The spiritual gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is an amazing blessing for those who have received it. Unfortunately, it is also the source of an equally amazing amount of dissension within the Body of Christ between those who do and those who don’t and it is appalling how hostile both sides can get towards one another while debating it. Both sides are not only guilty of not walking in love towards their brothers and sisters in Christ on the opposite side, but also of some extremely poor biblical scholarship, some of it so bad that it doesn’t remotely qualify as scholarship at all.
While I personally have experienced this gift for almost 40 years now, I have to admit that the attitudes of many of my brothers and sisters who I share that experience with cause me to be more than a little ashamed to be associated with them because of their oftentimes ungodly and/or squirrelly behavior.
But there is more than enough blame to spread around — both sides are generally so contentious that Satan just smiles and nods approvingly, knowing that the lot of them are busy arguing and condemning one another, rather than exhibiting the love that Jesus said the world would know us by. And millions continue on to their eternal destruction because the Church is too busy arguing over this and other doctrines to fulfill its primary calling.
So what does the Bible really say on the matter and what use is this gift to those who have received it? If it’s the source of such contention, why should we bother with it? And if we do have it, how should it be used?
Patience, grasshopper! 🙂 All these questions and more will be answered by the time I complete this series!
Defining the Term Scripturally
The first and most important fact is that it is the will of God that every believer to experience it. Both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself spoke to this issue. John the Baptist stated:
“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
The Greek word for “baptize” here is the same word used for water baptism:
- to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
- to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
- to overwhelm
So John then Baptist prophesied that Jesus would immerse, submerge, dip repeatedly, and overwhelm us with the Holy Spirit.
Born From Above
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room and:
“He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” — John 20:22
It was at this specific time that His disciples were “born again” — or more accurately, “born from above” — as first mentioned by Jesus during his discourse to Nicodemus in John 3. The Holy Spirit entered into their physical bodies, resurrected their spirits from the dead and united with their spirits to the point that you cannot draw a line somewhere and say, “That part is human and that other part is God.”
The best analogy I’ve ever heard is that of putting milk in coffee — the two are different substances, but so intermingled that you cannot separate them. But while you can separate milk from coffee with the right chemical reagents and/or filters, you cannot separate the born-again human spirit from the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul describes as:
…Christ in you, the hope of glory. — Colossians 1:27
…you are the temple of the living God. — 2 Corinthians 6:16
Being born from above is God’s gift to the repentant sinner.
Let me restate this with complete clarity, allowing no room for misinterpretation:
All born-again believers have the Holy Spirit living within them regardless of whether they ever operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit or speak in an unknown tongue, period!
Baptized in the Holy Spirit
Moving along in the historical timeline of Jesus’ incarnation, it was quite a few days after this appearance when Jesus breathed on them — just prior to His ascension to the Father — that He personally commands them to hang out in Jerusalem and expect a second gift from God:
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.’ — Acts 1:4-5
Interestingly enough, nowhere in the Book of Acts do we find even one instance of God making a distinction between charismatic and non-charismatic believers. Everyone who got saved in Acts were also charismatic without exception. If you check out Acts 10:45-48, it was the very fact that the household of the centurion Cornelius was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues that convinced the Apostle Peter that Gentiles could be saved!
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the born-again believer.
The Believer’s Standing with God
Now let’s return to my earlier statement that it is God’s will for every believer to receive this gift.
Does this imply that those who are not baptized in the Holy Spirit and don’t speak in tongues are in sin because they don’t? Not at all! It is a gift, not a commandment. For example, if I were to offer my son a gift and he refused to accept it for whatever reason, he is still my beloved son and the apple of my eye. Though I may be hurt for a short time, my love for him remains the same and our relationship is intact and in no way threatened.
So how does this affect our standing with God, if at all? Does speaking in tongues cause Him to love us more? Or far more importantly, does our lack of speaking in tongues cause Him to love us any less?
Our standing with God is based entirely on the blood of Jesus Christ and the finished work of the cross, period! Charismatic and non-charismatic believers alike will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and enter heaven based solely upon whether their name is found in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15) using no other criteria.
So all this completely blows out of the water the attitudes of many theologically misguided charismatics and Pentecostals who treat those who don’t speak in tongues like they are some sort of second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God — or even worse, assume the heretical stance that non-charismatics are unsaved. It also removes an excuse that non-charismatics have been using for years in dealing with that nonsense.
The ground is always level at the foot of the Cross. No human has a moral high ground to operate from. Neither side of this debate can judge the other and separate themselves from one another over it. To do that is sin.
So Why Did God Cook Up This Charismatic Thing, Anyway?
So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually intended by God to accomplish? Jesus said:
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. — Acts 1:8
First, Jesus told them specifically that the baptism of the Holy Spirit would give them power. The Greek word for “power” in this verse is dunamis. This is the word from which the English language has derived the words “dynamic”, “dynamo”, and “dynamite”. In this context, it means “power for performing miracles”.
Second, what is this power intended by God to accomplish? Evangelism, the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ throughout the world with signs and wonders following.
Finally, no gift of the Spirit is given to exalt the individual so used — the glory ALWAYS belongs to Jesus, Who the Holy Spirit was sent to glorify. And the gifts are always manifested for the benefit of those present. In other words, the gifts are not some kind of “divine showing-off” for an audience, but are supernaturally delivered divine interventions in their lives giving encouragement, correction, healing (physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually), or guidance to those receiving.
Why can I say this? Because the Bible clearly records the results of the Day of Pentecost. A bunch of scaredy-cats cowering in secret out of terror of the same religious and political authorities who crucified Jesus only a couple months prior were suddenly transformed into bold, fearless preachers who performed miracles, won the lost by the thousands, and openly defied those same authorities in their declaration of Jesus’ resurrection, all but one of them going to their deaths by persecution!
In my own personal life, before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, when I would try to witness to people I would struggle to try to somehow weave Jesus into the conversation and figure out ahead of time what I would say and how I should say it. It was all about me and my efforts. After I received the Holy Spirit baptism, witnessing to people became easy. As conversations with non-Christians would occur and I was led by the Holy Spirit to do so, He would also show me what to say and how. And when I witnessed, it was with power and conviction.
The Power to Live The Christian Life: Grace!
Notice that nowhere in any of these passages does it say, “the power to live a righteous life in victory over sin”. And I defy anyone to find me a passage in either testament that contains words to that effect. This again clearly refutes those charismatics and Pentecostals who erroneously proclaim that the baptism of the Holy Spirit provides the power to live the Christian life and those without it cannot do so. Frankly, I consider that assertion to be a lie of the devil!
The power for us to live a life of love and holiness is the grace of God, period. We are saved by grace, we live by grace, and we die and go to heaven by grace. Nothing more, nothing less. As Jesus told Paul,
…My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness… — 2 Corinthians 12:9
The modern connotation of the English word “sufficient” is usually “just enough to get by”. However, that’s not what Jesus is saying here. His real meaning is much more like:
My merciful lovingkindness and holy influence provide you with unfailing strength and defenses, and complete contentment because I give you My might, My power to perform miracles, My ability to produce moral excellence, My resources for financial prosperity, as well as the military might of the angels of heaven fighting on your side. This gift is brought to fullness and completion in your moral, mental, and physical weakness, your inability to understand yourself and others, and your failure to accomplish goals, endure trials, and resist temptation. — 2 Corinthians 12:9a (Willis Expanded Version) 🙂
Now that’s what empowers us to live the Christian life! Tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit have nothing whatsoever to do with it!
It is tragic that so many charismatics and Pentecostals are deluded about the place of their experience in the plan of God. And oftentimes they live lives exhibiting a total lack of the fruit of the Spirit all the while judging their non-charismatic brethren, telling them they aren’t capable of successfully living for Christ without speaking in tongues.
The non-charismatics look at these same bozos and justifiably say, “Excuse me, you claim to have the Holy Spirit, but you are living arrogant, legalistic Pharisaical lives at best or are little better than the unsaved at worst, so I can’t see why I would want it. If it’s as scriptural and great as you say it is, there ought to be some other kind of fruit than legalism and flakiness!”
Now is a charismatic believer able to tap into some spiritual resources unavailable to non-charismatics? Absolutely! We must always keep in mind that Jesus never intended for His followers to live without the baptism in the Holy Spirit to begin with.
But, sadly, many charismatics and Pentecostals, rather than leveraging God’s supernatural powers to enhance their personal Christ-like character development — truly our ultimate goal as living witnesses to a lost and dying world — instead become hyper-focussed on the sensational and behave like modern-day Pharisees, judging those who aren’t like them as “less-than.”
Talk about grieving the Holy Spirit! 😦
Thanks for reading!