I get a lot of questions about this when I talk to people about it. For a long time it was one of my biggest areas of confusion. But once I received the Holy Spirit baptism, that confusion was gone. I had already been a Christian for around 30 years when I finally received it, so I knew immediately that it was a separate experience.
However, I would never ask anyone to base their doctrine on my own personal experience. So, I will not use my experience as part of this teaching. Instead, I will rely on the Bible. It just so happens that the Bible matches my experience.
Let’s begin with this fact: there are a lot of different things that the Holy Spirit does with us. There are a lot of different roles He plays in our lives. For example:
- He makes us look more like Jesus over time (2 Cor 3:18)
- He teaches us and helps us remember things (John 14:26)
- He tells us things that are going to happen in the future (John 16:13)
- He convicts us of righteousness (John 16:8-10)
- He helps us to be confident of our position as God’s children (Romans 8:16)
That is just a short list, but in this short list there is such great variety. And even though many of these are related to each other, there is a different purpose for each one.
There is a purpose for believing in Jesus, getting saved, and having the Holy Spirit live inside of you. There is a different purpose for receiving the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a separate and distinct work of the Holy Spirit, with its own distinct purpose and effects.
When a non-believer hears the message of the gospel and chooses to believe in Jesus and receive salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of that person at that very instant. The theological term for this is “the indwelling.” It means the Holy Spirit dwells inside of you. This truth is found in many places in the Bible (Romans 8:8-11 for example).
Once a person has the Holy Spirit living inside of him (indwelling), he is now eligible for some other experiences that the Holy Spirit brings, the greatest of which is known as “The Baptism with the Holy Spirit.”
When a Christian receives the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, then he/she receives power (Acts 1:8) to represent Jesus in a way that he/she was not able to previously. This power is available for every Christian to receive, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, there are a lot of Christians that never receive it.
These are two separate experiences, and two separate works of the Holy Spirit. The “indwelling” is when He comes to live inside of you. The “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” is when He equips you with power. These are both important, but they are not the same thing. They produce different effects and are given for different purposes.
To illustrate this point, we will look at two examples in the Bible.
4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
In this passage, Philip is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in Samaria, and demonstrating the power of God. In verse 12, people believe his message and get baptized with water.
Acts 8:12 – But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
According to Jesus, this means these people have been saved (Mark 16:16). They have received salvation. They are born again. They are Christians now. They have Holy Spirit living inside of them.
Then, word gets back to the apostles in Jerusalem (approximately 40 miles away) that these people in Samaria have believed the gospel and received salvation. So they send Peter and John to them so that they can be baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive the power that comes with it.
Acts 8:14-17 – Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
It took some time for the news of the Samaritan’s situation to travel from Samaria to Jerusalem. Then it also took some time for Peter and John to travel to Samaria, find the people, and lay hands on them to get baptized with the Holy Spirit. Based on the geographical facts alone, we can assume that there was at least a day or two in between the time that the Samaritans got saved and got baptized with the Holy Spirit.
If “getting saved” and “getting baptized with the Holy Spirit” are the same event, then this passage makes no sense at all.
But they are not the same event. They are different. It is absolutely clear beyond any possible argument. There is no way around this fact. “Getting saved” and “getting baptized with the Holy Spirit” are two separate events.
But, just to establish this truth from another story, let’s look at another passage in Acts where the difference is made plain again.
1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”
So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all.
In this passage, Paul meets some people whom he (incorrectly) believes are Christians. He asks them this question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
(Before we go any further, the simple fact that Paul would ask a question like this is proof that he believed that these were two separate experiences. His question shows that he believed a person could be “saved” but not baptized with the Holy Spirit).
When he says “when you first believed,” he is making an assumption that they believe in Jesus. He is thinking that they are Christians…followers of Jesus. They answer him, and they have a short conversation. Paul finds out that they were not Christians after all….they were actually disciples of John the Baptist.
So he immediately tells them about Jesus. They believe and get baptized in water…which (again) according to Jesus means that they are saved at this point (Mark 16:16). After this takes place, Paul places his hands on them and they get baptized with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.
First, they hear about Jesus, then they believe and get baptized in water. This is “getting saved.”
After they get saved and get baptized in water, Paul ministers the baptism with the Holy Spirit to them and they receive it and speak in tongues.
These are two different events, even though they events are only separated by a few minutes or more.
This is what Paul was asking them about in verse 2 when he asked if they “received the Holy Spirit when they believed.” He was assuming they were Christians, and he wanted to make sure that they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit also.
If “getting saved” and “getting baptized with the Holy Spirit” are the same thing, then again this passage makes no sense at all. Why would Paul even ask such a question if he didn’t believe there was a difference?
Now, to summarize, I want to make some statements that I hope will bring some additional clarity to you as you read them.
- When a man (or woman) chooses to believe in Jesus, he is at that point “born again.” The Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of him. He is a Christian. He has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. He is a child of God, a member of His family, and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Immediately, from this moment on, that person becomes eligible to get baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive power to help him represent Jesus better. The person can receive this Holy Spirit baptism immediately, or he can wait many years to receive it, or he may even go to the grave never having received it.
- The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not the same as “getting saved.” It is a separate event, with a different purpose.
- The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a requirement to go to heaven. It a tool to help Christians be more effective at representing Jesus while they are alive on the earth.
- The Baptism with the Holy Spirit does not make you better than other Christians. It makes you more effective than you were.
- The Baptism with the Holy Spirit does not put you at a higher rank. You have already been seated with Jesus at the highest point possible in the universe the moment you got saved (Ephesians 2:4-6).
- The Baptism with the Holy Spirit doesn’t make God love you any more. God loves you the same whether you choose to receive it or not.
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