Undergoing the Water Baptism (WB) and receiving the Holy Spirit (HS) are two separate occurrences. They are to be received, in order for us to be saved. We intend to show from the Bible that there is an indisputable distinction between them.
Jesus is the first to talk about both: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (Jn 3:5). We all know that being born of the water refers uniquely to undergoing the WB. In fact, the word ‘baptism’ is nowhere to be found in the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. But, we all silently agree and faithfully believe that this is the case. Likewise, we all believe that being born of the Spirit refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (receiving the Spirit). Nevertheless, this promise of Christ (Lk 24:48; Acts 1:5) only came to pass after the ascension of Christ (Acts 2:2ff). The receiving of the Spirit didn’t occur when the believers accepted the WB while Jesus was still in the flesh. Also, when the Spirit first came on Pentecost, none were undergoing the WB.
It is a Process
Since God is a God of order, He does not and will not act to confuse His own people and indeed His own church. Although the Bible does not explicitly talk about the 12 apostles undergoing the WB, not a single biblical account in any way suggests that they received the HS at the point of being baptised. These clearly show that the two requirements for salvation do not necessarily take place at the same time. They are two separate occurrences. They occur one after another, with unique evidence accompanying the receiving of the HS as documented in Acts.
Take the statement of Jesus for example: He who believes and is baptised shall be saved (Mk 16:16). Both believing and getting baptised are essential for salvation. One cannot be done without the other. But they are not one and the same. No one with a spiritually sound mind would say that when a person believes he is also baptised at the same time. In Acts, after the listeners in Samaria believed in the preaching of Philip, they were baptised (Acts 8:12). In Ephesus, after having expounded the truth of the WB in the name of Jesus, the believers were baptised again (Acts 19:5). Is there any ground for saying that receiving the HS takes place at the point of believing? Is this not a process?
Speaking with New Tongues
The instruction of Christ in Mark for the apostles before His ascension includes three main points. The first is they must venture out to preach the gospel (Mk 16:15). This is to expand the kingdom of God. The second is though the WB is to be administered on those who believe (Mk 16:16), it is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who enjoins them to the one body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). The third is that miracles and wonders shall accompany those who believe (Mk 16:17).
However, some propose that the Spirit comes into a person at the point of believing and getting baptised. The reason given in substantiating this idea is the ‘new tongues’ (Mk 16:17). Quite clearly, this has been badly taken out of context. There is a list of things mentioned by Christ apart from the ‘new tongues’. One has to ask, ‘Does one naturally receive the gift of casting out demons as well upon believing and receiving the WB?’ Did this happen with the church in the time of the Apostles?
They further argue that when the 2 apostles were sent to Samaria, the main thrust of their work was to help the new converts receive the gift of tongues not the Spirit himself. Their stance is on the premise that Simon saw the gift being given out to those whom the apostles laid hands on and intended to buy it with money (Acts 8:20). From what they have said it is undoubtedly clear that these persons do not believe that speaking in tongues is the only evidence of receiving the HS.
The biblical teachings and the stance of the church are that the apostles were sent to help them receive the Spirit, not just the gift of tongues. The narrative given in Acts 8 is crystal clear: For as yet He had fallen upon none of them (16). Although they had been baptised with water yet the HS was not in them. What did Simon see? First, the Bible says Simon saw that the HS was given (Acts 8:18b). He intended to buy this power so that anyone he laid hands upon might receive the HS (Acts 8:19). The main point here is about receiving the Spirit.
Now how did Simon know the Spirit was given to those who believed? Surely, it is through tongues speaking. Is not speaking in tongues the evidence of receiving the Spirit? In addition, the word ‘gift’ here is different from the spiritual gift discussed in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. The former denotes the Spirit Himself, which is evidenced by tongues-speaking. This is common to all who have received the HS. The latter is given to edify the church and not everyone who believes is given the gift(s) (1 Cor 12:10).
The True Vine
The True Vine account gives assurances to us who are in Christ. It is talking about the special relationship that we have with the Lord. This relationship is maintained when we keep ourselves in Him by abiding in His word (Jn 15:7). When we fail to do so we jeopardise the relationship. The worst case scenario is that we can even be severed from Jesus, who is the trunk. If this happens, then there is nothing we can do. Our fate is to wait for the scary prospect of being thrown into the fire.
However, this account is not about having the Spirit in us as some have suggested. Such a suggestion is based upon a presumed connection between the True Vine account (Jn. 15:1-7) and the promise of Jesus concerning the Spirit (Jn 14:20). Such reasoning is a mere conjecture, designed to force the issue. This is a wilful attempt to omit the main message sandwiched between the two about the peace that Jesus would give to the disciples (Jn 14:25-31). We do not deny that the Spirit is the key to every gift we receive from God. But the receiving of peace does not point to the receiving of the HS.
It is always imperative to note that we speak what the Bible speaks and remain silent when the Bible is silent. The Bible says that the two requirements for salvation are two separate matters. We therefore cannot argue against it with human suppositions, such as ‘abiding in the Lord’ must necessarily be suggesting that the Spirit is in all those who belong to Christ. Simply, the Bible says the Spirit must importunately be prayed for apart from undergoing the WB. To teach the former is being unfaithful to the word of God. On the contrary, to follow the latter is being truthful to what we have received from God.
Moreover, the Bible is consistent. It does not contradict itself. Whenever ‘abiding in Jesus’ is used in the sense of the presence of the HS in one’s life, the phrase ‘the Spirit He has given us’ is always used. On top of that, one experientially knows when the Spirit is in him (1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). This is to draw a distinction between the receiving of the HS from the works that we need to do to maintain a close relationship with God. Such works include keeping the commandments of God and loving one another. However, they are not the evidences of receiving the HS.
Receiving the HS prior to Undergoing the WB
The formula given to set free those who were pierced by the word of Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2:38f) seems to contradict the account of conversion of Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:44ff). The former outlines the sequence of getting baptised following by receiving the HS. The latter is exactly the opposite. However, both are the works of God. We should look at it in a way that the two requirements for salvation are to be fulfilled either way. None is complete in saving us without the other.
Those who believe that the Spirit is given at the point of baptism are advocating that the speaking of tongues in the case of Cornelius is merely a sign to the unbelievers, quoting the teaching of Paul (1 Cor 14:22). It is solely a case of testifying to God having accepted the Gentiles. However, Paul also says if the whole church speaks in tongues, then the conclusion drawn by unbelievers is that it is sheer insanity (1 Cor 14:23). Why is there such a seeming discrepancy and quick change of tone from Paul?
Speaking in tongues as a spiritual gift in edifying the church can only reap its full effectiveness when interpreting is availed (1 Cor 12:10; 14:27f). Likewise, for tongues to be a sign requires its meaning to be known to unbelievers when they come in to the church through interpreting. The speaking in tongues as a charismatic gift is only one of the two functions. That is why Paul says, if there is no one to interpret let the speakers keep silent in church and speak to God alone (1 Cor 14:27ff). Nevertheless, it is different from the tongues-speaking which is the only evidence of receiving the HS, which is meant to speak to God and edifies only the individual (I Cor 14:2, 4).
The reasons are detailed in Acts. The tongues speakers in Acts were not the apostles. They were the Gentiles who had not been baptised. When the Spirit came, the companions of Peter were surprised, not the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). To insist that the speaking in tongues in Acts is a sign to unbelievers, we have to wonder who the unbelievers were. The tongues spoken in Acts is the evidence of receiving the Spirit for Peter attested that “[they] have received the HS just as we have” (Acts 10:47). Even when he returned to Jerusalem, Peter re-confirmed the coming of the Spirit upon the Gentiles (Acts 11:15) as upon them at the beginning.
The Essence of Faith (Believing)
It is true that we begin our Christian journey with faith and we also conclude our lives on earth with faith. It entails following the teachings of Christ fully with exact obedience on our parts. That is why Jesus says not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” is sure to enter into the kingdom of God but only those who keep the will of the Father (Mt 7:21). It is on this premise that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Otherwise, we are in danger of being named amongst those whom Christ will reject when He comes again.
At this point, we ask, ‘Doesn’t faith lead us to pray for the HS?’ Both Jesus and the apostles talk about praying for the HS. Jesus, in the parable of asking, seeking and knocking, teaches that the Spirit essentially has to be prayed for (Lk 11:13). He has never taught that once we are baptised we are given the Spirit at the same time. The same holds true with the practice of the early church: they prayed for those who had been baptised that they receive the HS (Acts 8:15; 19:5f). None of them has ever implied that the Spirit is in a person on account of having put on Christ in undergoing the WB (Gal 3:27). So, what should the end-time true church do? The answer is very simple: she should follow what the early church did and believe in what the early church taught and practised. This is faith.
There are claims out there persuading the church not to be limited by the traditional views on the receiving of the HS. These persons argue that there should always be openness to accept new beliefs and ideas away from the traditions of the church. Such claims are at best a deception in disguise to cast doubts in the minds of believers with a will to lure them away from the sure foundation, and at worst, an organised movement with a force lurking behind to overhaul the beliefs of the church to her utter detriment.
There is clearly a pattern which has been given to the church by which we are saved (Rom 6:17). We have to hold on to it with the Spirit who abides in us (2 Tim 1:14). The truth of the HS has its roots clearly in the Bible. Whatever the church teaches about the Spirit always comes with irrefutable back-ups from the Bible. It further confirms with testimonies of receiving the Spirit with tongues-speaking as the evidence whenever it is preached. The clarity and veracity of the truth is disclosed by our faith in what we have received. The defending of it deepens our conviction we have in it.
The doctrines of the true church are not some worldly procedures or morality that will be freshened up by change. Instead, we should study them with a will to understand them better. Let us beware! Shouldn’t the changing morality for the worse of the world today be a warning to us in the true church? It is imperative to hold on to the solid doctrines of the Bible that we have loved and that have preserved us for so long.