the church’s baptism of the Spirit

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:8

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13

There is something key that we “in Christ” have, that the church, Christ’s body- both local and universal has that the world does not. In the language of scripture, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ poured out the gift of the Spirit after his ascension at Pentecost (see Acts 1 and 2).

We are baptized by, with or in the Holy Spirit, which in context speaks to our oneness in Christ, and in the larger context of scripture would seem to refer to the spiritual dynamic, or better put, filling of the Spirit given to the church, to all who are in Christ. This certainly becomes a reality for each person at conversion, and is gift that all of us in and through Christ have been given.

Often when this has been spoken about in recent times, it is referring to something like “a second work of grace,” or something more than what we receive at salvation. A tradition or interpreter might be able to make some sort of case for that from scripture. But essentially, it seems to me, along with the traditions I’ve been a part of at least for the most part, that this is all completely received at conversion. We are indeed blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1), we’re told in Ephesians. Yet in that same letter, we’re also told to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5). We have the gift of the Spirit, and therefore, we’re to live in the Spirit, edify each other in Christ by the Spirit, and be a witness to the world of the reality and truth of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit.

Our existence is “in Christ,” and the Spirit is the reality of that for us. We are humans, and yet taken up into the very life and mission of Christ. Both as individuals, and together as the church. That’s the difference maker for us, and really through us for the world in which we are to live and serve in love. In and through Jesus.



the myth of the sinful nature

In some Christian circles the idea of the Christian having two natures, is held as fact. And although the most popular translation among evangelicals, and my own preferred translation, the New International Version in its 2011 revision changed the translation of sarx from “sinful nature” to “flesh” in those passages in Paul which refer to the human propensity to sin, it still retained “sinful nature” in the two instances of sarx in Romans 7. It seems arguably to me, that “sinful nature” should have been scrapped altogether.

It seems that strictly speaking, the problem is indwelling sin, not the flesh itself. The problem with the flesh is that it is unable in and of itself to resist sin. And that’s because the flesh by itself was never meant to overcome sin. Humans are meant to be in union with God, so that the flesh overcomes sin by the Spirit from the Father through the Son.

This is a big study, debated among theologians, and certainly not resolved in a post like this. A study of Romans 7 and 8 is especially key in trying to come to some conclusion in this. As for me, I think the weakness of the flesh is completely due to the lack of human dependence on the Spirit through Christ’s death and resurrection. But maybe the flesh in itself is sinful, indwellling sin corrupting it, which is why one must make no allowance for its lusts. Whatever the case, I’m glad for the change the NIV did make.

baptism and the reception of the Spirit

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17

There is no doubt that in the story of salvation history, Acts comes at a crucial time of change, and therefore there are traditions within the church which read it somewhat differently. For example, the Pentecostal traditional, which through formidable scholars can make the case for their reading and interpretation, which at the heart is not removed and certainly within the orthodox tradition. Although I am part of a tradition which does not read it that way, I can certainly respect and be open to what the Lord might want to teach me and the church through that tradition.

What does seem to be an overriding theme evident here, which is actually not a part of the tradition I grew up with within the faith, is simply that the Holy Spirit, as Father Michael Cupp mentioned, is given in some way to believers through water baptism. Father Michael didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of that, simply mentioning it along the way. But although water baptism does seem to be clearly related to Spirit baptism in the New Testament, which may be a key itself in trying to understand this, it seems evident enough that water baptism itself is more than just a symbol, and that by it, God chooses to either give, or give something more of his Spirit to all who repent and believe in and through Jesus, and in the name of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The passage quoted above, which was read this past Sunday, is just one example of evidence of that.

Water baptism tied with Spirit baptism seems to be the entry into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13), in a sense, even into Christ himself (Galatians 3:26-27). While I do not at all believe that water baptism is essential to salvation (what is essential is faith), the New Testament post-Pentecost does not know of any unbaptized believers. That is our Lord’s command, and it’s taken for granted that all believers are to submit themselves to it. It is a precious rite, signifying and somehow by the Spirit, identifying us with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, and so bringing us into the new life in him and as members of his body. Empowered to testify as Christ’s witnesses, and enabled to begin to live and grow in the new life in him, as well as fulfill the tasks to which the Lord calls us.

Gordon Fee on the need of a corrective to non-Pentecostal and Pentecostal views of Paul’s teaching on the Spirit

As with my commentary on 1 Corinthians, it seemed fitting that one such book* at least be written by a New Testament scholar who is also a Pentecostal both by confession and by experience. In his watershed exegetical study of “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, J. D. G. Dunn observed that for traditional Pentecostalism, which bases its theology primarily on Acts, “Paul need not have written anything. Indeed Paul seems to be more of an embarrassment than an asset.” Conversely, it might be observed that most non-Pentecostals, of both the sacramental and nonsacramental variety, find Paul to be most convenient to their theologies, while Acts is determined to be decidedly nontheological. Therefore, in evaluating the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer (especially on the matter of “conversion-initiation,” to borrow Dunn’s term), both groups tend to find a canon within the canon.

The same holds true for their respective emphases on the ongoing life in the Spirit. But here there is a “canon within the Pauline canon.” Pentecostals, on the one hand, at times could be rightly accused of neglecting most of Paul for 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. Here they find biblical justification for the ongoing exercise of the spiritual gifts in their midst, especially the more extraordinary gifts. Non-Pentecostals, on the other hand, tend to regard 1 Corinthians as an embarrassment, both to Paul and to the later church (or else they use it as a negative paradigm). Their “canon within the canon” is Galatians 5 and Romans 7-8; for them the key to Pauline Spirit language resides in ethical life (the fruit of the Spirit). I find both forms of truncated canon less than satisfactory, hence part of the reason for this study.

Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, 10. J. D. G. Dunn quoted from his book, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of the Spirit, 103.

*On “the subject of the Spirit in Paul’s letters and theology.” (10)

a Spirit-saturated existence

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

It is said that all who are in Jesus are in the Spirit, that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ dwells in them. Then we are told that those of the Spirit must by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body. And that all who are led by the Spirit are God’s children.

I have heard or read sharp Spirit-flesh teachings in my life. Watchman Nee, a great Bible teacher and writer as well as a martyr, comes to mind. It is a stark either/or; either what you do is of the flesh or of the Spirit. I think there is truth in that. Indeed any of us are capable of committing “great transgression” as David did. In the heart, and worse than that (although all sin starts in the heart) in the body. At the same time I think we are also capable by God’s grace to live by the Spirit, or think and do something by the Spirit.

What I want to push back against is the teaching that all that we do is a stark either/or. So that if we are struggling in our lives over anything, then nothing of the Spirit can be in anything in our lives. The passage (see context) quoted above suggests otherwise.

Indeed all who are in Christ, all followers of Jesus live in a Spirit-saturated existence, that is, the Spirit fills all things in our lives. We in turn are given the imperative to be filled with the Spirit. Indeed we can both grieve and quench the Spirit of God in our lives. We are not necessarily filled with the Spirit, but just the same we live in the Spirit, or in the realm of the Spirit. Being filled in our lives might simply mean to yield to the Spirit, to not resist the Spirit, to at least be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives.

What I am saying may or may not necessarily contradict the teachings I’m pushing back against. Maybe I’ve misunderstood them. Nor do I mean to water down the danger of living according to the flesh, rather than the Spirit. All I’m wanting to insist on and point out in this post is that we in Jesus live in the realm of the Spirit, indeed in a Spirit-saturated existence. Jesus’ words here, and the passage quoted afterward seem to suggest as much:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

We in Jesus do indeed live in the Spirit, not in the flesh, if the Spirit of God lives in us. We live a Spirit-saturated existence. May we be enlarged in our hearts and lives to take in more and more of the Spirit who is present and at work in us in Jesus for the world.

Rodney Reeves on the significance of baptism as burial in spiritual formation

Paul often used the rite of baptism to explain how the rights of an individual are sacrificed for the welfare of the church. We often speak of Christ’s death and resurrection as a theological starting place for understanding our spirituality. Indeed, most books on Paul’s spirituality skip over the significance of being buried with Christ. That’s because we tend to emphasize our personal experience as the locus of spiritual formation. So individual preferences end up governing spiritual development. I determine what is vital and what is harmful; my experiences govern what is useful and what is irrelevant. In such an individualistic pursuit, church becomes a place (not a people!) where my spiritual palate is satisfied, where I get what I think I need to grow spiritually. Thus my experience of the Spirit is determined by my choices, my desires, my expectations, my efforts. I really don’t need anyone else (especially if they try to tell me what to do—as if I don’t know what’s best for myself). If a church doesn’t give me what I think I need, I’ll find another that will.

But Paul would have us consider the implications of Christ’s burial through baptism as the initiatory experience of the Spirit-led life—something that must be developed within the community of faith. We received the Spirit from others, so we can’t walk in the Spirit alone. To emphasize our solidarity, Paul was inclined to prefix some of his favorite words describing the Christian life with syn (the Greek preposition meaning “together”). Our fellowship is not only a koinonia but a synkoinonia—a shared life in Christ (Phil 1:5-7); we are heirs of God (kleronomoi) but more significantly coheirs (sygkleronomoi) because we suffer together (sympaschomen) and will be glorified together (syndoxasthomen) in Christ (Rom 8:17). Indeed, because our spirituality depends on our shared participation in Christ, Paul worked with the presumption that none of us can be Christians by ourselves.

Rodney Reeves, Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, 99-100.

Scot McKnight on forgiveness and new life through Jesus’ baptism*

John’s baptism doesn’t stop with repentance: it is also for the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes Christians are tortured into wondering if their sins are forgiven. In such a state of torture, they fear that their eternal destiny is with the grotesque, dark figures in Dante’s Inferno. Such fears can be allayed knowing two truths that we see in Jesus’ baptism for us: First, our conviction and our confession are each incomplete; this we must admit. But, second, Jesus has full perception and conviction and, therefore, makes the truthful confession. Through him our sins are dealt a knockout blow. Because of Jesus’ conviction and confession, our fears about forgiveness can be released.

Even more: we need more than a true confession. What we seek is a clear conscience and (what Dallas Willard calls) a “renovation of the heart.” So, let us return to the full story of Jesus’ baptism: Jesus, with other Israelites, gets into the Jordan. Along with the others, Jesus utters the true confession—for us. And (here’s the renovation part) the Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon Jesus. John promises that Jesus will send that same Spirit to us.

When we tell the truth to the Father, participating with Jesus in the water, we, too, are flooded with God’s Spirit, who is the Spirit that forgives, and the Spirit empowers us to live out the Jesus Creed. A true confession triggers God’s gift of renovation through the Spirit.

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 245.

*Jesus’ water baptism here, pointing to his baptism of suffering and death through which we are forgiven, followed by his resurrection and exaltation, after which he poured out the Holy Spirit from the Father on all who believed- the new life.

Scot McKnight on Jesus’ perfect repentance* at his baptism to complete our imperfect repentance

Zechariah’s song

The priest Zechariah and his wife Anna, bore a son in their old age according to God’s promise to them, none other than John the Baptizer, usually known as John the Baptist. Zechariah had doubted the angel’s word to him in the temple at the altar concerning this, and as a result had become mute. Until he confirmed that as the angel had said, his name was to be John. And then he was enabled to speak, and he burst out into this song:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Zechariah’s song, called the Benedictus is in liturgy I believe often throughout the year. It is a magnificent song, striking a balance between God’s promise to Israel of deliverance from their enemies on the one hand, and Israel living out their calling through repentance and faith, on the other. Zechariah’s words concerning his son are prophetic indeed. Their son, John is to fulfill the words of Isaiah the prophet, preparing the way for the Lord through his ministry of the baptism of repentance.

Advent is often not looked on as a time of repentance; that is usually confined to Lent. But repentance ought to be a part of it, because we are anticipating the Lord’s coming both in terms of remembering his first coming, and anticipating his second coming, or reappearing. This baby to be born would grow up to be the servant of the Lord, God’s chosen one, indeed, God’s Son. And his cousin John would be the one to prepare the way before him, by calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins, and look to the one to come whose sandals John said, he was unworthy to carry (in other words, John said he was unworthy to be his servant). John would baptize with water, but this one to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (fire means judgment). This one was before John, though John was a bit older, and would indeed, as John pointed out to his disciples when he saw Jesus, be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

And so we do well to come before God this season in joy, yes. But also with repentance, wanting to let God expose our sin by his light, so that we may no longer walk in darkness, but more and more fully walk in the light of the world: Jesus. A walk together with others in Jesus for the world.