by Jacob Ninan
After we are born again by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, the next two steps are the baptism in water and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in water is what we do in obedience to Jesus, and baptism in the Holy Spirit is what Jesus does for us to give us power to be His witnesses.
a. Significance of water baptism
John the Baptist came preaching that the kingdom of heaven was near and people should repent (Matthew 3:1,2). Those who responded were baptised in water (Matthew 3:6). This was referred to later by the apostles as John’s baptism (Acts 19:3) as different from the baptism taught by Jesus. This was a baptism that testified to repentance from a sinful life and a desire to be in the kingdom of heaven. Since Jesus had not died at this time it was not possible for anyone to be born again, and so a baptism showing repentance was all that could be done. Jesus Himself was baptised by John as a role model for us even though He did not have anything to repent of (Matthew 3:15).
On the day of Pentecost after Peter preached a message to the people who had gathered there, 3000 people believed the gospel of Jesus and were born again. Paul later explained the meaning of the believer’s baptism as a picture of the burial of the ‘old man’ (that is our old self which lived according to our own desires and which did not fear to sin against God) and the coming of the new life which we receive from Jesus (Romans 6:3-8). As we go under the water it signifies the burial of the old man and as we come out of the water it signifies the new life coming out of the resurrection of Jesus. In this sense, our baptism in water is a public testimony to what God has done in our life through Jesus’ death on the cross.
‘Baptism’ is a transliteration (adopting a word from one language into another language) from the Greek word used in the New Testament which is ‘baptisma.’ This word means ‘immersion.’ The right mode of baptism is through full immersion in water, which signifies the meaning of what we portray through that act. Other forms such as making a sign of the cross on the forehead with water, sprinkling drops of water on the body, etc., came up as deviations when infant baptisms started centuries later in a corrupted church.
Baptism does not save us even though some churches teach a false doctrine called baptismal regeneration. They think that if they can get someone to be baptised, such persons will be saved. It is only through faith and being born again that we are saved. Baptism is only a public testimony to the fact that we have already been saved. Since justification is based only on faith, and no amount of ‘works’ can save us, baptism is not a requirement for going to heaven. Also baptism does not cause any magical transformation of our lives which can come only through the lifelong process of sanctification. We get baptised because it is one of the things Jesus has commanded us to do (Matthew 28:19) and because it is our joy to testify about what the Lord has done for us. When we get baptised we also receive a good conscience for having obeyed what Jesus said (1 Peter 3:21).
b. Who can be baptised
There was some confusion in the early church regarding baptism. Paul had to teach them to make a distinction between John’s baptism which was intended only to show repentance and baptism according to Jesus which signified being born again (Acts 19:1-5). Even now it must be made clear that baptism according to Jesus is only for those who can testify to the new birth. This is because many people think that baptism will take them to heaven, qualify them to join a church, or cause them to be born again. Justification is only through faith, and baptism is something that must follow afterwards as a testimony to what has already taken place.
When someone seeks to be baptised we must make sure, as far as possible, that he or she has been born again (even if they do not understand all the doctrinal significance of what baptism signifies). It is not the age that matters but the genuine experience of having repented from their sins and placed their trust entirely on Jesus.
c. Receiving the Spirit and being baptised in the Spirit
When we are born again, it is the Holy Spirit who does the supernatural act of placing God’s life in us, giving us a new heart, writing God’s laws into our hearts, etc. Therefore all who are born again have the Holy Spirit in them. Those who do not have the Holy Spirit in them do not belong to Jesus (Romans 8:9).
The Holy Spirit does many things for us after we come to Christ. His ministry is to glorify Christ in us (John 16:14). He is our Teacher who will guide us into all the truth (John 16:13). Since He is the one who inspired people to write the books of the Bible, He is the one who can reveal to us the real meaning of the word as we read it. He will bring to our memory what He has already taught us (John 14:26). He is our Helper and Counsellor (John 14:26; Isaiah 11:2). He will convict us when we stray off towards sin (Isaiah 30:20,21; John 16:8).
While all this is available to all those who are born again, there is something more of the Holy Spirit that Jesus wants to give His people. The disciples had the Holy Spirit in them because of their faith in Jesus and because Jesus had said, “Receive the Spirit” and breathed on them (John 20:22). But before Jesus was taken up to heaven He told them to wait till they ‘received power’ from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). This is what happened to them on the day of Pentecost when they were praying together. The Holy Spirit came upon them with power and tongues of fire rested on each of them. They began to speak in other languages and praise God, which people from other countries could understand (Acts 2:1-11). More importantly, the disciples who till then had locked themselves up because of fear of the Jews came out and began to witness for Jesus without fear.
This experience is referred to as baptism in the Holy Spirit or being filled with the Spirit. In some cases this happens along with the experience of being born again (Acts 9:17). In some cases this happens when someone lays hands and prays for others after they are born again (Acts 19:1-6). In some cases, as on the day of Pentecost, people are filled with the Spirit as they pray even without anyone laying hands on them. The important thing is that God gives power to be witnesses (Acts 1:4-8). God exhorts us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and there are also instances in the Acts of the Apostles about the apostles being filled again and again.
The evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is power, and not speaking in tongues as some people think. The Bible very clearly says in the context of the gifts of the Spirit that not all speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30). Though it is recorded than on many occasions people who were filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues, it did not happen in every instant (Acts 4:31).
However it is true that it is possible for one to know if one has been baptised in the Holy Spirit. There is some inner evidence that a person will have. The outward evidence may vary including speaking in tongues. This is why the Apostle Paul was able to ask some people who had become believers whether they had received the Holy Spirit after they believed, expecting a clear answer from them (Acts 19:1-6).
d. Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The church is the body of Christ, acting on behalf of Christ who has ascended to heaven. The universal church consisting of all born again believers in Christ all over the world is manifest through many local churches as a body with different parts carrying out different tasks. God gives to each believer supernatural gifts through the Holy Spirit to fulfil some specific task in this body of Christ.
1 Corinthians Chapters 12-14 give the basic teaching concerning spiritual gifts.
- God gives different gifts to each person, with differing effects (12:4-6)
- Spiritual gifts are given to be used to bless the others and not for oneself (12:7)
- God distributes gifts according to His sovereign plan and not according to people’s desires (12:11)
- One who has a ‘small’ gift should not think he is not a member of the body (12:15,16)
- One with a ‘prominent’ gift should not think others are not necessary (12:21)
- God wants us to seek for gifts earnestly so that we can be of blessing to others (12:31; 13:1-3;14:1)
There are varieties of gifts such as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith (for special situations), healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. The suggestion here is that this is only an indicative list and that there are other gifts also. The gift of tongues helps us to edify ourselves in private prayer as when we do not know what to pray or we run out of words trying to praise God (14:4). In public, tongues is not to be used unless there is also someone who can interpret it (14:27,28).
There are some who teach that these gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased after the Bible was completed and the early church was established. But there is nothing in the Bible that supports this. The passage they normally quote is from 1 Corinthians 13 where it talks about the coming of the perfect state when gifts of prophecy, tongues, etc., would cease. They attribute the ‘perfect’ to the completion of the Bible. But what the passage refers to is the day when we finally are with the Lord when we can see Him face to face when all such gifts become redundant (v. 9-12). On the contrary, the Bible exhorts us to see earnestly for spiritual gifts (12:31; 14:1). It also tells us not to quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19,20; 1 Corinthians 14:39).
The function each one of us has to carry out in the body of Christ is our ‘ministry’ or service to the other parts of the body. This ministry is to be done for the others, according to the will of God, with the power and gifts that God has given us and for the glory of God. We are to function as stewards of the grace that God has given us as those who have to give an account to God, as Jesus taught in the parable of the talents. It is a privilege God has given to us to have a small part in the working of His kingdom, and it is not something that we can use to make a name, money or position for ourselves.
As there are varieties of gifts that God gives to His children, there are also varieties of ministries that we have, according to the sovereign plan of God. No ministry is big or small because each one is needed for the body. The Bible gives different lists of ministries in different places, indicating that these are only indicative lists and not exhaustive. In Ephesians 4:11,12 God says that He has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. These are ministries that are ‘equipping’ the people of God. What this passage shows is that the main work of building the body of Christ is done by the saints and not by these ministries. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 the Bible says that God has appointed apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healings, helps, administrations and various kinds of tongues in the church, giving another list of ministries. We see another list in Romans 12:6-8 mentioning prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and showing mercy. We can also think of many other things different ones can do for the others as a part of the body of Christ.
We need to ask God to show us the particular task or tasks that God has planned for us and then seek for spiritual gifts and grace to carry them out.
f. The fruit of the Spirit
Spiritual gifts are for doing things for serving others for the glory of God. The fruit of the Spirit are the results of the Holy Spirit living in us and transforming us into the character of Christ. A typical list of these fruit is given in Galatians 5:22,23 : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The devil can imitate some of the spiritual gifts, but he cannot counterfeit these fruit because they are totally contrary to his nature. These fruit are the evidence of Jesus living us (John 13:35). This is also the way by which we can see through false prophets and teachers, because even though they may try to fool us through exhibitions of gifts and supernatural powers, they cannot show the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in their lives (Matthew 7:15,16).
In order to grow in these fruit we must allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us, and obey what He tells us. We will be able to listen to Him better and obey Him more quickly and effectively if we spend time reading God’s word and talk to God in prayer. In this way we will be able to recognise His voice better and do what He tells us.