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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Reception of the Holy Spirit: Introduction

"Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?"

This is what my new acquaintance inquired of me, seated across from me at lunch on a cold December day last year.  I nervously looked down, afraid of what uncomfortable relational pressure I might be about to undergo.  "Well, the answer is yes, I have," I began, "but let me ask you what exactly you mean by 'baptized with the Holy Spirit' to be sure I'm answering your question accurately."

The remainder of that conversation (which wasn't as awkward as I had feared) propelled me into a quest to nail down once and for all the answer to the question, what exactly is the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the Bible describes it?  Now, for me the question was not, "Are the 'charismatic' gifts of the Spirit available today?" or, "Do post-conversion 'fillings' with the Spirit happen?"  I've long said yes to both of these.  The specific question is, how does the baptism in the Holy Spirit fit with them?  Is it concurrent with and/or the same as regeneration, or does it happen at water-baptism, or is it a "second blessing"?  Implicit in these options is the question, does a person have the Holy Spirit in any respect prior to being baptized in the Holy Spirit?  And perhaps one more question of a practical nature is, how does a person know if he or she has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (particularly if it does not happen at conversion)?

After digging deeply and widely in the New Testament, I've concluded that the overall doctrinal heading for this investigation should be "the reception of the Holy Spirit," not least because "receive" and "give" and their cognates are the most common words to describe the Holy Spirit coming into contact with a person—much more common than "baptism," for example.  I've also concluded that there are indeed two distinct ways to receive the Holy Spirit that can be summed up by two prepositions.  When we are saved, brought from darkness to light, we receive the Spirit within.  This is the regeneration that makes our dead spirits live, awaken to the gospel, and believe in Jesus.  But there is another kind of receiving the Spirit, and that's the Spirit coming upon.  This reception of the Spirit usually happens after conversion though for some it happens at the same time; also, a regenerate Christian who does not want the gift might never receive it.  The primary effect of the Spirit coming upon is a boldness to talk about Jesus that compels both the speaker to speak and the hearers to respond (one way or another), and miraculous manifestations may also occur.  (Incidentally, this summary of mine is essentially what my lunch partner believes.)

For the next few posts I'm going to detail my evidence for this position from Scripture.  My approach will be to list the many terms that the NT writers employed to refer to the reception of the Holy Spirit and sort them into three categories: those that refer to the Spirit coming within, those pertaining to the Spirit coming upon, and those that in one way or another blend the two.  We'll see that different NT authors employ some of the same terms in different ways, which is one of the factors that has bred confusion on this subject over the centuries.  But I hope that we'll also see that precision and conviction on this doctrine is of crucial importance for the Church to fulfill its mandate in the world.

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