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Regeneration and Baptism of the Holy Spirit

OK, readers, this is a strictly Christian type of argument. Is regeneration and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit the same thing?

Since I haven’t link to him in so long, some may think I no longer read Adrian Warnock’s blog, but that is quite incorrect. I still subscribe to his RSS feed, but he’s been reposting his most popular articles from last year, and I had already commented on the ones I wanted to. Today, however, I read his post Lloyd-Jones on How to Grieve the Holy Spirit. To quote briefly:

“There is nothing, I am convinced, that so ‘quenches’ the Spirit as the teaching which identifies the baptism of the Holy Ghost with regeneration. But it is a very commonly held teaching today, indeed it has been the popular view for many years. It is said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is ‘nonexperimental’, that it happens to every one at regeneration.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones So we say, ‘Ah well, I am already baptized with the Spirit; it happened when I was born again, at my conversion; there is nothing for me to seek, I have got it all’.” [Please read the larger quote from Adrian’s blog.]

Since I have published previously on this topic, let me start my response with a quote:

I believe that the baptism is an experience God intends for all Christians, and that ideally it should occur in connection with initial conversion and water baptism. There are ongoing opportunities for the Holy Spirit to ‘infuse’ us with more gifts and increases in gifts throughout our spiritual walk. There is ALWAYS more!”

This is from a summary of the pamphlet I Want the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The pamphlet expands on it, but is still very brief. Essentially, I deal with two concerns. The first is the possibility that any singular experience can be used to divide Christians into classes. Thus we have “Spirit-filled” Christians and ordinary Christians. The second is that we decide that a singular experience is all there is of Christianity. There is a variant on this that would suggest that once one has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a specific, identifiable event, then that is the end of one’s experience.

My friend Dr. Bob McKibben, in his book Holy Smoke! Unholy Fire!, holds a somewhat different view. (Note that my company publishes Dr. Bob’s book.) I begin my quote after he has referenced four texts in the gospels about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Each of these passages refers to the same setting. John the Baptist is making reference to Jesus Christ and in each case the baptism of the Spirit is something that is yet to come. John is referring to a future event, which most scholars contend is the day of Pentecost. Let’s move from the gospel references to the Book of Acts:

And while staying with them he [Jesus] charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

In this passage, our Lord is speaking to the disciples sometime after His death and resurrection, but before His ascension into heaven. Like the verses found in the gospel accounts, Jesus is speaking of an event that is yet to happen. Again, like the gospel accounts, this text is looking forward to the Day of Pentecost.

There is a reference in Acts 11 that looks back rather than forward, but again you will find that it refers to the ministry of John the Baptist:

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:15-16)

The seventh and last verse which refers to the baptism of the Spirit, without using the exact phrase, is found in I Corinthians 12:13. This verse clearly speaks of unity within the church, which is the Body of Christ. This verse also makes clear the point that there are not two different groups or categories of Christians. As you read this verse, do so prayerfully, discerning what Paul was desperately trying to impress upon his beloved in Corinth:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:12-13)

Paul used the metaphor of the human body to explain the principle of unity within the Church. Just like the body, the Church is an organic whole made up of many different members. But Paul is making it painfully clear that even with the plurality of members, there is only one kind of Christian. The church – body of Christ does not possess two different kinds of Christians, some with the Holy Spirit and some without, or some with more of the Holy Spirit and some with less.

Using these seven Biblical references to Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I believe that there is only one Baptism of the Holy Spirit and it occurred on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts, chapter two.

I fully understand Bob’s concern here with only one class of Christians, but I also share the serious concern expressed in the quotation that Adrian has provided. In the end I’m probably more concerned about the latter. Too many Christians see only a singular experience, and see no possibility for growth or change. I see sufficient scriptural evidence to suggest that we are talking about two things in the life of the believer, yet that the two elements should ideally happen simultaneously. Unfortunately, we tend to believe that if both happen together, we have no need to stoke the fire after that, and on the other hand if the two occur separately, we have an excuse to divide Christians into classes.

I’d suggest one class–Christians who have entered the gate (regeneration) and are following the path. But if you are on that path and have not experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, seek it out. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit hasn’t worked in you–you would hardly have entered the gate without the Holy Spirit’s work. It does mean that there is more to experience in your life with God.

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  1. G’day Henry.

    I enjoyed reading through your post.

    I find that the argument about making two classes of Christians an interesting one as it is really an appeal to the emotions rather then looking at what Scripture really does say and there are examples in Scripture of Christians who had not had the experience of the Holy Spirit…though the Apostles made sure that they did experience the Holy Spirit.

    1. Hmm. Interesting. I thought it was an appeal to “checking the fruits.” 🙂

      More importantly, I believe that the Biblical evidence supports the possibility of the baptism occurring at different times for different people. Sometimes it accompanies conversion, and sometimes it happens later.

  2. Henry, I’m disappointed, I thought you at least had followed my recommendation 😉 No, actually, I’m glad you did read this one. In fact I entirely agree with you in your comments here.

    I can see the force of McKibben’s argument, but all that that could prove is that the experience today commonly called “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not exactly what the Bible refers to with a similar name – but it is still similar to what the Bible describes in Acts, several times after Pentecost.

  3. I used to attend school chapel services where members of a particular denomination were convinced that being baptized by the Holy Spirit meant that the fortunate person so singled out never sinned again.

    During prayer time, one after another would stand and offer thanks for being sinless, each one-upping the other: “Thank you God that I have not sinned in the two months since my Holy Spirit baptism.” Thank you God that I have not sinned in the two years since my Holy Spirit baptism.” “Thank you God that I have not sinned in the sixteen years since my Holy Spirit baptism!”

    I used to be tempted to stand up and say, “Thank you God that I have not sinned by being like one of these bragging sinners who think they never sin even though I have seen every one of them sin by being arrogant, cruel, and unforgiving.” But that would no doubt have been a sin, so I’m glad I refrained from doing it.

    1. Julia, it is by no means the standard teaching on baptism of the Holy Spirit that it conveys sinlessness in this way. The people you mention had clearly taken on a distorted and heretical version of this teaching. I’m sure you would not dream of using an extreme example like this as a way of discrediting the majority of Pentecostals and charismatics who would never consider holding this version of the teaching.

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