse 10 referred to eternal judgment. He says, “Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” “Fire” also refers to eternal judgment in verse 13. In context, John is referring to two distinct baptisms. In verse 13, John explains both: the baptism with the Spirit represents salvation, as the wheat is gathered into the storehouse, and the baptism with fire represents eternal judgment, as the chaff is burned (cf. Matt 13:36-43). Essentially, as John called people to true repentance, he said, “The Messiah is coming! Are you ready? When he comes, you will either be baptized in the Spirit and thus saved, or you will be baptized in fire and thus judged!” This equates with how Paul handled the baptism in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13. After the baptism in the Spirit at Pentecost and the initial forming of the church, the baptism happens at salvation to all believers. It is when believers become part of the body of Christ, and Christ becomes their head.

Proper Terminology

For those who claim to have experienced a second work of the Spirit—resulting in transformation and power—it would be more biblical to use the term “filling of the Spirit” instead of “baptism in the Spirit.” Being filled with the Spirit refers to daily being empowered and controlled by the Spirit. It may, at times, result in special power and unique phenomena, especially in crisis situations. For instance, when the Spirit came upon Saul, he prophesied (1 Sam 10:10). When the Spirit came upon Samson, he struck down 1000 Philistines (Judges 15:14-16). In Acts 4:31, after corporate prayer, the disciples were “filled with the Spirit” and spoke “the word of God courageously.” In Acts 19:6, when the Spirit came upon John the Baptist’s disciples, after being prayed for by Paul, they spoke in tongues and prophesied. For those who have experienced a transforming, charismatic experience (or experiences) after salvation, it would be more biblical to use the term “filled with the Spirit” rather than “baptized in the Spirit.”


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?

  2. What is the baptism in the Spirit and the results of it for believers?

  3. What is the difference between the two views of the baptism in the Spirit—the traditional and Pentecostal view?

  4. Which view (traditional or Pentecostal) do you think is most biblical and why?

  5. Have you ever experienced being “filled with the Spirit” which resulted in greater power or some type of charismatic phenomena? If so, how did it happen and what led to the experience?

  6. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

________________________________________________________________________[1] Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... . Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (pp. 419–420). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

[3] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? (Location 2271-2278). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 420). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

[5] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 766). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

[6] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 767). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

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