In my opinion, there’s a lot of confusion about this topic today. The Holy Spirit is one of those things that gets discussed a lot, but there’s limited information on in the Bible. Those two conditions, much discussion and little information, don’t usually lead to anything real productive. So I thought I’d take a minute to discuss one facet of the Holy Spirit that we do have some information on: the Holy Spirit Baptism.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of disagreement about this topic too. But let’s go back to the source and see if we can’t figure out what it is and what it’s for.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto 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. – Matthew 3:11
Ok, maybe that sounds a little confusing. I mean, what exactly is baptism of Holy Spirit and fire? Luckily, we still have several passages that deal with it. In Acts 1:4-8, Jesus explains this passage a little more.
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Here, Jesus tells us that the baptism John had been talking about in Matt 3 was going to come upon Jesus’ disciples; people who had already been saved. So, obviously, this Holy Spirit baptism had nothing to do with salvation; instead, Jesus points out in vs 8 that it would help them be witnesses for Christ. How did it do that? We’re told in John 16:13, where it says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” Now we see that the Holy Spirit would help them by “guiding them into all truth.” As we know, they didn’t have the Bible back then, so they had to receive God’s Word in some other way. The Holy Spirit’s influence is how the apostles knew what God wanted. It’s the reason we view their writings as inspired by God.
In Acts 2, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, and it appears as “tongues of fire” above their heads. The apostles speak to the crowd there, and Peter delivers a sermon telling them who Jesus was and proving He was the Christ. When asked, Peter tells them what they must do to be saved (Acts 2:37-38). And here, it’s interesting that he still commands them to be baptized. As far as we know, it is still referencing water baptism, even though the apostles had just been given the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” So, again, it seems that Holy Spirit baptism is not used for salvation. More on this point in a moment…
The only other account we have of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone in a similar way is in Acts 10, with Cornelius and his household. As was pointed out earlier, there is no indication anywhere in the Scriptures that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had anything to do with salvation. In this example, it was used to prove to Peter and the other Jews present that salvation was now available to the Gentiles as well. After the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family, Peter still says they need to be baptized with water (Acts 10:46-48).
Now that we see what the “baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit” is, we go back to all the examples we have of baptism being used in the salvation process. In 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 8:36, and Acts 10:46-48, we see that water baptism is still being used. The main difference between John’s baptism and the baptism in these passages is that Christ hadn’t died when John’s baptism was in effect, but Christ was dead when we see these other examples. His death is the necessary element that makes baptism work at all. John had been sent to “prepare the way” for Jesus, so his baptism was used as a “bridge” between the Old Law and the New Law; it helped transition people to the requirements of the New Law.
Besides, if water baptism wasn’t required today, but instead, it’s supposed to be a “Holy Spirit” baptism, then why introduce water baptism at all? At most, it only would have been used for a few years – just the time from John’s ministry to Jesus’s death. If water baptism didn’t translate after that, then why was it introduced? Why do we have examples of water baptism after Christ’s death? What examples or passages do we have that support “Holy Spirit” baptism as being involved with salvation?
I hope this has been helpful; comments are welcome…