BAPTISM: Part Two, Baptism of Fire

By Art Bull


Referring to the outpouring of the holy spirit on the day of Pentecost, Billy Graham has written that:

"From that day onward, the Holy Spirit has lived in the hearts of all true believers, beginning with the 120 disciples who received Him at Pentecost. When they received the Holy Spirit, he united them by His indwelling presence into one body -- the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. That is why when I hear terms like 'ecumenicity', or 'ecumenical movement', I say to myself: an ecumenicity already exists if we have been born again. We are all united by the Holy Spirit who dwells within our hearts whether we are Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Lutheran or Anglican."

How far can we go along with Billy Graham's opinions? Not very far with his idea on water baptism, as we saw in our last article. Now what about his idea about baptism of the spirit? Was there ever such a thing? Yes there was, and we saw earlier how John the baptist proclaimed that Jesus would baptise with the holy spirit and with fire. Before Jesus' ascension, he told the disciples in Acts 1:4,5; that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, "which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. "

Acts chapter 2:1-4 informs us that:

"...when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them, And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

What, then, is the baptism of the spirit? We will approach the question by first looking at what the Scripture has to say about the spirit. The first occurrence is in Genesis chapter one:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved (or brooded) upon the face of the waters."

We need not be mystified by such language when we permit other parts of Scripture to comment. For example, Job 26 tells us in verse 13, "By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens."

And Psalm 104:30 declares, "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth."

The spirit then is God's creative power or energy. Intelligently directed it made the light, formed the atmosphere, divided the seas from the land, and created the vegetable and animal kingdoms, having previously set into motion the hundreds of millions of stars in each of the hundreds of millions of galaxies that glimmer across the boundless depths of deep space. It all has one source says Paul in 1 Cor 8:6,

"But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, [or, out of whom are all things.]"

Paul tells Timothy that God, the invisible and intelligent and deathless person, dwells in the very focal point of the energy which emanates from his presence: --

"Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." (1 Tim 6:16).

The spirit of God, then, is his power by which he created and sustains the world in which we live.

As to the word "baptize", we saw last time from the way the word is used that it means an immersing. The word was also used of dying cloth, which is a good illustration of the meaning of the word. If one wished to dye a piece of cloth, merely sprinkling dye on the cloth would result in irregularly polka-dotted cloth. It was necessary to immerse the cloth in the dye to get the desired result.

In a sense, it might be said that some of the spirit that was upon Jesus, he sprinkled on the twelve when they went forth to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. You will remember when Jesus selected the twelve, we are told in Matthew 10:5-8,

"These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. "

This was a good three years before the disciples were baptised with the spirit. Yet they were given sufficient power to heal the sick and raise the dead. We see evidence of the limited measure of spirit power which they possessed in Matthew 17 where a distraught father appealed to Jesus:

" Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. " (verses 15,16).

But Jesus, possessing the spirit without measure, was able, and did heal the epileptic boy. But on the day of Pentecost the disciples were baptised with the holy spirit. They were then saturated in spirit, just as a cloth is immersed in the dye and will take as much dye as it can hold. No more do we hear about failed attempts at healing or any other application of holy spirit power by the apostles.

Having looked at the meaning of baptise and spirit, we turn our full attention on what it means to be "baptized with the holy spirit". We will begin by looking at examples in Scripture of those so baptised. This includes Jesus, the apostles, the three thousand on Pentecost, and a number of other instances. To fully understand this baptism, we need to study these examples. In the spirit-baptism of Jesus, the Father had filled him without measure (John 3:34). There was no limit to the power and wisdom which he displayed. Modern man with all his technology can do nothing to control the elements, but Jesus could command the winds and sea and they obeyed him. He could multiply a few loaves and fishes into an abundance that could feed thousands. Nothing stood in his way, not even death which had gripped Lazarus four days. The power extended to speaking the mind of God in the doctrine that he taught, and in accurately forecasting future events.

Jesus promised a measure of this same power to the apostles in John 15:

" But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (verse 26).

Also John 16:13 " Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. "

Looking at the instances of spirit baptism we find that with the exception of Cornelius and his household, the order was: first, the water immersion of believing adults, then this was followed by filling with the spirit. From this we can conclude that the spirit was bestowed on those who received it, not to make them believers, but because they were already believers. And this is reasonable isn't it? Does the minister of highways issue a license for driving a 15 ton semi-trailer to someone who only knows how to peddle a bike? Should God bestow his power on an ignorant unbeliever so that he will misuse and abuse that power? No, all who received it were well qualified to receive it, having their minds properly prepared by a right understanding of God's truth.

So, being a true Christian does not depend on being baptised with the holy spirit, but on believing the truth with honest and good heart and then obeying it. It is unfortunate that Billy Graham and many others think that water baptism is unessential, yet all must be baptised with the holy spirit to be genuine Christians.

In Acts 10 we find that in the one case of Cornelius, the holy spirit was given before water baptism. There was a good reason for the exception. Up to that point all converts were Jewish, and still kept the law of Moses, which regarded Gentiles and their practices to be unclean and defiling. Now Peter had been directed by the spirit to a Gentile household! Being anxious about the situation he took several others along with him. Having begun to preach to the centurion and his relatives, the holy spirit suddenly fell on his listeners. Here was indisputable evidence that God had accepted these Gentiles! Peter, instead of directly instructing Cornelius, turned to his Jewish brethren and asked them, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptised, who have received the holy spirit as well as we?"(Acts 10: 47).

Had Billy Graham been among them he might have replied to Peter, "water baptism is not essential! These Gentiles have already received the real baptism! Peter, don't you understand that the one baptism of Christ's religion is the baptism of the holy spirit? Why are you talking about baptising them in water -- do you want them to receive two baptisms? But the six brethren who accompanied Peter had no such objections -- they were convinced of the absolute necessity of water baptism for salvation, for they had been taught it by men who had received the Comforter that did "lead them into all truth." Water baptism was essential in Cornelius' case and it is no less essential in our day.

We should notice that Cornelius was not a totally ignorant pagan at this time. He had over a period of time come to love the God of Israel, and the record testifies that the centurion was: --

"A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway."

The original word for devout means to have great love, respect and admiration for God. This Cornelius could not have this love of God without first having learned what is revealed in the Scriptures, just like any devout Jew. Really, the only difference between this man and a Jew was his racial origin. He possessed all the necessary knowledge to be a Christian. All that was lacking was an acceptance of it. Peter shows this in verses 36-38;

"The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power..."

Furthermore, please consider that neither Cornelius' piety, righteousness of life, liberality, faith, purity of heart, nor reception of the holy spirit exempted him from the necessity of obeying the command delivered to him by Peter who "commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord" The necessity is obvious from the fact that it was part of Peter's mission to deliver this command. Remember what the angel had said to Cornelius,

"He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do."

The original word translated "oughtest" means what is necessary, from the root, to bind. Had Peter not commanded him to be baptised he would have neglected to tell him what was necessary for his salvation. The only thing Peter told his audience to do in all that he said was to "be baptised in the name of the Lord". We take it then that baptism was binding on Cornelius and his household, without it he could not be saved. And if water baptism was necessary for them, then it is so for us as well.

But what about being baptised with the holy spirit? I will offer you the observation that if any had been baptised by the spirit in the time of the apostles it was obvious to those around him by the effects produced. There was no mistaking who had the spirit, as when Peter healed the lame man who had never walked. Or when the Jewish authorities perceiving that the apostles were "unlearned and ignorant" men, heard words of eloquence and power issue forth from Peter. A Christian who had been baptised with the spirit in the time of the apostles could demonstrate the fact by his words and actions. He did not base his claim on how he felt inside himself.

It was obvious to all when he spoke forth divine wisdom and knowledge (hardened soldiers said of Jesus, "never man spake like this man"). They healed the sick, cured the lame, raised the dead, spoke and interpreted foreign languages that they had never learned, and discerned spirits. That possession of the holy spirit was the possession of special powers, we learn from Hebrews chapter 6:4-6,

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance."

Such had a taste of "the powers of the world (or age) to come". They had received all the spirit power that their flesh and blood bodies could manage. But, says Paul (1 Cor 15:50) "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God". In the same context he shows that those who possess the kingdom will do so not in these terrestrial bodies, but in bodies celestial. Such will be able to receive baptism of the spirit in far greater measure than formerly.

There were some in Paul's day, as in ours, who pretended to speak by the spirit of God when they did not. Because of this the apostle John warned the faithful:

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1).

John gave a rule by which believers in his day and ours may distinguish the true from the false teacher. He says in the next verse,

"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God."

In short, the test does not require divine power. It is the test of doctrine. Is the speaker's message in harmony with the God-inspired words of the prophets and apostles? If not, he is a false prophet.

While Billy Graham can be credited with rejecting the idea that spirit possession is a feeling inside, he yet veers far off the track in another direction, insisting that all believers must be baptised with the holy spirit.

This is a great mistake, for the Scriptures show that the holy spirit was to be given at the beginning of the Christian era, and at the end, but not in between. Of the beginning period Hebrews 2:4 says concerning Jesus and the apostles,

"God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will."

It was necessary for God to attest this preaching of the gospel in the name of Jesus Christ. The Jews opposed it because it asked them to believe in a crucified Messiah. The pagans combatted it because it challenged their worship of man-made idols. A sign from God was necessary to overcome those prejudices. The miracles performed by the apostles showed that the seal of God was on their teaching.

That the first century possession of the holy spirit was only temporary is shown in how the spirit was transmitted. Only the apostles could pass on the gift to others. Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18) tried to purchase that ability but was rebuffed, but when the last of the apostles had passed off the scene there was nobody left to transfer the power on, and so it died out. Its purpose had been served for the time being.

Paul predicted the cessation of holy spirit possession 1 Cor 13:8-10,

"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. "

At Pentecost the Scriptures consisted of the Old Testament only. Over a period of years, those with the gift of prophecy put on record the life and work of Christ in the four gospels, and their own work in the book of Acts. They wrote letters to congregations and individuals. When John wrote out the book of Revelation, the revealed mind of God was completed, which is the correct meaning of the word "perfect" in verse 9 of 1 Cor 13. Afterwards, that which was in part, or "in parts", which was the holy spirit, was withdrawn by God. The work that God had sent the spirit for was done, which was the edifying or building up of the collective body of Christ:

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (verses 11,12).

Paul showed Timothy in his 2nd letter chapter 3 that the Scriptures were all that he needed to fully ensure his salvation:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (verses 16,17).

Spirit is a word with more than one meaning in Scripture. If we are going to know what the meaning is, we need to permit God to furnish his own definition, not to apply what we imagine it should be. The definition of the word in question he provides in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, who shows that the ideas and thoughts of God are as much spirit as the physical power that we considered earlier. God's thoughts are moral power breathed forth in his words, and that is spirit, just as the power radiating from him is spirit. The thoughts of God, however expressed, can be called "the truth", and therefore the truth is spirit. And so John the Baptist declared of Jesus in John 3:34,

"For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him."

And the Lord Jesus said of himself in John chapter 6:63,

"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."

So to produce physical results, such as raising the dead, curing the sick, speaking with tongues, etc, holy spirit power was required. But when purely moral results are desired, the truth is the spirit that operates on the heart of the believer. Jesus clearly tells us so in this 6th chapter of John's gospel. If any ignore this plain definition given by Jesus, he does so at his peril. If one insists that the holy spirit must be within a Christian for him to be transformed, then the written word of God loses all value. The medium utilized by God for the sanctification of believers is his truth, as Jesus shows in his prayer in John 17 (verse 17):

"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

In keeping with this, Jesus said to the disciples in John 15:3,

"Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."

Again, the transforming power of the word is shown by Paul in Romans 12:2,

"Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. "

The operation of that spirit in the believer is not some force working inside him without his conscious effort -- nor is it some external force that compels the believer to act apart from his own volition. The conquest of sin and ultimately death is through the action of God's truth on the believer. It is through the influence of the written word that a man develops faith. Paul shows this in Romans 10:17,

"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

The only spirit from God available to Christians today is the influence of the truth believed. And this can be the most powerful influence in our lives today.