Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Theological Question

Yesterday, I received by email this theological question from a woman seeking a viewpoint on the issue of whether the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something required for salvation. I was quite honored that this person, though we are unacquainted, apparently felt I could provide some enlightenment on this question, and I felt from reading her message that the issue was kind of urgent for her-- so I sent her a response by email right away. I think that the question she raised is an interesting one, and I asked her permission to post her question and my response here, which she has kindly granted.

Hello Alex...

I have done a search for an answer you likely would be able to enlighten me (about).

I am a born again, baptized believer and am part of the United Methodist church. There's been a real moving of the Spirit in our church.

Heading straight to my question, I'm asking what the thinking is on a believer who has not received the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" - and whether they go to heaven or not? I'd never heard one wouldn't until yesterday. This was in my home church and said by my pastor.

I've taken proper steps today by contacting his secretary to make an appointment to discuss this. She has not called me back yet, but she will. I'm pretty sure my pastor had a funeral to do today.

He told the congregation about the Sunday prior; many received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by tongues, many slain in the spirit and healings. That wasn't really news to me. However, the next statement WAS. And I did find it disturbing. He said, "unless you've been baptized in the Holy Spirit, you'll be left behind". I played that sentence over in my head several times. Never had I heard that and I even thought surely he didn't mean "not going to heaven" left behind. However, I phoned my friend and asked her if she thought he meant just that. She is our pastoral care pastor and she said 'yes', that is what he means. I said, "how can he say that?"

Needless to say, I may sound off base by contacting you, but I truly would like another viewpoint. I'm open to whatever you explain. It doesn't mean I'll take it as the final word, but I honestly will appreciate your input. I know I don't know you. I have no intention to make a fuss over it in any manner except to get it straight in my own heart, mind and spirit. It does concern me to hear this as I know my husband has not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He was baptized as a young believer, but I'm sure my pastor speaks of a different baptism. I know he is talking [about] 'one and the same' baptism.

If you are free and can reply, I'd appreciate it. Again, if this is not what you 'do', then please excuse this intrusion. I know God will supply the answer soon enough.


Jan Partin

Dear Jan:

I thank you for the excellent question, and will try to give you a biblical answer.

First off, I would say right away that this is an area where sincere Christians disagree. Many believe that the "baptism in the Spirit" refers to the moment we are converted and we receive the Spirit:

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (I Cor 12:13)"

Jesus told Nicodemus that to be born again, one must be "born of the Spirit".

"I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3: 5-8)"

So entering the kingdom of God means being born of the Spirit--- some also interpret this to mean the same thing as being "baptized in the Spirit".

However, classic Pentecostal and Charismatic belief is that there is a "baptism in the Holy Spirit" that is an experience subsequent to conversion, and often manifests speaking in tongues, although there is debate as to whether or not tongues must always be part of the experience. Those that argue for this kind of baptism in the Spirit usually look at the examples of various individuals in the book of Acts. It seems that some of these examples show people who were already believers then receiving a baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The disciples certainly had a progressive experience of receiving the Spirit. Before Pentecost, I think that they were definitely converted, as we see in Jesus' prayer for them in John 17:

"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world."

This passage clearly shows that they the disciples had been chosen --that they belonged to God--and none of them was to be lost, except for Judas. Jesus also said that the disciples are "not of the world"-- in other words, they have been born from above-- "born of the Spirit" (John 3). Yet later on, these disciples who already belonged to God would also receive the "promise that was to come" -- a baptism "with the Holy Spirit" which Jesus Himself promised them (Acts 1:4-5).

Is the pattern by which the disciples received the Holy Spirit normative for today? That is perhaps a question for another time. For now I'd like to answer this question, which is relevant to our topic:

What is required for someone to be born of the Spirit or born from above, becoming a child of God?

John 1:12 says:
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God"

I John 5: 1, and also verses 11-12 tell us:
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well... And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."

Paul taught the Galatians:

"Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 5: 6-7)"

"I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (Gal 3: 2)"

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26-27)"

So it is very simple, whoever believes in (puts their trust in Jesus Christ) receives His life, becomes a child of God and has received the Spirit, having been baptized into Christ.

Now as to whether this person has, as a result, already been "baptized in the Spirit", or may later receive an experience of being "baptized in the Spirit" in which they speak with tongues and receive a special infilling of the Spirit, are matters that are debated all the time, even among Pentecostals and Charismatics who do believe in a later experience of "baptism in the Holy Spirit".

From the passages above, I think that the Bible is very clear on what it takes to be saved, whereas what one believes about the doctrines of the baptism of the Holy Spirit depend upon how one interprets certain passages of Scripture-- and these interpretations have been debated for hundreds of years. Therefore I would argue that it is possible to be a true believer and yet to not have experienced what many define as the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." Indeed, most Pentecostals have traditionally argued that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that happens to believers-- a second experience of receiving the Spirit that follows the initial experience of receiving the Spirit at conversion.

So your pastor's pronouncement that people who have not been "baptized in the Spirit" [according to his understanding and definition of the term] are not saved, seems to go beyond the scriptural requirements for being saved, which is repenting and believing on Jesus Christ. It also seems to contradict the usual teaching in Pentecostal circles that it is believers who receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the first place.

After hearing Peter's great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the people were "cut to the heart" and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter told them:

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39-39)"

So for Peter, the gift of the Spirit was something to be received upon believing, repenting and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are commanded in Ephesians 5:18: "be filled with the Spirit". Since this is a command of Scripture, it must be something we as believers can do. Some of the results of this filling include the following:

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5: 19-21)"

Right now, I am re-reading book titled Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray (Note: the edition I'm reading, from Christian Literature Crusade- 1978, is slightly different than this web version I've linked to). He was a great preacher and teacher from the last century, whose sermons and addresses have been published in book form. Mr. Murray's argument in the book is that Jesus requires our absolute surrender, and that it is in fully surrendering our lives to Jesus that we open the way for the Holy Spirit to come and take full possession of us. This makes a lot of sense to me, and Mr. Murray makes his case on biblical grounds.

So my belief is that when we believe on Jesus Christ we receive Him, His Life, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us. This is what it means to be born again of the Spirit. However, the potential is there to be filled with the Spirit, and indeed, this should be our goal as Christians, since it is commanded. I think that this involves not only putting away the sins that so easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1), but also, surrendering ourselves fully to God. But what the experience of being filled will look like in different people I think varies. Some may fall down, some may speak in tongues, some may have visions, some may prophesy. But Paul, inspired by the Spirit, says that the "greatest of these is love".

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (I Corinthians 13: 1-3)"

Paul is saying that spiritual experiences are not as important as loving others. A life lived in the Spirit isn't necessarily characterized by dynamic, spectacular experiences. The fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in anyone who claims to be filled with the Spirit:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Gal 5: 22-26)"

Personally, I want to go deeper in the Lord and have a fuller experience of His Spirit, that I may know God better and love others more deeply, because according to Christian teaching-- as seen in Paul's letters and of course in our Lord's instructions-- that's what Spirit-filled living is really all about. Thank you for writing, your question convicts and challenges me as well.

Blessings to you in Christ's name,


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