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The Practical Christian Life

Jacob Ninan

Chapter 9

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The same John the baptiser who said about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn.1:29) also said, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk.3:16). If we want to receive everything the Lord has made ready for us, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is one thing we should not miss. Just as in the case of the baptism in water, there is also great controversy among Christians about this subject.

Admittedly, there is a lot of counterfeit and excessive behaviour among some who believe in this baptism. But that should not cause us to withdraw from it or keep away from it, because, if we do that, we will miss one of the great blessings of the new covenant. It is one of the promises under the new covenant (Ez.36:26,27) that He will give us a new spirit, and God has said He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh in the last days (Joel.2:28,29).

First of all, being born again of the Spirit is not the same as being baptised with the Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to cause us to be born again (Jn.3:5), and everyone who belongs to Christ has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him (Rom.8:9). But it is our privilege to also be baptised (immersed) in the Holy Spirit afterwards. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, but after He was baptised in water, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove signifying two different experiences which are available for us.

The first time believers in Jesus Christ were baptised in the Holy Spirit was on the Day of Pentecost. On that occasion, there was the sound of a rushing wind, flames of fire in the shape of tongues resting on those gathered, and all of them speaking in unknown languages which visitors from other places could identify. But it was not in these things that the major impact was felt. It was that the disciples who had been hiding because of the fear of the Jewish leaders suddenly became bold, and they also began to operate the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, miracles, healing, etc. They had received ‘power’ as Jesus had promised them before He was taken up to heaven (Acts.1:8). It is when we give more importance to the ‘special effects’ of the experience rather than to what the Holy Spirit does in transforming our lives that we give rise to many controversies.

We are born again through the work of the Holy Spirit when we come to God after repenting from our sins and placing our trust in the Saviour. But the same Holy Spirit comes upon us and immerses us as He imparts to us His power and gifts. It would be detrimental to our growth and ministry if we neglect this special anointing that He gives. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” ‘Being witnesses’ has two parts to it, the first one of becoming the kind of person who represents Christ in every place, and the second of having the supernatural power to minister to people.

The power of the Holy Spirit working in us is supernatural. Many people are impressed by the natural abilities and the charisma of different people who speak, sing or do other things that are considered as ‘ministry’. But think of a person like the apostle Paul who was not impressive as a man or as an orator, but whose words and deeds had the inimitable signature of the Holy Spirit in being able to reach deep into the lives of people and start lasting changes there. Do we want to impress others or truly bless them? Do we want to be channels through which the almighty God can work supernaturally to bless the others? How much we need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit!

Objections Answered
One objection that some people bring up against what they derisively refer to as a ‘second’ experience is that they have relegated the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit to the time of the early apostles. They say that it was a sign to validate the apostles and their teachings, and that once the whole Bible became available in the present form such signs were no longer necessary. They use two arguments to explain this, one by referring to the Bible and the other by looking at church history.

They refer to the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul says that when a man becomes mature, he puts away childish things. When the perfect comes, the imperfect means to represent the perfect is no longer required. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge which are mentioned as ‘imperfect’ are expected to lose their relevance when the ‘perfect’ comes. But the mistake is in assuming that Paul was talking about the coming of the perfect referring to the availability of the full Bible! He is actually referring to our life in eternity when we are face to face with the Lord when signs are no longer necessary (v.12).

Think of the present times when life on earth has become very difficult especially for Christians who want to be faithful to their Lord in every aspect of life (2Tim.3:1). Don’t we think that we need the power of the Holy Spirit more now than ever before in order to be proper witnesses to the Lord in our life and to do our ministry more effectively? Is this a time when the Lord will leave us to our own resources to manage somehow?

Secondly, some people point to church history and say that the supernatural workings among Christians seem to have disappeared after the time of the early church. They take this to be a confirmation of their first argument. Actually, much of church history that is generally known is a story of backsliding, compromise, politicisation, and worldliness overpowering the church. It is only natural that when the Holy Spirit is not valued or respected He will withdraw to the background. On the other hand, the parallel history of smaller groups of Christians in different places indicates that the Holy Spirit was still active working supernatural things among them during the times when He was not welcome among the mainline churches. Fulfilling His prophecy for the last days (Joel.2:28), God has now caused an awakening to happen worldwide that makes people recognise the Holy Spirit, His anointing and His gifts.

Thirdly, some claim that being born of the Holy Spirit is the same as being baptised in the Spirit, and that all children of God have already been baptised in the Spirit. They quote 1Cor.12:13 where it says, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" to teach this. But the point of that verse is to say that all the members of the body of Christ have the same Spirit. Also, we must remember that in the days of the early church, it was normal that all who believed in Jesus would be immediately baptised and the apostles would pray after that for them to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Therefore it would be natural to say 'all' are baptised. But this is not the case now!

Let us also remember that when Paul met some people in Ephesus who had believed in Jesus whether they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-6). Even though they had become believers in Jesus (born again through the Holy Spirit), they had not yet been baptised in the Holy Spirit. Paul prayed for them, and they were baptised in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.

The clearest answer to this problem is to look at Jesus, who was born of the Holy Spirit and yet the Holy Spirit came upon Him after He was baptised in water.

Counterfeits
One major hindrance to Christians submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and seeking for His baptism and gifts is that there are quite a lot of things that put them off. There are counterfeit experiences coming through deceiving spirits or human manipulations, distortions of doctrine and explanations, and excessive behaviour among those who claim to be filled with the Spirit.

Jesus tells us that the Father is extremely eager to give us the Holy Spirit and He has guaranteed that if we ask Him for the gift of the Holy Spirit He would not give us some other substitutes (Lk.11:5-13). Then why is it that many people end up with counterfeits? The answer may be that they ask with wrong motives. In the passage above, we see that Jesus used the story of a man who went to a neighbour to request for some bread to meet the need of a visitor. This man was not seeking anything for himself but for his friend. We can see the connection between this story and seeking for the Holy Spirit when we note that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for serving the others (1Cor.12:7). We can also guess why people who seek spiritual gifts for their own advantage end up with counterfeits.

Some time ago, when the charismatic movement came up, a lot of people suddenly became interested in speaking in tongues. Some of them tried to bring out some syllables (unrecognisable and repetitive) and some others were prodded along by their pastors. Some got into a pursuit of tongues with high zeal, and sometimes ended up with tongues from deceiving spirits. If their goal was to somehow speak in tongues and join the club of tongue speakers, they got what they wanted! But if what they sought after was genuine power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus, then His guarantee of genuineness would have been held true. God looks very much at our motives and intentions (Heb.4:12).

In a similar way now, if we are seeking for thrilling experiences, a name before others, or some other carnal goal like that, we can fool ourselves or even open ourselves to deceiving spirits. If we look at many of the ‘anointed ministries’ around us, we can see that it is not the genuine anointing. A genuine anointing of the Holy Spirit will produce genuine fruit — “You shall know them by their fruit” (Matt.7:15-20) — the fruit of the Spirit in the individual’s life and fruit in the lives he ministers to, and the name of Jesus being lifted up (Jn.16:14).

Being Baptised In The Spirit
John 11:13 says that God will give His children the gift of the Holy Spirit if they ask Him. As we have seen already, this asking must be done sincerely, earnestly and with the right motive of receiving power to become His witnesses. Sometimes God waits before He answers to test if we really want this with all our heart. If we want this desperately, we will keep asking till we receive. If we are not so eager, we will give up after some time. During this time of waiting, we will also get chances to purify our motives and also to submit to Him more.

It is also good to ask someone we respect as a godly leader to lay hands on us and pray for us so that we may be baptised in the Holy Spirit (1Tim.4:14). It is not necessary that we should do this, because God baptises people with the Holy Spirit (e.g., Cornelius) even where there is no one to lay hands and pray for them.

We receive this baptism by faith, just as we receive salvation (Gal.3:5). The main sign that shows God has baptised us with the Holy Spirit is the deep assurance that comes in our heart (Heb.11:1). Usually there is also some form of ecstatic feeling of joy which may be accompanied by speaking out in an unknown language. The exact form of this experience varies for different people according to God’s choice. What happened at Pentecost has not happened since, and different people quote different experiences. It binds people down unnecessarily if someone insists that there should be a speaking in an unknown language, because not everyone will have that gift (1Cor.12:30). It is a good thing to be able to speak in tongues because that gives us an ability to express things in our heart that are beyond our normal comprehension (e.g., when we overflow with praises to God or when we are overwhelmed with trouble in our heart). The apostle Paul talks about how it build us up personally when we speak in this way to the Lord (1Cor.14:4), and he wishes that everyone would speak in tongues (v.5). But he suggests that one should not speak in tongues in a church meeting unless there is someone who has the complementary gift of interpreting its meaning (vv.27,28).

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is usually accompanied by the impartation of one or more supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is also possible that further gifts may be given later.

Also, a genuine baptism in the Holy Spirit will result in empowering us to be transformed into His nature. We will find a greater love for the Lord and a willingness to serve Him.

One thing we must remember is that it is possible for us to grieve or quench the Holy Spirit by our careless lives. Therefore, it is good for us to keep the fire going in our lives by staying close to the Lord, and judging and cleansing ourselves whenever we fail Him. Just as a piece of coal has a greater chance to be ablaze when it is with other pieces of coal on fire, fellowship with other believers who are earnestly following the Lord will help us to purify ourselves constantly.

Gifts Of The Spirit
Usually the Lord gives one or more gifts of the Holy Spirit along with power when He baptises us in the Holy Spirit. All of these gifts are meant to be used for blessing the others (remember, He gives us power so that we can be His witnesses), except the gift of speaking in tongues which has a double purpose. If we speak in tongues and there is someone present who can interpret what God is saying through us, then it blesses the others. On the other hand, if we speak in tongues in in our conversation with the Lord, we do not understand what we are saying, but it serves to build us up in our fellowship with the Lord as it encourages us in our faith (1Cor.14:4). But in general, all other gifts are for serving the others. So we can see that the best way to receive these gifts is if we have a strong desire to bless others. When we want to minister to others and we find our human limitations hindering us, it is good to go to God and ask for spiritual gifts to serve the others with.

If we seek these gifts for personal thrill or glory, there is a strong chance that we make ourselves open to deceiving spirits who will give us counterfeit gifts. These counterfeit gifts may also have supernatural power because they come from demons. But then we get the gifts without the anointing that comes from God. Also, evil spirits who give us such gifts will also try ultimately to ruin us (Jn.10:10). When we seek spiritual gifts with wrong motives, it is also possible that we use our human abilities to imitate the working of the gifts such as speaking in tongues or prophesying.

Many people ask God for gifts that will place them before the public eye and make them shine before the others. But the fact of the matter is that it is God who chooses which gift to give to whom depending on His knowledge and plan (1Cor.12:11). If we want to serve God in a godly way we should be willing to leave the choice to Him knowing that He knows best. When we are not sure which gift He wants to give us, it is not wrong to ask Him according to our desires, but being at the same time willing to submit to His will.

Gifts And Ministry
Every born again believer is a member of the body of Christ on earth which carries on with the work Christ has to do here now. Each one has a unique function to carry out, just as in the case of the parts of the physical body. There are three lists of these functions given in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healing ministry, helps, administration, and tongues. In Romans 12 we see prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and acts of mercy. In Ephesians 4 we see apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds) and teachers. What we can see from here is that these lists are just indicative and not exhaustive. There can be many other types of service in the body of Christ that are not mentioned here. We need not think we are useless or we are not in the body of Christ if our particular form of service is not found here or we are not prominent like some others (1Cor.12:15).

Some people wonder what ministry it is that God has called them to. Many times God does not call us in a special, supernatural way like we read about some people in the Bible, but He indicates His plan to us indirectly by giving us a burden for some task. We see some need, and we start to be concerned about it more and more. Finally we start doing something about it in a small way, and we get encouraged because it blesses some others. Sometimes our ministry may get enlarged, but sometimes it may be that God wants us to stay in the gap and fulfil some work that nobody is there to do, and we may never become well-known or big.

Sometimes we may wonder if the ministry we have in mind is what God is calling us to do or if we are imagining things. The best thing to do is ask the Lord to make things clear to us as we wait for Him. When we recognise the possibility that we could be making a mistake, we can lean on Him more strongly and submit ourselves more clearly to doing His will. Finally we may take a few small steps in the direction of our faith, and God’s support in the form of encouragement, boldness or circumstances working out can confirm if the direction is right.

The ministry which God gives us needs to be supported by the relevant spiritual gifts also. We recognise that we cannot do God’s work with merely human abilities, and so we depend on Him for strength, wisdom and guidance. We will notice that our personality, our abilities, our circumstances and our burdens will usually be fitting together to allow the task for which God has called. This makes us different from one another. An evangelist is burdened about perishing souls, a teacher is concerned about the ignorance people have about God’s truths, a pastor carries the care for the problems people face, etc.

The example of the body and the different parts illustrates for us how interdependent we are on other members of the body. None of us can stand all by ourselves. We all need to support and receive support from other people who are carrying out other parts of God’s work on earth. This is how we need to submit to one another (Eph.5:21), recognising and honouring the work others do which we are not good at. But this is also a great challenge for us in practice because we all tend to think as if we were self-sufficient in all things and did not need others.

Some people who want to be ‘led by the Spirit’ (Rom.8:14) go to the extreme of doing nothing, waiting for the Spirit to speak. But we must remember that God does much of His work in cooperation with us. As we get to know God better, He expects us to take more responsibility for our work too. He does not want us to be like robots which are programmed to do certain things or animals which have to be controlled to do their tasks (Psa.32:8,9). At the others who have a tendency to take everything into their hands need to learn how to wait on the Spirit to receive His guidance.

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