Are Holy Spirit baptism and water baptism separate events?

The Question

Is the Holy Spirit baptism separate from water baptism? Do we get all of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at the time of confessing we need Christ in our lives? Different writers share different answers and they all use the Bible to back them up. I’m struggling with this. I am not a scholar in Greek or Hebrew so for this reason I’m seeking clarification.

- L. From Salem, Oregon


The Answer
Part 1: How many baptisms are there?
Part 2: Separate events
Part 3: How many baptisms are enough?

How many baptisms are there? (Part 1)

Is the Holy Spirit baptism separate from water baptism? Yes. Do we get all the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at the time of confessing Christ? No. Simple one-word answers but now I’ll try to go back and give you the clarification you seek.

I realize this is a confusing issue to many people. Part of the reason is that denominations often build up strict doctrines around baptism, whether water or Holy Spirit. Of course they prove their doctrine is correct with supporting scripture and they use those scriptures to argue against other denominations that hold opposite doctrinal positions. In fact, denominational splits have occurred over this very issue.

I make the assumption that over time you have been caught in the crossfire of dueling denominations because you mention that after all, you are not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. Well, you shouldn’t have to be. I too will use scripture but I hope to approach it from a different angle. My idea is to look at “events” in scripture rather than particular passages that prove one thing or another. You can judge for yourself if this helps clear things up for you.

First, what is baptism? The root word from the Greek (sorry--and I assure you I’m not a Greek scholar either) means to dip, sink, dipping or washing. Of course when we think of baptism we think of going down in the water. Scripture does use it that way but not all baptism mentioned in the Bible involves water. I see baptism mentioned in four main ways.

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) This is our introduction in the New Testament as John prepared the way for the Messiah.

Though the word baptism is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Israelites were said to have experienced it. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1Corinthians 10:1-2)

Jesus described what he would suffer on the cross as a baptism. “’But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!’” (Luke 12:50)

Before the Lord ascended to heaven he told the disciples about a baptism they would receive after he was gone. “‘For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:5) That baptism occurred on the day of Pentecost.


Separate events (Part 2)

There is no doubt from my viewpoint that water baptism and the Holy Spirit baptism are different events because they were different events in scripture. The disciples had received the baptism of repentance that John preached in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in them to convict them of their need to repent. The Holy Spirit does the same work in us today to draw us to our need for a savior.

If that baptism were all there was and if it represented the fullness of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would not have spoken this after his resurrection: “He breathed on them and said to them, ’Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22) Yet that was not to be ALL of the Holy Spirit empowerment either. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was to come in about fifty days.

Paul differentiates between the baptism of repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit while he ministers in Ephesus. He asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed and they told him they had not “heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2) He clarified with them that they had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance.

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon the, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” (Verses 5-6) So they had repented through John’s baptism, they received water baptism a second time in Jesus’ name affirming them as his disciples and then they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Was the Holy Spirit at work in all three events? Most definitely YES. So if a person has had all these baptisms, have they gotten all the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? No, because there is always more Holy Spirit to receive. One, two three or more baptisms shouldn’t be considered the finish. Paul was speaking to Spirit filled disciples of Jesus Christ when he told the Ephesians: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) He was telling them to keep on being filled over and over.


How many baptisms are enough? (Part 3)

Rather than approach baptism from a legalistic or duty bound rulebook, we would all be wise to ask the Holy Spirit some questions. Holy Spirit, do you have a baptism for me that I have not yet received? Can I have more of you than I currently have? Am I full to the brim of you or is there a spot of room left in me? Then we can open ourselves and ask for more and watch to see just how many baptisms he thinks are enough!

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