Baptism of the Holy Spirit: When does it happen?


By Spencer D Gear

There is continuing controversy over the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The classic Pentecostal teaching is that the initial physical evidence is speaking in tongues. As examples of this emphasis, here are some statements from various Pentecostal denominations:

  • “WE BELIEVE in the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as promised to all believers” (Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa).
  • “The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance” (Assemblies of God USA).
  • “We believe that those who experience Holy Spirit baptism today will experience it in the same manner that believers experienced it in the early church; in other words, we believe that they will speak in tongues—languages that are not known to them (Acts 1: 5, 8; 2:4)“ (International Church of the Foursquare Gospel).

Other evangelicals disagree, saying that it happens at salvation. Examples of these would be:

  • Calvary Baptist Church, Simi Valley, California, an independent Baptist church, believes: “The baptism of the Holy Spirit [is] at salvation, making each believer a priest”.
  • Larry Wood attends a house church in Florida and he believes that “in order to get home to Heaven after a person dies, the person must have believed in Jesus Christ and received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit at Salvation”.
  • Southern Baptist, Jimmy Draper, published this statement in Baptist Press, on the subject: “Doctrine: Baptism by the Holy Spirit”: “This means that you don’t get a piece of Spirit baptism when you get saved and then more later. God does not baptize on an installment plan. All of the Holy Spirit you are ever going to get as a believer you got when Jesus baptized you by means of the Holy Spirit into His body at your salvation. The question is not, “How much of the Holy Spirit do you have?” Instead, you should be asking, “How much of me does the Holy Spirit have?”
  • John MacArthur, eminent Bible teacher of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California, stated in, “Is Spirit baptism a one-time event?”:

Despite the claims of many, the apostles’ and early disciples’ experience is not the norm for believers today. They were given unique enabling of the Holy Spirit for their special duties. They also received the general and common baptism with the Holy Spirit in an uncommon way, subsequent to conversion. All believers since the church began are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Yet these early apostles and believers were told to wait, showing the change that came in the church age. They were in the transitional period associated with the birth of the church. In the present age, baptism by Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit takes place for all believers at conversion. At that moment, every believer is placed into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). At that point the Spirit also takes up His permanent residency in the converted person’s soul, so there is no such thing as a Christian who does not yet have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20).

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a special privilege for some believers, nor are believers challenged and exhorted in Scripture to seek it. It is not even their responsibility to prepare for it by praying, pleading, tarrying, or any other means. The passive voice of the verb translated be baptized indicates the baptism by Jesus Christ with the Spirit is entirely a divine activity. It comes, like salvation itself, through grace, not human effort. Titus 3:5–6 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” God sovereignly pours out the Holy Spirit on those He saves.

Others contend that it happens after salvation but there is no necessity of speaking in other tongues.

Now there are some, as we have seen, who say that there is really no difficulty about this at all. They say it is simply a reference to regeneration and nothing else. It is what happens to people when they are regenerated and incorporated into Christ, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” … Therefore, they say, this baptism of the Holy Spirit is simply regeneration.

But for myself, I simply cannot accept that explanation, and this is where we come directly to grips with the difficulty. I cannot accept that because if I were to believe that, I should have to believe that the disciples and the apostles were not regenerate until the Day of Pentecost—a supposition which seems to me to be quite untenable. In the same way, of course, you would have to say that not a single Old Testament saint had eternal life or was a child of God….

This is an experience, as I understand the teaching, which is the birthright of every Christian. “For the promise,’ says the apostle Peter, ‘is unto you’ — and not only unto you but — ‘to your children, and to all that are afar off (Acts 2:39. It is not confined just to these people on the Day of Pentecost, but is offered to and promised to all Christian people. And in its essence it means that we are conscious of the incoming, as it were, of the Spirit of God and are given a sense of the glory of God and the reality of His being, the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we love him. That is why these New Testament writers can say a thing like this about the Christians: ‘Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’….

A definition, therefore, which I would put to your consideration is something like this: The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the initial experience of glory and the reality and the love of the Father and of the Son. Yes, you may have many further experiences of that, but the first experience, I would suggest, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The saintly John Fletcher of Madley put it like this: ‘Every Christian should have his Pentecost.”

So for Lloyd-Jones, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was an experience after salvation. He explained further:

The baptism of the Holy Spirit, then, is the difference between believing these things, accepting the teaching, exercising faith—that is something that we all know, and without the Holy Spirit we cannot even do that, as we have seen—and having a consciousness and experience of these truths in a striking and signal manner. The first experience of that, I am suggesting, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or the Holly Spirit falling on you, or receiving the Spirit.  It is this remarkable and unusual experience which is described so frequently in the book of Acts and which, as we see clearly from the epistles, must have been the possession of the members of the early Christian Church.

Lloyd-Jones does not emphasise speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of this baptism in the Spirit. He stated in 1977:

“The trouble with the charismatic movement is that there is virtually no talk at all of the Spirit ‘coming down’. It is more something they do or receive: they talk now about ‘renewal’ not revival. The tendency of the modern movement is to lead people to seek experiences. True revivals humble men before God and emphasize the person of Christ. If all the talk is about experiences and gifts it does not conform to the classic instances of revival”.

Another who believed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was after salvation was Andrew Murray who had 60 years of ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. He put it this way in his sermon, “Baptism of the Spirit”:

What we see in Jesus teaches us what the baptism of the Spirit is. It is not. that grace by which we turn to God, become regenerate, and seek to live as God’s children. When Jesus reminded His disciples (Acts 1:4) of John’s prophecy, they were already partakers of this grace. Their baptism with the Spirit meant something more. It was to be to them the conscious presence of their glorified Lord, come back from heaven to dwell in their hearts, their participation in the power of His new Life. It was to them a baptism of joy and power in their living fellowship with Jesus on the Throne of Glory. All that they were further to receive of wisdom, and courage, and holiness, had its root in this: what the Spirit had been to Jesus, when He was baptized, as the living bond with the Father’s Power and Presence, He was to be to them: through Him, the Son was to manifest Himself, and Father and Son were to make their abode with them.

‘Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon Him, the same is He that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.’ This word comes to us as well as to John. To know what the baptism of the Spirit means, how and from whom we are to receive it we must see the One upon whom the Spirit descended and abode. We must see Jesus baptized with the Holy Ghost. We must try to understand how He needed it, how He was prepared for it, how He yielded to it, how in its power He died His death, and was raised again. What Jesus has to give us, He first received and personally appropriated for Himself ; what He received and won for Himself is all for us: He will make it our very own. Upon whom we see the Spirit abiding, He baptizeth with the Spirit.

On Christian Forums, not4you2know posted:

My problem with tongues is that so many followers of Christ have not experienced it. If it was the natural outcome of saving faith then every altar call and every confession of faith would be followed by speaking in tongues. Yet there are millions of believers who have never done this; are we then to assume that their faith is not genuine? (#167)

I (ozspen, #172) responded:

For me this problem is overcome if the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not linked with the second blessing of tongues. I do not agree that the second blessing doctrine is scriptural. See my exposition HERE.

When this second blessing doctrine is excluded, it then enables us to see all of the gifts as from God (I Cor. 12-14) and that God gives gifts according to His sovereignty. The biblical language is that the ‘varieties of gifts… varieties of service … varieties of activities’ (1 Cor. 12:4) are given with this proviso:

“All these [gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills “(1 Cor. 12:11 ESV).

This means that ALL of God’s people have gifts that have been given by the sovereign Spirit, according to the Spirit’s will.

We say, thank you, Lord for the gift(s) that you have given the body and me!

This is my understanding of the giving of gifts and there is no second blessing of the baptism with the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues.

JEBrady (#174) responded to my post:

One thing that nettles me about your stance (and I did read your link) is, how does a person know if they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and how does anyone else know if someone has been baptized in the Holy Spirit?

The scripture says not one of the Samaritans had been, but they obviously had become believers, otherwise the brothers ministering to them would not have baptized them. And if they had the Holy Spirit, why did they call for Peter and John? Same thing in Acts 19. I mean, Paul had to ask them if they got the Holy Spirit.

I replied (ozspen #175):

There is not agreement in theology of the meaning of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. See these three examples.

What is the baptism in the Holy Spirit?

Baptism in the Holy Spirit. What is it?

What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? How does a person receive it?

I am more persuaded to believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit happens at salvation, based on 1 Cor. 12: 13, “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” (ESV).

However, there may be a time subsequent to salvation when we receive a special “touch” from the Holy Spirit, but I would not describe this as a baptism in/with the Holy Spirit.

I am satisfied with the conclusion of the second article above that reads:

Baptism in the Holy Spirit – What Does It Mean To You?
To summarize, baptism in the Holy Spirit does two things. First, it identifies us spiritually with the death and resurrection of Christ, uniting us with Him. Second, baptism in the Holy Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and identifies us as united with other believers. Practically, baptism in the Holy Spirit means we are risen with Him to newness of life (Romans 6:4), and that we should exercise our spiritual gifts to keep the body of Christ functioning properly as stated in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Experiencing baptism in the Holy Spirit serves as an exhortation to keep unity of the church (Ephesians 4:5). Being identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection-through baptism in the Holy Spirit-establishes the basis for realizing our separation from the power of indwelling sin and our walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-10, Colossians 2:12).

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

Your language seems to indicate that you expect people to experience something so that you know they have been baptised in the Holy Spirit (after salvation) when you state,  “How does a person know if they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and how does anyone else know if someone has been baptized in the Holy Spirit?”

This is how I thought as a classic Pentecostal, but there is no need to think like that when I accept that the baptism of the Holy Spirit it received at salvation. The only evidence should be a changed life and desire to fellowship with the people of God.

See my article, “Tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit”.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 11 October 2015.