We will summarize this highly complex topic as follows:
1. Pentecost: God promised through the OT prophets to send the Holy Spirit (likewise, He promised to send the Messiah), and this occurred in an event that took place on the first Day of Pentecost following the crucifixion of Jesus. That event is called the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. This event was really a judgment from God; it divided believers from unbelievers. The Spirit became available and accessible in a totally new way, but only to Christians.
Note: A common mistake is to think the “baptism of the Spirit” is a personal experience of God and of the supernatural that is so overwhelming that a person “speaks in tongues” (that is, has the miraculous ability to speak a language they have never learned). In the Bible, tongues were never presented as a normal experience for every Christian. Instead, the experience of tongues came, only on occasion, to show the church new directions in its outreach. Jewish people had long regarded certain peoples as unclean and kept them as outsiders. When Jewish people became Christians, God actually told them to accept these unclean people and He used the gift of tongues as a signpost for the direction of evangelism. The tongues were a sign that the baptism of the Spirit (outpouring on Pentecost) was powerfully at work in these new additions to God’s people. Since the tongues came through the laying on of the hands of apostles (who died and no longer exist among us), it marked them as persons with authority from God, authority to determine who was and who was not eligible for a place in Christianity.
2. The Spirit is given in water-baptism. Before the Spirit was outpoured on Pentecost, both Jesus and John the Baptist performed baptisms that forgave sins. However, Christian baptism, beginning with this special event, also offered the Holy Spirit to baptized believers as a gift from God (Acts 2:38). Baptism is thus a new birth in which Christians are born again and born of water and Spirit (John 3:3-5). Baptism may be viewed as the event in which Christians are anointed with the Holy Spirit for ministry (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
Note: the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit in baptism is a close parallel to the experience of the Holy Spirit by Jesus in His baptism. Although Jesus had no sins to wash away, He joins believers in the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Before this event, Jesus lived a rather normal life within the Jewish culture. But after the Spirit came upon Him in baptism, there began a flurry of Messianic activity, preaching, healings, other miracles, and the exorcism of demons. We likewise experience the Spirit as a power source beginning with our baptism in water.
3. Spiritual Gifts: Every Christian receives a gift (or gifts) from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes these are specific abilities or qualities of character; at other times they are qualifications for certain ministries (such as apostles, evangelists, pastors/elders, or teachers). This gifting equips many members to function together as a single body, coordinated through the Holy Spirit who indwells one and all.
4. Personal and Corporate Indwelling: Beginning with baptism in water, the Spirit indwells each and every Christian within their heart. That presence will not be detected either through physical sensation or through the hearing of a voice. But that presence will be evidenced through a changed life (called sanctification) and through the experience of new power as one engages Satan in spiritual warfare and engages the church’s mission of world evangelism. The Spirit fills the relationship between Christians with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each Christian becomes a temple in which the Spirit dwells and the entire church, the combined fellowship of all Christians, is also a temple in which the Spirit dwells. This ability for each Christian enables the entire church to function as a single body, the body of Christ, with each Christian serving as a separate member, or body part.
5. Pentecostalism: We do not embrace Pentecostalism, the teaching that conversion to Jesus comes in two steps. The first is marked by faith and involves salvation from the guilt of sins. The second is marked by speaking in tongues (which Pentecostals call the baptism of the Holy Spirit) and involves power to fight off the power of sin in the future. This is a misunderstanding of the Bible. Christian conversion takes place in one step (water baptism), not two.
6. Unity: The Holy Spirit creates the life of Jesus within each Christian and within the church fellowship. He works with the church to evangelize new members. He generates the fruit that adorns successful relationships of love and joy and faithfulness. The Spirit creates the bond of peace and He is grieved when that unity is threatened or broken.
7. Power: The Spirit is especially involved with the church’s outreach and evangelism. Not only is the Spirit present in every baptism through the gift of His indwelling presence, the Spirit sanctifies or makes holy each Christian. Some of this cleansing from sin takes place immediately at baptism, so that old habits and sinful ways of living are shed and abandoned. Other involvement with sin ends only after more time, as the Spirit convicts the Christian of wrong ways of living/relating and empowers them to withstand temptation, to grow in holiness, and to embrace better ways of living. All of this improvement is part of God’s victorious warfare against Satan and the devil’s harmful influence over humanity. As Jesus faced Satan in the 40-day period of temptation in the desert through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians do not face the devil alone, on their own weak power. Christianity brings power over wickedness and evil and sin, and overcoming this is a normal expectation for all Christians.
Note: The only alternative to the Spirit’s power is to attempt on one’s own strength and resources to achieve holiness, to defeat Satan, and to accomplish the mission of world evangelism. The Bible plainly declares it is impossible to please God this way, and the Bible description is living by the flesh. The Spirit is so intrinsically vital to the working of God that Paul declares, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:8-9).
8. Only through the Word? The claim is sometimes made that Christians are not indwelt directly by the Spirit. Instead, the Spirit only indwells Christians through the Word of Scripture. This is an unBiblical teaching for the following reasons:
a. The Bible teaches that both the Word and the Spirit indwell a Christian, but nowhere suggests the indwelling Word is the ultimate aim that removes the necessity of the indwelling Spirit. Both are necessary; receiving one does not render the other unnecessary.
b. This false teaching ignores the parallel between the baptism of Jesus and that of the Christian. In each case, the Spirit is received from God at water baptism.
c. The claim to indwelling only through the Word is really a false claim. It is actually a slick denial. The true claim here is two-fold:
- The Word actually indwells me.
- The Spirit actually does not indwell me.
d. The refusal of the Spirit’s indwelling forces one to pursue Christianity by the flesh. This is the only alternative to living by the Spirit. The Bible declares that this is doomed to failure and cannot please God.
e. The argument was first formulated to refute the claim that a convert could be successfully converted without ever hearing the Gospel. Instead, some claimed the Spirit could generate saving faith directly without a hearing of the message of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection. Against this, it was argued (correctly) that the Spirit would work in conversion only through the Word. In the passing of time, the only through the Word insistence was applied to already-converted Christians; that the Spirit would only work in them in this limited way. The original argument was Biblically true. This misapplication is false.