The Baptism of the Holy Spirit


“Original Pentecostal theology… believed that the first work of grace was conversion, but that there was an equally dramatic second work of the Spirit [accompanied by speaking in tongues] by which one could have complete sanctification in this life. The thinking was that someone who experienced this second blessing [the baptism of the Spirit] was rendered perfect with respect to spiritual obedience, which is how the movement came to be called ‘perfectionism.’ Over the years, Pentecostals have espoused different degrees and types of perfectionism.”

“Neo-Pentecostals [newer Pentecostals] do not consider the Spirit’s baptism to be a second work of grace for purposes of sanctification. Rather, it is a divine operation of the Spirit designed to gift and empower people for ministry.”

“Many today still believe that the indispensable sign that one has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues…. Others believe that tongues-speaking may or may not accompany the Spirit’s baptism. However, all neo-Pentecostals believe there is a time gap between conversion to Christ and the reception of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, one can be a Christian and yet not have the baptism of the Spirit.”

Poured out on all flesh

The biblical justification for this idea of a time gap between conversion and the baptism of the Spirit is based on the fact that the people who were gathered on Pentecost were Jewish believers who were waiting to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

But Pentecostals fail to see that Pentecost was a unique event, and that it “marked a new epoch in God’s plan of redemption.” Peter said the events of Pentecost were a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:32) “that the time will come when God will pour out His Spirit on the whole of God’s people. There will be no more haves and have-nots.” When the Spirit fell upon the Jewish believers, “He fell on all of them.” This “is completely contrary to the [Pentecostals’] idea that God gives His Spirit to some believers but not to all.”

There are three additional accounts of outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. In each account, Luke describes a unique event. He describes three distinct groups of people receiving the Holy Spirit for the first time in history: the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), the Gentiles (Acts 10), and disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19). In each case, “God verifies their inclusion with full privileges and membership in the New Testament church by giving them the Holy Spirit [cf. Acts 1:8].”

The “problem with Pentecostal theology is that it has a low view of Pentecost. The significance that the New Testament gives to Pentecost is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is to the whole church and therefore to every believer. As Paul writes, ‘For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13). The biblical doctrine has no room…for a concept of Christians who have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Christians who do not have it. The baptism comes with conversion.”

[Adapted from chapter 34, Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]