It’s Saturday! And well, someone asked me to e-mail them this essay but their e-mail is down, so I thought I’d put it on here for anyone who stumbles across this. I’m not entirely happy with it. I should have been more sympathetic to the side that I didn’t agree with, and should have been clear that Spirit baptism isn’t the only role the Spirit plays, and that the role that He plays in our Christian lives is what can be mistaken for the recieving of the Spirit – that is, speaking in tongues or epic changes in character in line with the fruits of the Spirit or any other way the Spirit chooses to show up. He does what he wants, remember? Keep in mind if you read that it’s a first year diploma of theology essay, not a masters, not even close to a bachelor. I still hold the same opinion, though.
Is Spirit baptism simultaneous with or subsequent to conversion?
The moment at which someone receives the Holy Spirit, or is ‘baptised in the Spirit’, is highly contested by two primary sides – those who believe this baptism is simultaneous with conversion, and those who believe it is subsequent to it. This essay will examine the strengths and weaknesses of both doctrines regarding Spirit Baptism, ultimately showing that a consistent Biblical theology will show that one is baptized in the Spirit simultaneously with conversion.
Those who believe that Spirit baptism is simultaneous with conversion highlight the Spirit’s role of illumination. That is, we cannot understand God’s Word, nor accept it, because our hearts are darkened and so the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion is to allow us to accept this grace. This means that not only does one receive the Spirit as they are converted, but conversion cannot and will not occur without him.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul writes that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Within its context, this verse is part of a passage about wisdom that comes from the Spirit. All understanding that we have of God is not from us but is from the Spirit of God. The man without the Spirit will find that the things that come from the Spirit are foolishness, and in previous chapter he had stated that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing – that is, those who do not have the Spirit within them and do not accept the salvation offered to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is incorrect, even arrogant, to presume that any of our comprehension of the Lord comes from our own wisdom and not from the revelatory work of the Spirit.
Why, then, is the Spirit so necessary for our conversion? Ephesians 2:1 tells us that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins.” Someone who is dead cannot respond to a calling, just as someone cannot walk into a graveyard and ask those in the graves to go to church with them so they can hear the gospel. It is only by God’s grace that we are made able to respond – that is, “made alive” – and that is because he gives what is referred to by John Calvin as an ‘effectual call’. We are united to Christ through God’s Spirit and it is the Spirit that brings us from death to life.
The evidence drawn for Spirit baptism being simultaneous with conversion is largely from the Pauline epistles, and does not often address the events that took place in Acts. The reason for this is that Acts is largely considered to be descriptive, that is a recount of events that occurred in the early Christian church, as opposed to prescriptive – an example and instruction about how we should live today. This assertion of the descriptive nature of Acts is true to its genre, there is danger of restricting God’s ability to act similarly today. We may restrict the abilities of the Spirit to conversion.
In this we find that the work of the Holy Spirit is not holistically understood. Not only does the Spirit illuminate the initial gospel message to us, but He also furthers our understanding of the Word, intercedes for us when we cannot find the words to pray and apart from the initial unity He gives us with Christ, He is continually furthering that union – “for those who are led by the Spirit are Sons of God.” By placing the Spirit’s working into a restricted place, we are in a dangerous place. In discounting the work he does to further our Christian life and to mould us, we can also ignore the workings of the Spirit that were most strongly shown in Jesus Christ’s life, and is that not the life that we should be building our own on?
The belief that baptism in the Spirit is subsequent to conversion is surrounded by criticism and not given much empathy or sympathy in attempts to understand it. This doctrine is often referred to as that of ‘second blessing’ and most heavily defines the Pentecostal church, embraced by prominent figures such as Benny Hinn and less explicitly by Hillsong Church. Not only is the Spirit received after conversion, but this baptism is generally accompanied glossolalia, or speaking in tongues.
Acts is the book most often referenced when discussing second blessing. The first of the passages pointed to is Acts 2 – Pentecost. At Pentecost, the apostles were in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded them, waiting to “receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them” Pentecost was the fulfillment of this promise. The Holy Spirit filled them and they began to speak in tongues. The supposition this is based upon is that the experience of the apostles is, and should be, normative.
Pentecost can be rightly placed in its context within salvation history – that is, that when Jesus ascended he would send the Spirit, who would be a Counsellor and he said that, the Spirit would “bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” We cannot make the mistake of limiting God, however, and there is another example in Acts that is impossible to overlook.
Acts 8:14-17 recounts the experience of the Samarians. The apostles heard they had accepted the Word of God and sent Peter and John to visit them, andupon arrival realized that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They lay hands on them and prayed. The Samaritans then received the Holy Spirit. There is no written evidence of ecstatic phenomenon such as glossolalia in this example, but Luke clearly expressed that at that time they received the Spirit. John Calvin acknowledges the tension between the doctrine of simultaneous Spirit baptism with conversion and that of subsequent Spirit baptism, saying that in that moment, “the excellent graces of the Spirit are heaped upon them, in which God showed to his Church, for a time as it were, the visible presence of his Spirit, that he might establish forever the authority of his gospel.” That is, that the blessings that come from the presence of the Spirit are given to them in that moment. While Calvin is strongly adhering to the belief that the Spirit is received upon conversion, his commentary on this passage brings to light an important part of Pentecostal theology – the second blessing that comes from the Spirit’s presence in us.
The strengths of this doctrine are found largely in Lukan texts, and not as commonly in Pauline epistles. This does not discount the argument, but it does place it in strong contention with the belief that Acts is not an instructive book, but a narrative recount. The weakness of Pentecostal theology is found in the opposite place to the more common belief of Spirit baptism being simultaneous with conversion – one discounts Acts to readily, while the other rests too much prescriptive emphasis upon it.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul asks a hypothetical list of questions regarding gifts given by the Spirit – “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” – this clearly means that not all will speak in tongues, as all are baptized into one Spirit and he gives different gifts to each of us as he determines. There is one Spirit, but many gifts.
Knox contends that “speaking of tongues is psychological, and not in itself, a manifestation of the Spirit of God.” This is an example of the limiting of God that can take place, but also could be valid in that the common practice of speaking in tongues when one receives the Spirit may be a simple psychological reaction, as that is simply the expectation within that moment – but we cannot so boldly claim that God will not ever act in this way, just that it is not a normative experience. Otherwise, many who believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord would be without the Spirit of God, and therefore not saved, and salvation through believing in Jesus with your heart, and professing it with your mouth is clearly put forth by Paul in Romans 8.
Spirit baptism is simultaneous with conversion. By the Spirit we are united to Christ, and that unity with Christ is the way we are saved. Jesus’ death and resurrection made this union possible, and after his ascension and the sending of the Spirit this unity became sealed by the His presence in us. That is not to say that we will not be strengthened in the Spirit at certain points in our lives or that He will not manifest himself in different ways but that our conversion is made possible by God’s work through His Spirit.
Packer, J.I.1984, Keep in Step With the Spirit, Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Milne, B. 1998, Know the Truth, 2nd edn, InterVarsity Press, Leicester, United Kingdom
Bruce, F.F. 1988, The New International Commentary on the Book of Acts (revised), William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Barnett, P.W. 2000, 1 Corinthians: Holiness and Hope of a Rescued People, Christian Focus Publications, Ross-Shire, Great Britain
Fee, G.D. 1987, The New International Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians), William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
O’Brien, P.T. 1988, Pillar New Testament Commentary on the Letter to the Ephesians Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Knox, D.B. 2000, Selected Works – Volume I: The Doctrine of God, Matthias Media, Kingsford, Australia
We Believe 2009, Benny Hinn Ministries, Texas, viewed 25 September, 2009, <http://www.bennyhinn.org/aboutus/articledesc.cfm?id=1392>.
Yun, K.D 2004, ‘Water Baptism and Spirit Baptism: Pentecostals and Lutherans in Dialogue’, Dialog: A Journal of Theology, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 344-351.
What We Believe 2009, Alphacrucius, New South Wales, viewed 25 September, 2009, < http://alphacrucis.edu.au/about/what-we-believe/>.
Calvin, J. 1979, Calvin’s Commentaries: John-Acts, Associated Publishers and Authors, Wilmington, Delaware
 Romans 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 2:12
 Ephesians 2:5. O’Brien, pg. 156-157
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pg. 869
 John 14:9-11
 Romans 8:26
 Romans 8:14
 Knox, pg.268
 Packer, pg. 177-178
 Acts 1:8
 We Believe 2009, Benny Hinn Ministries, Texas, viewed 25 September, 2009, <http://www.bennyhinn.org/aboutus/articledesc.cfm?id=1392>.
 John 16:7
 Calvin, pg. 1065
 Yun, pg. 349
 1 Corinthians 12:29-30
 1 Corinthians 12:11
 Knox, pg. 274
 Romans 8:3-4
 1 Corinthians 12:6